County Council 2019 Budget a Missed Opportunity

The County Council budget meeting today was adjourned for just over an hour after eXtinction Rebellion held a ‘trial’ in the chamber, calling for more action on climate change in the County Council budget.

When the meeting resumed, Green Party County Councillors Rachel Smith and Eva Ward presented a number of climate-conscious budget amendments.

These amendments were aimed at reducing the county’s climate-wrecking carbon emissions, by increasing the cycling infrastructure budget 10-fold this year, and 10-fold next year; ring-fencing the integrated transport capital fund to be spent for the quantifiable benefit of pedestrians, public transport-users, and cyclists and expanding the capacity of the Think Travel team to support more schools to develop their school travel. These costed proposals were all voted down.

A further proposed amendment to the county council’s strategy, calling for a moratorium on new road building where net benefits to air pollution and carbon emissions cannot be proven, was also turned down, meaning that the County risks increasing damage to the climate at a time when it should be taking urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

Rachel and Eva also brought an amendment to allocate an unused political researcher budget to create a public participation officer role that would better support public participation in scrutiny and democratic decision-making. However, instead of demonstrating any real commitment to public participation, the Conservative leadership bounced this proposal off into a task group.

Cllr Rachel Smith said: “We remained in the Council Chamber to hear what the protestors had to say. We are deeply concerned that the press were removed from the building, and that the members of other parties immediately left the room without seeking to listen or engage.

Democracy has many parts: from the responsibility of elected representatives to their electorates, to the responsibility of citizens to speak truth to power.”

Cllr Eva Ward said: “The protests today came about from a feeling of helplessness and fear. People are rightly concerned that the County Council is not taking climate change seriously. People do not undertake protests of this kind lightly; there is serious thought and a sincerity of belief that all councillors should take on board.”

Cllr Rachel Smith (Green Group Leader) further commented: “The joint statement from Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats said that protestors actions had “crossed the line”, but unless we take urgent action climate change, all the evidence shows that our planet will be pushed across a line to climate catastrophe.

The amendments we brought today were all costed and achievable, and could have brought real change: with support for cycling, and a commitment to make sure any road building only happens when it will improve air quality, and cut carbon. We should be maintaining the roads we’ve got and making transport sustainable: not repeating old mistakes of more roads, which simply means more car journeys.

We are disappointed these amendments were defeated, and that all other parties voted to continue pouring our money into road building schemes, even when they will harm our environment. We fear that once again we’ve seen other parties pay lip-service to climate change concerns, but with no effort to back that with real action.”