Dorset AONB is developing a Community Tree Scheme to support parish and town councils in the Dorset Council area who wish to improve biodiversity, build climate resilience and engage their communities through planting and managing trees on land accessible to the public.
The project will focus primarily on support for the planning stages (rather than directly on providing and planting trees) including training to build knowledge within communities.
They’d like to hear our views on the kind of support needed - so please complete a brief survey (8 questions in total). You can click through each page to review the questions and return to previous pages to complete or amend your answers: Dorset AONB Community Tree Scheme - Survey
The survey will be open until at least the end of October
Question 3 & 4 – submitted by Dr Sandra Reeve on behalf of Dorset Climate Action Network (Question to be read by Giles Watts from Dorset Action Network)
Dorset Council needs to be seen to operate fairly and to set high standards in public office. Dorset Climate Action Network is therefore very disappointed at the way the motion on UK energy self-sufficiency (Agenda 13) was handled at the Full Council meeting on 14th April.
It was clear that there were strong feelings in the chamber about this motion which included the proposal: ‘Mindful of the current experience of global conflict and uncertainty, Dorset Council urges the Government to introduce an energy policy with the principal objective of securing permanent UK energy self-sufficiency from as early a date as possible, utilising whatever forms of energy generation sourced from within the UK are necessary to this end’. This proposal ignores both the recommendations of the IPPC report and Dorset Council’s own Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy.
Following the disruption by protesters, the meeting was moved to another room, where a vote was taken with no debate permitted, apart from the words of the proposer and the seconder which were delivered before the disruption.
We note the actions by the two protesters calling themselves Grannies for the Future. However Dorset Council's response to the protest was disappointing. By hurrying through the vote of such a key motion without public discussion and behind closed doors, the Council has stifled an important debate in the face of climate change and clearly failed to respect the principles of democracy, thereby damaging the Council’s democratic reputation.
We call on the Council to deem the vote on the motion Agenda 13 null and void and bring the motion back to a future meeting so that it can be openly debated in public before a second vote is taken. We gather that this is possible if 24 members provide notice of a revised motion.
Question 1: Will the Chair please give their reasons for moving to an immediate vote on Agenda 13 without debate, rather than adjourning the vote to another occasion, which they could have chosen to do?
Question 2: We hope Dorset Council agrees that our energy and climate security is important enough to require a proper public debate; if so will the Council bring the motion back to a future meeting as this appears to us to be the most equitable way forward?
Below is a summary of some parts of the contentious council meeting on 12th May where DorsetCAN asked a question about the Chair's refusal to allow a debate on a motion about energy security and fossil fuels.
You can see a video of the meeting here and a report by journalist Trevor Bevins on Planet Radio here.
Dorset CAN's summary:
There was a lively discussion with lots of noise outside from XR and a steel band while inside there was passion, insults, ineptitude, growling and some very decent speeches. Local democracy in action in all its tenuous glory.
The main debate related to the previous council meeting on 14th April and conflated three different issues together causing unnecessary confusion and providing plenty of wiggle room for the conservatives to dodge the main questions. The first issue was whether to condemn the actions of the two protestors. The second was whether Madame Chair (Val Pothecary) had made the right (democratic) decision to stop all debate and go straight to a vote and the third, the most important, was about why the energy security motion was passed even though it was in clear contradiction to the IPCC and DC’s own Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy.
The first issue was the subject a tabled motion. The Lib Dems/Green immediately tabled an amendment which was more conciliatory and would have toned down the wording to “regret” for the actions of the two protestors - but this was rejected and the original motion passed.
The second issue, on whether Madame Chair had acted democratically was debated hard along with the third issue on the climate impacts of increasing fossil fuel extraction etc. The second issue was the key point in our two questions. The conservatives did not like being told they were acting undemocratically and started barracking Giles Watts (who asked the question for DorsetCAN) - the barracking was led by the Councillors O’Leary and Lacey-Clarke - before the questions had even been asked. The reply from Val Pothecary was fairly predictable. First,s he admonished us for merely “noting” the actions of the protestors (rather than condemning them) and then went on to justify her actions as protecting the safety of the councillors.
