Climate campaigners and local councillors have expressed their dismay at what they see as Dorset Council’s lack of progress a year after it declared a climate emergency.
The new authority made the declaration on 16 May last year at its first full council meeting.
But campaign group Extinction Rebellion (XR), whose members were present at that meeting, say that ‘twelve months on, there is still no strategy and action plan’.
Amy Smith from XR said: ‘A lot of people in the community share concern for our future and for the future of our children and children’s children. Since the declaration Dorset residents have come together and urged the council to do what they promised to do last May, to have an action plan within a couple of months.’
But the group says that the council has still not produced a strategy and action plan. ‘Not even a draft plan has been seen by councillors tasked with working on it,’ said a spokesperson.
XR’s Caz Dennett said: ‘We appreciate that the last eight weeks have been very challenging for local government and public services. We are truly grateful to all those working to maintain essential services and keep us safe. However, a strategy and action plan to tackle the ongoing and increasingly concerning environmental crisis should have been ready some considerable time before the Covid-19 pandemic “hit us like an express train”.’
And the group fears that a reluctance to hold full council meetings during the Covid-19 crisis will cause even more delay.
Julie-Ann Booker from XR added: ‘It’s clearly possible to make decisions without face to face meetings. We don’t accept the “technical difficulties” reason given. It’s concerning that the Advisory Panel – a cross-party Climate and Ecological Emergency Executive Advisory Panel – has not met since January. We have been able to hold virtual meetings with large numbers of rebels from across the county and across the country. I also understand that other Councils using the same digital platform as Dorset Council are managing to hold full Council meetings effectively.’
Dr. Jon Orrell who is a GP in Weymouth and Dorset Councillor for Melcombe Regis also called for action. ‘I would say the Council needs to take action on climate emergency with the same vigour as for coronavirus. We have proved that changes can be made fast and when there is a political will, there’s a way.
‘It is vital that we consolidate the welcome cuts to unnecessary travel for work or flying abroad. Any recovery package should favour a new green deal, not prop up old bad polluters. I call upon the cabinet to act with the energy and focus it found for COVID-19.’
Despite the lack of progress to date, many people who have campaigned for action continue to have hope. Eighty-year-old Joe Burlington is a campaigner from Bridport who spent nine days at XR’s Rebellion in London last October. ‘When we say Dorset Council “Where’s your plan?” really we mean “Where is our plan?”,’ he said. ‘The declaration a year ago was itself a huge positive, but decisions made now will affect all of us, our planet and our future – especially that of our children.
‘When elected members have done the right thing, it will be wonderful to celebrate. I look forward to the day when we can congratulate Dorset Council for doing what is necessary to lead us towards a safer future.’