Harrogate councillors clash after climate change debate gets fiery

A seemingly-straight forward motion on climate change sparked a fiery war of words at March's full meeting of council. Picture: Lachlan Leeming
A seemingly-straight forward motion on climate change sparked a fiery war of words at March's full meeting of council. Picture: Lachlan Leeming

A seemingly straight-forward move to announce a climate change emergency became an unlikely political battleground at March's full meeting of Harrogate council.

Two competing motions - one tabled by the Liberal Democrats, followed by an amendment from the Conservatives - saw tensions briefly spill over, with Mayor Bernard Bateman eventually calling for a five minute adjournment for councillors to "calm down" and read newly-submitted paperwork.

It started when Councillor Pat Marsh, head of the Liberal Democrats, moved her party's notice of motion to declare a climate emergency.

Similar motions have been tabled at councils across the country in recent months, with North Norfolk District Council the only one to reject it thus far.

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Among the motion's stipulations are that the council would pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030 and commit to a draft plan within six months outlining how the council would achieve that.

The motion also called on the leader of the council, Richard Cooper, to urge North Yorkshire County Council to take a leading role on tackling carbon neutrality.

"We need rapid and dramatic reductions in greenhouse emissions," Coun Marsh said in introducing the motion.

“We really have entered the phase of now or never.

“How can we reassure the younger generation that we're doing everything in our power to make sure they and the earth have a future?"

However, in moving an amendment, Coun Cooper criticised the original motion, saying it "lacks ambition" and would give fuel to climate denialists.

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"We shouldn't actually be voting on whether there is a climate emergency or not," Coun Cooper said.

"To have a vote is to say climate change is a matter of opinion - it is not, it is a fact.

"We should not allow, in this chamber, to allow the climate deniers of this world that climate change is a matter of opinion - it is not."

He added that the amendment "had ambitions to do better than just the motion other districts have passed".

The Conservative-led amendment stated that the council would acknowledge it is "almost in line with" the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's position of a 45 per cent reduction by 2030, while it would make the slight tweaks required to hit that target.

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It also noted the efforts council has already made, such as its carbon-reducing move to the Civic Centre, reducing staff car mileage by 45 per cent since 2010, and adoption of a low emission vehicle strategy.

However, Coun Marsh hit back, saying that the amendment included "too much patting ourselves on the back".

"We are not doing enough, and we are not doing it quickly enough," she said of the council's current carbon-cutting efforts.

"I can not support this very wordy amendment...it's not strong enough."

The Liberal Democrats than introduced an amendment to the Conservative amendment - which was enough to confuse even regular council-goers in the room - which was circulated around the chamber.

It drew the ire of Coun Cooper, who took exception to the latest amendment not being circulated earlier in the day, after the Conservatives sent across their original amendment shortly after midday.

"Coun Marsh and the Liberal Democratics... had seven hours to come and talk to me about this," he said.

"It just shows they're determined to disagree."

It led to Coun Bateman, the mayor and chair of the meeting, to call for a five-minute adjournment.

Following the short break, it was announced that both parties would withdraw their respective motions and amendments, instead coming together to form a single document that both parties agreed on and would be brought back at a future meeting.

The move received a round of applause from the chamber and onlooking residents.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter