A new climate body for Yorkshire will launch this week – but friction has already emerged over its make-up, both geographically and politically.
The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Change Commission brings together public, private and third sector actors to support climate actions.
Leaders of local authorities in York and North Yorkshire were briefed about the plans for the commission at a meeting on Friday (5 March).
At the meeting, Harrogate council leader Councillor Richard Cooper accused North Yorkshire and York’s council leaders of a “stitch up” over a proposal to make York councillor Keith Aspden the northern area’s representative.
Cllr Cooper wanted to challenge York council leader Cllr Aspden for that position – but noted that the votes of both York and North Yorkshire County Council were stacked against him.
“I’m happy to describe why I’m the best person for the job – but if it’s already stitched up between the proposer and the seconder because you’ve spoken about it beforehand, I’m not sure that there appears to be a great deal of point.”
As tensions mounted, Cllr Aspden agreed to step aside for Cllr Cooper to take the role in an attempt to avoid “allegations of decisions being taken behind closed doors”.
The decision means while the commission will see Labour Party politicians Dan Jarvis and Jack Hemingway acting in high-profile roles as vice-chairs in South and West Yorkshire respectively, Tory Richard Cooper will be their counterpart in the northern area.
Flooding concerns in York and Selby
The commission’s brief is “to give Yorkshire and the Humber a louder, clearer and unified voice with which to call for the changes and support that we need to see at the national level” to achieve net-zero as swiftly as possible and at the same pace across the region.
While the commission is yet to appoint an independent chair, the board would feature bosses from the water, gas, electricity, renewable energy, transport and housing food and drink sectors, as well as unions, NHS, and environmental groups.
The meeting heard North York Moors National Park Authority chairman Jim Bailey raise concerns.
He questioned why the region’s three national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty – to where many of the regions climate change-related issues are linked– were not being represented on the commission.
Harrogate council chief executive Wallace Sampson, who has been developing the commission, told the meeting a strong group would be in place to support the commission’s work from its outset and that Mr Bailey’s concerns would be considered.
After the meeting, North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor Carl Les said he believed the commission would see the region working together to deliver a unified message.
He said: “We do speak with one voice very well at times. We should not be in competition with each other about who’s doing what fastest and better. We should be identifying what is good and right to do and then getting together and doing it.”
Speaking about the commission’s initial focuses, Cllr Les said the impact of climate change on flooding had a big resonance in North Yorkshire, especially “further down river out of the Vale of York into York and the Selby area”.
He said: “We do seem to be having more flash flooding now than we’ve had in my lifetime. It is the issue that needs addressing most urgently.”