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Protestors say Devon's green agenda insufficient

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021 6:14pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Hot air (courtesy: Daniel Clark/LDRS)

It's all hot air

Protesters gathered outside County Hall on Wednesday to call for Devon County Council to do more to tackle climate change.

The group of 13 people held banners and sounded an air raid emergency warning siren to demonstrate against what they claim is a lack of action in the past two years since a climate emergency was declared by the council.

Questions were also raised by the group inside the cabinet meeting, calling on the council to announce a new 2030 deadline for carbon neutrality, and asking what practical measures have been taken to deal with the emergency.

Cllr Andrea Davis, cabinet member for climate change, said she was mindful of the need to help Devon reduce its emissions as fast as possible and while it was not in the gift of Devon County Council to unilaterally decide what the Devon Carbon Plan should say, more than half of the responses favoured a county-wide, net-zero target of 2030.

Marilyn Spurr asked: “It is now two years since Devon County Council declared a climate emergency. This has been sufficient time to engage in consultations, make new appointments, so please give some indication of what practical measures have been taken to deal with this emergency or any that will be implemented in what remains of 2021?”

Maurice Spurway added: “Because a net zero target by 2050 only gives us a 50:50 chance of keeping below 1.5 degrees of warming, it is great news that preliminary results from February’s consultation on the Devon Carbon Plan indicate that 2030 is the preferred target. Will Devon County Council announce this new 2030 deadline as soon as possible, in order to bring Devon more in line with most of the deadlines of other district councils in the county?”

In response, Cllr Davis said that the Devon Carbon Plan consultation revealed an appetite for early progress towards net-zero but there is acceptance that achieving net-zero itself will be challenging.

She added that the councils recognises: "there are practical issues with achieving net-zero ahead of the national timetable (2050) for the whole county as many sources of carbon emissions in Devon are influenced by national policy. Our approach is to work with the government to reduce emissions quickly and show that if we work together with communities we can bring the net-zero date forward, hence the current county-wide target set by the partnership is ‘2050 at the latest’.”

  • On actions taking since 2019, she added: “Alongside the development of the Interim Plan the partnership has been designing the Devon Climate Assembly. Seventy people are in the process of being recruited to represent Devon in discussions about how we can solve some of the big challenges for getting to net-zero. The Assembly will meet over a series of evenings and weekends later in June and July this year. Its recommendations will be considered by the partners and incorporated into a final version of the Carbon Plan.”

Actions that Devon County Council has taken, she said, included:

  • Forty electric vehicle charging points are expected to be installed across Devon this year in council car parks. We have submitted a funding bid for a further 48 charging points that if successful will also be installed by March next year.
  • The Okehampton rail service is to be reinstated and will be operating a daily service every 2 hours from December this year.
  • Preparatory works for Marsh Barton railway station are underway.
  • Planning applications have been submitted for sections of the Teign Estuary Trail that will provide safe, segregated walking and cycling opportunities between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot.
  • A £1m Green Homes Grant project is improving the energy efficiency of some of Devon’s most inefficient homes for the most vulnerable people.
  • The Connecting Devon and Somerset programme has secured new contracts to install fill fibre internet services into a further 56,000 premises.
  • In partnership with the Devon Community Energy Network we have a new member of staff dedicated to piloting an approach to accelerating the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures into homes called People Powered Retrofit.
  • The Devon Solar Together buying consortium for domestic solar panels is currently in its installation phase. Over 130 households have had their panels and batteries installed already and the final number could be close to 900 depending on the number that take their quotation through to completion.
  • Devon’s Local Nature Partnership, serviced by the Authority, has begun work on preparing a Nature Recovery Network for Devon. This will map Devon’s existing habitats and opportunities for their enhancement and creation to achieve further benefits for nature, people and climate.
  • The Devon Food Partnership has been created to provide healthy food for all and sustainable food for the planet.
  • Tuesday Tables encourage people to pass on items they no longer use so they can be given another life. Residents who take part simply put items outside on their front door, in the front garden or driveway each Tuesday

By the end of the financial year, Cllr Davis added that Devon expects to have:

  • Retrofitted seven of our buildings and three schools with energy efficiency equipment.
  • Mounted solar panels on the roofs of our salt barns.
  • Added solar panel car-ports and battery storage to office car parks.
  • Installed electric vehicle charging posts at our highways depots.
  • Integrated more electric vehicles into the fleet.
  • Continued the £9m upgrade of street lighting to LED technology.
  • Completed baselining the carbon intensity of the supply chain for one of our most carbon-intensive contracts – highways maintenance.
  • Prepared a more detailed strategy for achieving a net-zero supply chain.
  • Recruited into a new post that will test and develop the most affordable and cost-effective carbon offsetting opportunities here in Devon.
  • Implemented a carbon offsetting activity to net-off 10% of our annual corporate emissions.
  • Cllr Davis continued: “We have been working to continue the reduction of emissions from Devon County Council’s own activity. We have put in place the Carbon Reduction Plan and have provided the necessary additional funding for its first two years of delivery (£2.2m) and have been successful at attracting a further £4.8m from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

Caroline Snow also asked what steps Devon County Council will take to engage with developers and government to ensure all new homes in Devon are fitted with low carbon heating using currently available technology such as heat pumps that will immediately begin saving householders money and eliminate both carbon and methane emissions currently released through natural gas?

In response, Cllr Davis said: “It is expected that, in time as new technologies become available, government policy will require new homes to switch to lower carbon heating, with this requirement being tied to planning permission granted for new homes. To do so requires both the policy and technology to be in place.”

Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, added: “We have been discussing this whole concept and we can talk and help but they don’t always take it up. But in time, they are going to have to do something, and we will keep trying to persuade developers to do the right thing.”

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