York’s climate change strategy was repeatedly criticised as lacking in vision and ambition by campaigners as a draft was discussed in public for the first time.
Cllr Christian Vassie, chair of the climate change policy and scrutiny committee, also said he was “disappointed” by the document as it did not contain a clear action plan for how the city was going to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2030.
The document sets out the authority’s approach to reducing carbon emissions under its direct influence to net zero and is “the culmination of a robust scientific evidence base and extensive engagement”, according to City of York Council.
But several public speakers at a scrutiny meeting said that the stated goal of a 54 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 falls short of the 2015 Paris Agreement targets, which would require a 78 per cent reduction.
Richard Lane, a decarbonisation engineer, said vision was “lacking at the political level” and that the strategy “shies away from the council’s role in radical change”.
He added: “A three per cent reduction in road transport by 2030 is pitiful – it’s too late for messing around, we need urgent action.”
Tom Franklin, chair of York Green Party, described it as a “failure of leadership by the executive member for environment and climate change (Coun Paula Widdowson).”
Dave Merrett said: “To describe the proposed trend that’s identified in it as ‘high ambition’ is frankly greenwashing – it’s inadequate in ambition.”
The strategy contains 32 objectives to help the city meet its target, including retrofitting 29,100 homes, boosting active travel by 33 per cent and cutting the average number of miles travelled per person by 25 per cent.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Vassie said: “In this document we hear repeatedly that we’re a leading city but I think in our hearts we all know we’re not.”
Other cities in the UK had more comprehensive strategies, the committee chairman said.
“But we’ve not got that here and that deeply, deeply frustrates me, because there’s political consensus that this needs to happen,” he added.
‘Ambitious and achievable’
Labour’s Cllr Stuart Barnes said: “If this is the best we feel we can do after three years of work then my view would be that our best isn’t good enough.
“Failure is not an option that we should be politically willing to accept and therefore the start point has to be compliance with Paris.”
Lib Dem Cllr Stephen Fenton said: “I think we shouldn’t go out of our way to rubbish the achievements that have been made through the hard work of residents, communities and officers.”
The council’s head of carbon reduction, Shaun Gibbons, said the strategy was “ambitious and achievable”.
He said: “The strategy is about setting the framework for the next 10 years and making sure that every stakeholder in the city buys into that strategy.”
An action plan “demonstrating what’s in progress or what needs to be in progress” is shortly to be presented to the council, Mr Gibbons said.
He added: “It’s a very thorough list of what’s being delivered and what will be delivered across the council and right across the city over the next 18 months. I think we’re well on the way to producing what you’ve just described.”
The draft strategy is to go out for a final round of consultation before being proposed for adoption by the council in October.