It was a long and fairly brutal debate with excellent speeches by Caz Dennett, Cllr Belinda Bawden, Cllr Heatley and others from the Lib Dem and Green camps – with some reasonable speeches from a few conservatives, notably Ray Bryan. Sadly the debate was mainly on party pollitcial lines with some pretty gross political arse-licking at times. Luckily there were also some patient and thoughtful speeches by people who reminded us all that Climate issues are of major importance to us all, that we must all try to listen to the electorate (even when we don’t like what they say) and that historically direct action has its natural place in society when democracy is not working well (e.g. Suffragettes and Black Lives Matter)
It is unclear why the motion on energy security was put forward in the first place and why the conservatives were so keen to hold a vote immediately after the protest rather than delaying until later – which would have been much more “democratic”. Interestingly, it was admitted during the debate that immediately after the vote on 14th April, a letter had been sent to Greg Hands (Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth of the United Kingdom) saying that Dorset Council was completely supportive of the government’s Energy Strategy. It would be good to see the text of this letter to Greg Hands (there is no record of it on the Dorset Council web site).
To support the Campaign by DorsetAction to get Dorset Council to divest from fossil fuels and specifically to instruct its Pension Fund Manager (Brunel) to do so, DorsetCAN organised a Flood of Questions to Dorset Council. Here's the report from the Questions Team:
‘Over three-quarters of local councils have declared a climate emergency. For the majority of councils, their largest carbon emissions will come from their pension fund investments.’ (UK Divest)
This statement made a deep impression on me when I read the report published by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland, in February 2021.
In support of Dorset Action’s 21 month long Climate-Friendly Pensions Campaign, the DorsetCAN Questions Team coordinated a series of questions from concerned individuals, both pension fund members and concerned Dorset residents which were submitted to the Dorset Council Pension Fund Committee virtual meeting on June 15 at 10.00 am .
One question from a pension fund member was
‘Will you please poll Pension Fund members to see if there is a demand among us for an ethical investment option , rather than us having to continue to invest in fossil fuels when we don't want to ?’ which as far as we could see had not been asked before.
‘Brunel has made a 'net-zero by 2050' commitment.There is a clear contradiction here between Brunel’s date and Dorset Council’s own target of 2040. Surely this is a ‘direct action’ and Dorset Council should instruct Brunel to invest in order to meet their 2040 date?’ – this is also a new and fair question to ask the Pension Fund.
And there were several other pertinent questions around the committee’s accountability to their pension fund members as well as enquiries about relevant actions in progress, for example:
‘In Dorset Council’s ‘Making it happen action plan’, the Council’s Objective 1 includes the following action:
“Investigate decarbonising Dorset Council pension scheme” with the stated target:
“Investigations carried out and reported to EAP by March 2021”. #
Have those investigations been carried out and have they been reported to the EAP? If so, what did the report say?’
First of all, despite the following information to be found online: "All questions, statements and responses will be published in full within the minutes of the meeting" a couple of questions from the public which received acknowledgments were not to be found in the minutes at the time of the meeting.
Secondly, despite the following statement: "Questions will be read out by an officer of the council and a response given by the appropriate Portfolio Holder or officer at the meeting. "(my bold italics), Cllrs Andy Canning and Peter Wharf announced at the beginning of the meeting that they had decided between them (in consultation with “Member Services” (inaudible..?)) not to have any of the questions read out, but that the questions and responses would be published online and responded to individually.
The reason given was that ‘the topic’ of divestment was discussed in September 2020 and we were referred back to those minutes. This generalised reason ignores the pertinent specifics of many of the June questions and the fact that that discussion took place 9 months ago. The Chairman did then make a statement clarifying Dorset Council’s current position and affirming that they are responsible both for their pension fund members contributions and for investing that money as wisely as possible. Quote: ‘This duty overides any other considerations.’ He also mentioned that Brunel would not be reconsidering their strategies around de-carbonisation until 2022.
The lack of direct response to the questions at the committee meeting was disappointing and to date no responses have been published/given to any of the questions. I shall be following developments and shall complete this report in our next newsletter.
Thought for the Future
I read the transcript of COP26 President Alok Sharma’s speech at the first Net Zero Pensions summit, published June 1, 2021 . Here is what he said:
"Today, green investments are smart investments.
In the majority of the world, renewables are cheaper than new coal and gas.
Putting your money in fossil fuels creates the very real risk of stranded assets."
He then supports and urges financial institutions to take the following steps:
First, commit to exit coal finance.
So that, together, we make COP26 the moment we consign coal power to the past where it belongs.
Second, increase investments in climate action in developing and emerging markets.
Thirdly, protect nature.
