Is there really lack of progress over climate change in Harrogate district or do contentious times lie ahead

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson said back in June that “we will build greener and build a more beautiful Britain”  the direction of travel on the environment seemed to have been settled.

Monday, 16th November 2020, 5:35 pm

But such is the frustration about a perceived lack of progress in the Harrogate district in tackling the climate crisis, local campaigners now fear hopes of a “green recovery” from Covid are in danger of meaning more in words than action.

That’s part of the reason why more than 4,000 members from 13 local environmental organisations, including Harrogate District Friends of the Earth, Harrogate District Cycle Action Group and Harrogate & District Green Party, have come together to form Harrogate District Climate Action Network (HD-CAN).

A wide variety of the Harrogate district's environmental groups have joined to make up Harrogate District Climate Action Network, including Shan Oakes of the Harrogate and District Green Party, pictured here.

The formation of the new green ‘super group’ has been followed with an announcement by the existing Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition (HDCCC) of a new ‘phase of development’.

Meanwhile, Zero Carbon Harrogate - also a member of the newly-formed HD-CAN - has chosen this moment to unveil a new strategic plan on transforming the Harrogate district into a Net Zero Carbon District by 2030.

But is there really lack of progress over climate change in our area or do more contentious times now lie ahead?

Amid the steady proliferation of acronyms associated with green causes locally, there is clearly no shortage of desire among people and politicians for Harrogate to do its bit for the planet.

One of the founding members of HD-CAN, Harrogate resident Nic Houghton, says local campaigners remain happy to talk - so long as the end result is more action.

He said: “There are so many passionate people in the Harrogate district who want to help do something about climate change. But we need to develop a different kind of conversation. Let’s keep the pressure up but let’s not have bickering, let’s work together.”

Last week saw members of HD-CAN scheduled to meet Harrogate Borough Council leaders to talk about progress.

HDCCC was actually set up by Harrogate council in November 2019, to achieve much the same objectives being espoused by HD-CAN, bringing together, originally, a diverse range of local residents, businesses, environmental groups, green activists and politicians to promote carbon neutrality.

Since then the council has set the goal of creating a net zero-carbon economy in the Harrogate district by 2038, though it has declined to join more than half of all UK councils in declaring a climate emergency.

The brand new HDCCC website aims to raise awareness of the impact climate change is already having in the Harrogate district, and to point residents and businesses towards what steps can be taken to limit this.

Coun Phil Ireland, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for carbon reduction and sustainability, said: “Responding to the climate crisis facing us all is not just an issue for us at council. It’s an issue for every resident and business across the district. That’s why we are eager to reach out and work together to reduce carbon emissions.’’

There is no shortage of ideas for developing a more sustainable future from North Yorkshire County Council either.

Having completed its Harrogate Congestion Study in 2019, recent weeks have seen the county council as our highways authority successfully bid for Government cash for environmental transport improvements not once but twice.

Firstly when it was awarded almost £8million of Government cash to create an eco-friendly ‘gateway’ in the Station Parade part of Harrogate.

Secondly, it won its bid for £1million to make major changes to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists in Harrogate and Knaresborough, including building new pop-up bike lanes, widened pavements and cycle-only corridors..

So what is the problem, I hear you ask?

For a start, the complexities of delivering change are such that even minor plans for a partial pedestrianisation of James Street in Harrogate had to be delayed until next year after opposition from businesses.

And, as the 24 pages of Zero Carbon Harrogate’s new strategic plan make clear, good intentions have not produced significant results yet.

“Harrogate District ‘s annual per capita carbon emissions runs some 1.5 tonnes of CO2 above the UK average,” it says on page 7. “Whilst emissions from road transport account for 49% of the total CO2 emissions for Harrogate District, they have only been reduced by 0.6% over the last 10 years,” it adds on page 8.

As the formation of a Harrogate wing of Extinction Rebellion showed earlier in the year, there is still a possibility of confrontation erupting on the one subject which, in theory, should unite everyone.

No one the Harrogate Advertiser talked to, neither green campaigners nor local authorities, wanted to see an ‘us and them’ situation emerge over climate change.

The question remains, however, do the developments of recent days show that everyone is really on the same page - or is it a sign that the whole process is set to descend into a giant slanging match?

Zero Carbon Harrogate: How it sees a greener future for the Harrogate district and the scale of the problems

Formed in 2016 as an independent voluntary organisation seeking to support action to rapidly establish Harrogate as a low carbon economy, Zero Carbon Harrogate’s just-published new strategy sets out a comprehensive path to achieve that objective.

The 24-page report also sets out the reasons why.

It says, at 6.7 tonnes per person a year, Harrogate’s carbon emissions are higher than the national average of 5.2 tonnes.

Furthermore, the district’s emissions from transport are also significantly higher than the national average and have been cut by a paltry 0.6% over the last ten years.

Jemima Parker, chair of Zero Carbon Harrogate said: “If we continue to take a ‘business as usual’ approach to the way we live and work we will breach the 1.5°C limited in global heating that the scientific community has identified as being critical to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“We must adapt to new ways of living and we must do it quickly.”

Ultimately, Zero Carbon Harrogate’s strategy is a positive one. It shows how it is possible for Harrogate to transform itself into a ‘Net Zero Carbon District’ by 2030 through a combination of switching to green energy, green housing and green transport.

A low carbon lifestyle would not only help save the planet, it concludes, it would also be a nicer one to live in.

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