Sunday, 24 October 2021

Councillors divided over support for climate bill

Councillors divided over support for climate bill

COUNCILLORS in Sonning Common were divided over a decision to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

Some said the move would be seen as “political” while others argued that the environment affected everyone.

The private members’ bill, which has had its first reading in the House of Commons, would commit the UK to doing all it can to prevent a temperature rise of more than 1.5C.

The council debated a recommendation by its village centre and environment committee that it backs the bill and writes to Henley MP John Howell (pictured) asking him to vote for it.

Councillor Vicky Boorman, who chairs the committee, said: “It’s important to make our thoughts heard, making our local MP aware of the urgency of the situation.”

During the public participation part of the meeting, former council chairman Douglas Kedge said the issue was not for a parish council to consider.

He said: “I share the concerns of the environmental committee about climate change. However, as a resident, I urge councillors to vote against the motion.

“There are two reasons. Firstly, such support is outside the remit of a parish council.

“This is a national concern, not that for a parish council which is elected by residents for parish and local matters, not national issues. Agreeing a motion would set a dangerous precedent for this council, which would mean any member could consider any national issue. The council did not consider Brexit.

“It’s noted that many parish councils across Oxfordshire have voted in favour but Sonning Common Parish Council should not follow.

“Also, how many councillors have read the report they claim to support?”

Mr Kedge said his second reason for rejecting the motion was the bill’s requirement to form a national assembly within five months which he described as “nonsense”.

Council chairman Michael Cann agreed, saying he had made a promise when he became a councillor in August last year that he would not put forward his political views.

He said: “I will go with whatever decision the council makes, but I want to stress I don’t think it’s a very good look for the council. We do have a choice.

“There’s not a councillor in this room who isn’t absolutely behind improving the environment. I’d like to think our support is about getting things done for residents.

“My plea is to think very carefully about this and whether we want to stray into political debate.”

Councillor John Stoves said: “We have a responsibility as the parish council to follow the guidelines for not getting involved in national issues but you can go on the website and report your support as an individual and I think we should do that instead. Think local, act local, that’s what I would advise.”

Councillor Diana Pearman called the committee’s role “absolutely critical” but said she feared that political discussions would affect the way the council was run.

She said: “One concern I’ve had about Henley Town Council is they’ve always taken politics into their discussions and over the last few years it has really affected the way things have been done.

“I would not have wanted to join Henley Town Council but I wanted to join this one as politics has never been an issue.

“I would be very worried if we went down the line of considering every bill the Government puts forward. Whether we vote for or against, it won’t make much difference.”

However, Councillor Jonny Bidgood said: “I think we’re faced with an extraordinary situation at the moment with climate change and the climate emergency in the way we’ve been faced with the absolutely extraordinary situation of covid.

“Sure enough, lots of major things needs to change to sort climate out but it’s the most important thing in my view so my inclination is I want to support this. It’s a massive concern despite the fact we may or may not get political retribution for it.

“Henley Town Council supported it and they have the same problems as us and I think we should join them. Climate emergency is the number one thing.”

Councillor Leigh Rawlins argued that climate change shouldn’t be thought of as a national issue as it affected everyone.

“I think we should support this bill,” he said. “There’s no part of ‘global’ that isn’t local. It’s about the entire environment in which we’re living.

“We can’t say, ‘Well, the bill is not proper for us to talk about’.

“For me, these things are universal and it’s very hard to tell everyone else to play their part if we’re not playing ours.

“It’s beyond politics because there isn’t a way of not addressing this matter. It’s of such importance that it needs to be addressed. Everyone has to come together to do their best.”

Councillor Jane Diwell said she didn’t think the bill would be passed regardless of the council’s motion but it was important to put more pressure on the Government.

She said: “If we look at the history of this Government, they always do everything a little too late — just look at covid. They need a kick up their backside to pass this bill.”

The council voted 5-3 to support the bill and to write to Mr Howell, who has said he believes the proposed legislation is flawed.

Parish clerk Philip Collings said he disagreed with the bill and would refuse to sign the letter, adding that he would rather leave his job.

Deputy clerk Ros Varnes said she would sign the letter on behalf of the council instead.

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