By 2025 ensure none of your investments contribute to deforestation.
And by 2030 ensure your investments are contributing to the restoration of the natural world.
Finally, disclose your climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD.
He also points out that this will become mandatory across most of the UK economy in 2023 and that the UK government will shortly introduce regulations on what this means for pensions, to ensure trustees take account of climate change risk in each and every decision.
There is a real advantage in getting your house in order.
And that in this vital year for climate action, the year of COP26, you are playing your part in keeping 1.5 degrees alive.
The draft Local Plan for the whole of Dorset, published in January, has attracted wide concern across the county because of the sheer scale of proposed development – over 39,000 new houses between now and 2038, new industrial estates, roads and other infrastructure. In Dorset CAN’s formal response, submitted in March, we pointed to the impact which this would have on the landscape and natural resources of the County, encroaching on the Green Belt and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and making heavy use of greenfield land, including a proposed estate of 3,500 homes on the north side of Dorchester. It would add greatly to the challenge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero, which is the central aim of Dorset Council’s Climate Strategy, published only 3 months before the Local Plan.
So, we called on Dorset Council to ‘Re-think the Plan’, cut the number of new houses to 20,000, avoid encroachment on the Green Belt, avoid heavy use of greenfield land, and use more ‘brownfield’ land in the towns. We followed this with public questions to Dorset Council meetings, receiving only ‘stonewall’ replies from Councillor David Walsh, Cabinet member responsible for the Plan. So, we decided to launch a campaign to pressurise the Council towards re-thinking. We wished this campaign to be realistic; and therefore asked the leading Council officials for a meeting so that we can understand what is driving the proposals in the Plan.
On 14 June, a team of four from Dorset CAN – Rob Waitt, Michael Dower, Giles Watts and Rosemary Lunt – had a Zoom meeting with Hilary Jordan, Service Manager for Spatial Planning and Terry Sneller, Strategic Planning Manager. This meeting was candid and friendly. The officers made plain that local planning authorities are required by the Government to support the drive towards building houses, and must use the Government’s formula for calculating the number of new houses unless ‘exceptional circumstances’ apply. We had argued that Dorset’s unique combination of scenic, natural, geological and historic heritage amounted to exceptional circumstances which would justify an alternative calculation of housing need. The officers advised, from experience of decisions by planning Inspectors and Ministers, that this would not suffice. They recognised that development on the scale proposed would have the impact and implications that we described. They stated that there may be room for reduction in the number of houses, in the face of public reaction and of continuing studies by the Environment Agency and others. The Plan will be reviewed in the light of the very wide response to the public consultation : but they could not promise any substantial reduction.
This discussion, plus the answers to our detailed questions which the planners have readily answered, will help us in mounting a vigorous campaign. We expect to launch this campaign in late July, following a meeting on the evening of Tuesday 13 July of county-level and local organisations whom we are inviting to contribute to it. We will be appealing, through e-mail and social media, to Dorset CAN members and all Dorset citizens to support this campaign of pressure upon Dorset Council. If your organisation wishes to take part in the 13 July meeting or in the campaign, please contact Giles Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 11th June, the Dorset Echo reported as follows:
DORSET Pension Fund is being lobbied to further reduce the carbon footprint of its investments.
Several letters have been sent from fund members and campaigners for next week’s meeting (June 15) calling for changes.
Committee members have been lobbied in the past by Extinction Rebellion campaigners and have also entertained two Dorset GPs, Drs Rebecca Smith and Ruth Arnold, who in 2019 lobbied for the committee to reduce the fund’s reliance on any investments which could cause environmental harm.
Some changes have been made to investment policy as a result but the campaigners say the fund managers should go further and act faster.
At its meeting in September 2020, the committee agreed to a strategy of decarbonisation which should result in a gradual reduction in allocations of investment to companies which are high carbon emitters.
Said Sandra Reeve from Charmouth in her letter to the committee: “BH, BP and Shell account for 40 per cent of total direct investments across all local authority pension funds in the UK.
“It is becoming clear that investing in fossil fuels is increasingly costly. It is a financial risk—with UK Public Pensions losing £2 billion on oil investments in the last 4 years. It’s also a political risk—with the UK public more concerned about climate change than ever before.”
She claims that at the current rate of a 7 per cent reduction a year it will take 15 years for the fund to divest completely from fossil fuel funds.
