“Rugby Borough Council declares a Climate Emergency - what emergency?”
One of our residents is concerned the climate response is piecemeal, leaving power in the hands of the developers
Thurlaston resident and parish councillor Keith Boardman worries there’s nobody senior in Rugby Borough Council with sole responsibility for taking the climate emergency seriously. He’s worried the climate response is piecemeal, leaving too much power in the hands of the developers.
To put this into context, Sir David Attenborough told the UN Security Council in February 2021:
“If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature, and ocean food chains.
“People today all over the world now realise this is no longer an issue which will affect future generations. It is people alive today, and, in particular, young people, who will live with the consequences of our actions.”
Rugby Borough Council’s climate emergency
We looked into Rugby Borough Council’s work on this issue since declaring a climate emergency in July 2019.
Cllr Seb Lowe said of the new budget in March 2020: “Our priority will be to address the climate emergency, support economic recovery and improve health and wellbeing. We have committed through our new Corporate Strategy to work with our communities to do what’s right for Rugby.
“As we transition from a response phase to recovery, we will be able to accelerate our work on a new vision for Rugby’s town centre, on environmental improvements and on closing the gap on health and wellbeing.”
Thurlaston parish councillor Keith Boardman agrees that now is the time to be doing something about the climate.
“The whole world is worried about the climate emergency,” he said. “The climate emergency keeps ramping up each month.”
But Dr Boardman worries that Rugby Borough Council doesn’t have somebody at the top level of executive management with the climate emergency in their portfolio. He’s concerned this means development will be done piecemeal, without taking a holistic approach that could help mitigate the climate emergency.
He worries that the combination of plans, for example Symmetry Park and the minerals plan which puts a potential quarry near Frankton, will mean it will be impossible to reduce the carbon footprint in the area.
A Rugby Borough Council spokesman assured us that the proposed development at Symmetry Park was designed to be net zero carbon in construction, although that doesn’t take into account the extra traffic from the site.
Quarries are a matter for the minerals planning authority, which is overseen Warwickshire County Council, rather than Rugby Borough Council.
Dr Boardman said: “It struck me and my parish council colleagues that there are a lot of aspirations in managing the climate and carbon footprint. But a lot of proposals are in the hands of developers. Will they be appropriately policed?
“What the whole of Rugby needs to do is make sure all the threads work holistically to make sure we are successful in reducing the carbon footprint.”
Dr Boardman wants to see ‘robust, professional expertise’ at board level. Somebody, he says, who can influence strategy and implementation of climate emergency measures.
“I don’t want to criticise the borough council but want the climate emergency to be taken with the seriousness it needs.”
“My concern about the RBC climate emergency working group is that it’s going at a different pace, looking at the borough council’s own estate. Not that it’s wrong, but it’s just scratching the surface.”
He added that the Government and the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs are tightening controls with the 2020 Environment Bill. It sets out that every new development should include a 10% biodiversity gain.
Dr Boardman said: “In other words it's not just about fixing existing (Rugby) estate, it's making sure developers make gains now, and not just waiting for nature (eg trees) to reach maturity to provide the gains.
“Without this the 2030 carbon neutral target unlikely to be achieved and arguably if we are not careful we could actually make the situation worse. In a sense that's a worry because with choosing green-field, good quality land for Symmetry Park implies we know we shall be making matters worse, and developers simply set aspirations to fix these. Arguably that's not good enough.
“I stress Rugby Borough Council declares a Climate Emergency - what emergency?”
A spokesman for Rugby Borough Council said: "Rugby Borough Council has set some of the most ambitious climate change targets of any local authority in the UK, and there is broad commitment to achieving those targets from all political parties.
"The vote to declare a climate emergency was passed unanimously. Following the declaration of a climate emergency, the council established a cross-party working group to determine how the targets can be achieved.
"The working group is due to report its findings later this year.
"Rugby Borough Council's new Corporate Strategy underlines our commitment to addressing climate change and meeting our ambitious targets by making it one of the key priorities which form the basis of all the council's work and objectives."
The RBC spokesman also told us that ‘the entire council budget is available to support the objectives of the Corporate Strategy. The strategy is used to direct individual service plans across the organisation, all of which must support the strategy's objectives. The entire senior management team is focused on achieving the strategy's objectives.’
Rugby Borough Council’s corporate strategy on climate states the following objectives:
Rugby Borough Council as an organisation will have zero net carbon emissions by 2030.
Work together to further improve the borough’s connectivity and encourage greener travel.
Reduce residents’ and businesses’ impact on the environment and help them adapt to the consequences of climate change.
Build environmentally sustainable homes, including within our own housing stock.
Link places together with good quality green infrastructure and improve biodiversity across the borough.
Promote and encourage green and sustainable businesses within the borough.
Reduce the carbon footprint of our council housing stock by 2027
Climate emergency working group
Dunsmore councillor Howard Roberts chairs the Rugby Borough Council climate emergency working group. He told SRN the group’s realm of power is narrow:
“We as a borough council have very limited powers and very limited areas to look at. And the whole focus of the Climate Emergency Working Group was to look at what we could do practically as an authority. We can’t change the planning laws; we don’t deal with the highways.
“The committee so far has decided the scope of what they can and can’t do. We decided to get rid of single use plastics for example, then we realised the council had bought a year’s supply of plastic cups. So we couldn’t get rid of it overnight but we will do once that runs out.”
Mr Roberts is also keen to increase tree planting and promote pollinator-friendly habitats in the borough. A tree policy was due to be considered by the Rugby Borough Council cabinet but work on it was delayed by the pandemic.
He told us the council had looked at bringing in electric vehicles for refuse collection but couldn’t find any that would be practical or economical to use.
Mr Roberts added: “Everything moves slowly in local government and it’s about getting the right decision.”
We asked MP Jeremy Wright what he thought of the climate emergency response in Rugby. He told us: “I believe that Rugby Borough Council is committed to addressing climate change. As part of that commitment, a cross-party working group has been established, which is due to report on its findings later this year.”
We’ve asked Mr Wright for more detail on what he can do to help South Rugby residents in the climate emergency.