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A ‘climate emergency’ declaration with the bold ambition of having Southend go carbon neutral by 2030 could face more than a month-long delay after members of the Conservatives said more scrutiny was needed.
The declaration was approved by council leaders during a cabinet meeting in the middle of September with Liberal Democrat councillor Carole Mulroney, who oversees environment, claiming work needs to begin as a “matter of urgency”.
Cabinet approval would have been the policy’s final hurdle, but work halted after opposition Conservative councillors said it should be discussed further at a scrutiny committee on Monday.
Councillor Tony Cox, leader of the Conservatives, said the reason was that the administration failed to provide any firm commitments on how they will achieve their goals.
“We fully support the declaration, but we want to know more about the substance behind this and to work with the administration to develop policies that will help to keep us on track for the 2030 target,” he said.
“We have a few questions around the policies attached to this and what we are actually going to do, what are the ideas. The leader of the council has previously called this ‘symbolic’, but it can only be successful if you have things in mind that can be done. We feel climate change should be connected to policy.”
The council has provided few details on how the 2030 goal will be achieved but has said that some of the work could be delivered through “existing resources” as part of a long-term 2050 plan, while others must “involve partners and their resources”.
They have also said that the work already undertaken by the council has resulted in a 75 per cent cut in emissions from council buildings.
Labour councillor Matt Dent, one of the proposers of the climate emergency, said: “I’m baffled at what can be behind this. I cannot believe that anyone can be in doubt as to the urgent danger facing the world, and it’s a huge disappointment that any group on the council would want to delay or block the council taking action to address it.
“Southend residents deserve more responsible local government than this.”
Labour councillor Kay Mitchell, another signatory of the motion, said: “Southend is one of the worst places in the country for air quality, and as a coastal community will be one of the first to suffer the effects of climate change.
“Other parts of the world are already seeing the effects, and we do not have any time to lose in moving to net-zero carbon emissions.
“Southend cannot stop climate change alone, but we all have our part to play. Our residents, in particular our young people, would expect nothing less than for our town should be looking to lead the way on this critical issue.”
Discussion of the climate emergency will take place on Monday evening during a Place Scrutiny Committee meeting.