Tomorrow’s local elections seem to have raised more interest than any I can remember.
Those of us that care about the environment and climate change have the opportunity to elect councillors that share our values, so they can represent us and help take wise decisions for the long-term benefit of us all.
This isn’t going to be an easy task, because there are a myriad of competing issues: The cost of living crisis, the climate and biodiversity emergencies, the housing shortage, inequality, the crisis in the NHS and social care, and the state of the roads and pavements. The task of fixing any of these is compounded by our ridiculously complicated local government structure and central government’s steady erosion of local councils’ funding and powers.
The Sustainable Travel Zone, Greenways and busways have their supporters and opponents, but decisions on these are primarily the responsibility of the GCP and the County Council, so the City Councillors we elect will only have indirect influence.
The most important of the long-term tasks for the City Councillors is probably the completion of the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, in partnership with South Cambs. This will guide development up to 2041, attempting to find ways to preserve our environment in the face of the anticipated levels of economic growth and jobs.
Unfortunately restricting growth to a sustainable level is trickier than many hope. For example, I gather that although the Local Plan can restrict the level of housing development if there is evidence that it is “unsustainable” (which it clearly is) there is surprisingly little guidance about how to prove this.
We shouldn’t expect Cambridge Water to provide it, because they have a “legal obligation to supply”, so as community groups we need to continue pushing on the ‘environmental harm’ being created by the depletion of the aquifer. Otherwise we’ll be forced to continue drying out our chalk streams to flush water down the toilet.
Despite its limitations, the draft Local Plan has good aspects too. For example, to protect the greenbelt and reduce the need to travel by car, new housing up to 2041 is focussed on a few well-connected sites, such as Northstowe, Cambourne, the airport and (if it is relocated) the Cambridge sewage works. Carbon Neutral Cambridge supports this.
Carbon Neutral Cambridge also strongly supports the proposed Net Zero Carbon Homes policy. This would require all new homes to be so well insulated they would cost virtually nothing to heat, and to generate as much renewable electricity as they use. It will be important to defend this policy, because some of the less responsible developers would love to see it disappear.
It’s not often that something as simple as voting can be so important for our future.