Ours could be a true eco city, but only if we put the environment higher up the agenda, argues Councillor Keith Aspden
I recently asked City of York Council to back an ambitious vision to make York the greenest city in the North of England. A city with the highest recycling rates amongst comparable councils. A city with a food waste recycling scheme in place.
A city which is seriously and ambitiously looking at renewable energy and sustainable food strategies.
The Liberal Democrat motion, moved at July’s full council meeting, did not claim to have all the answers. Indeed, we called for a cross-party working group to be set-up so that together the political parties might put the environment firmly back on the agenda after a period of stagnation.
In 2007 the Lib Dem-run City of York Council had begun an ambitious programme to lower council CO2 emissions by 25 per cent in five years.
By reducing the number of authority buildings from 17 to 2, encouraging a change in staff working practices, and installing new biomass heating systems in schools and libraries, the target was comprehensively met – and then exceeded.
Earlier this year, at the end of the programme, a 28 per cent reduction had been achieved.
This was not a one-off. Under the Lib Dems the recycling rate increased from 12 per cent to 43 per cent, “passivhaus” energy efficiency building standards were pioneered and a scheme to install solar panels on over 400 council homes was started.
When we lost power in 2011, we hoped that the hard work and innovation would continue under the new Labour administration. We had laid the foundations and the opportunity was Labour’s to build on…
Unfortunately, over the last two years the issue has fallen off the political radar and a series of unpopular moves has halted progress. When the well-used Beckfield Lane Recycling Centre was closed and an unpopular green bin tax introduced, the usual refrain of “government cuts” was heard.
However, it has become increasingly apparent that while resources can be found to fund a new cabinet job, or attend an estate agents conference in Cannes, the money cannot be found for green initiatives.
The Labour council has made progress in areas such as addressing fuel poverty. However, in July it was confirmed that not only have 2012/13 recycling targets been missed but the overall recycling rate has fallen.
Meanwhile, a replacement carbon reduction programme has not materialised and ambitions to achieve a switch from car to public transport usage have also collapsed, with bus use seeing a nine per cent drop last year.
While other councils innovate and embrace the opportunities provided by the Government’s Green Deal, York is falling behind. The opportunity to save money through environmental initiatives, and halt the rise in landfill tax pay-outs is being missed.
It was for this reason that I attempted to get cross-party support for my policy motion. Unfortunately, the council’s byzantine guillotine procedure meant our motion was never debated, and was then summarily voted down by Labour’s majority.
Despite this setback, I hope progress can still be made and we can begin the work on restoring York to its rightful position as an innovative and green city – leading the way on environmental issues.
I firmly believe that making York a true eco-city has the potential to have huge environmental, as well as financial, benefits for local residents. On this point there should be a political consensus.
Two years have been lost; we cannot afford to lose more.
- Councillor Keith Aspden is leader of the Liberal Democrat group on City of York Council