Fund pensioner, Pam Rosling from Hazelbury Bryan has asked the committee to poll all fund members to establish what demand there is for an ethical investment option, rather than investment in fossil fuels.
Read the full article on the Dorset Echo website
Lyme Regis town councillor Belinda Bawden feels the Impact Carbon Footprint Toolkit could be a significant help to town and parish councils as well as business and community groups trying to plan for net zero carbon futures. The toolkit shows the main sources of local emissions so local action can be directed effectively. For example, housing accounts for almost half the territorial emissions in Lyme Regis with transport the second largest contributor.
Consumption emissions per household in Lyme Regis compared to Bridport
Once the effect of consumption is taken into account, however, the housing contribution is reduced to the fourth largest, with the emissions caused by the consumption of goods and services; travel; and food & diet categories exceeding those from housing.
The scale of the consumption-based emissions seems daunting but there are personal and family-based Carbon Footprinting Toolkits, for example, Giki Zero (see Local News for Corfe Castle’s initiative with Giki Zero) which are fun as well as functional to use.
Using the Impact Toolkit at a community level alongside encouraging households to adopt small lifestyle changes (with Giki Zero) can create genuine community engagement as individuals realise the impact their personal consumption habits can have in the overall carbon footprint of their towns and villages.
The Impact Toolkit also allows comparisons with national and county averages, as well as other towns. A preliminary analysis of neighbouring and similar towns in Dorset seems to show that towns with more balanced reliance on local and visitor services have lower carbon footprints than those more dependent on the visitor economy.
Their 2030 Pledge Campaign calls on local councillors to pledge:
“… to do everything in my power to ensure our local authority works in collaboration with the local community to:
Their Climate Engagement Trello Board collects examples of community engagement by local authorities on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. You can view the board here.
Their LOCAL AUTHORITY CLIMATE PLAN CHECKLIST – developed by Climate Emergency UK, Friends of the Earth, Centre for Alternative Technology & Ashden. Community groups (that’s us) can use the checklist to assess the ambition of their local authority’s plan. Has anyone got time to use this to assess Dorset Council’s draft Action Plan? Please let us know if you have.
Climate Emergency UK Newsletter March 2021
There was great coverage in the Dorset Echo of the questions that we and others put to Dorset Council’s Scrutiny Committee at their meeting on 24th March. Here’s an extract from Trevor Bevins’ piece:
“Caz Dennett, from Weymouth, has criticised the way questions were framed in the council’s climate consultation which, she says, gave respondents no chance to put forward some views about carbon neutral target dates in the short survey. She says that, as result, the conclusion of the report should be declared invalid because the two surveys, in her opinion, asked significantly different questions.
Corfe Castle parish councillor Josephine Parish claims that since Covid 19 Dorset Council has not held any ‘genuine two way public engagement’ on the climate and ecological emergencies. She says the authority also missed an opportunity by not sending out information about the issues with recent council tax bills. She says that although Dorset Council held no public meetings, where the public were able to ask questions, other organisations did so, proving that it could be done.
‘Given the response rate of less than 0.5% of residents that Dorset Council achieved in its consultation process, will the scrutiny committee recommend that Dorset Council work closely with Dorset-based climate and environmental advocacy groups and organisations (including Parish & Town Councils) which are clearly able to reach – and communicate with – concerned residents more effectively?’
Other questions to this week’s scrutiny committee ask why there is no implementation schedule for the Local Transport Plan. Helen Sumbler says dealing with transport matters is one of the best ways for the county to tackle climate change. She has also asked for an update on the Rights of Way Improvement Plan.”
Read the Dorset Echo article
Headlined "think again", Dorset CAN's detailed response was spearheaded by Prof. Michael Dower, who said:
“The Council has made a heavy rod for all our backs by choosing - quite unnecessarily - a method which exaggerates the number of new houses and workspaces that are needed. Before we are all dragged by this false start into a deeply damaging scale of new development, we plead with the Council to think again.”
Dorset Council’s estimate of need for over 39,000 new houses is based on a standard method of assessment used by the Government, plus a deliberate policy of over-supply adopted by the Council. But Dorset CAN says that Government rules, set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, allow local authorities to adopt an alternative method if they face ‘exceptional circumstances’. It urges the Council to use the unique richness of the county’s landscape, wildlife, historic and coastal heritage to justify a different approach, focused truly on local need for housing and workspace.
Read the response and press release here