‘WE’RE impatient to tackle climate change’ says Warwick District Council leader Andrew Day ahead of the climate tax referendum.
Coun Day, who heads up the council’s ruling Conservative group, was among a cross-party gathering which launched the ‘Climate Action Now’ campaign. It followed a unanimous council vote to hold a referendum calling on residents to decide whether to pay extra council tax in a bid to reduce the district’s carbon emissions.
He told The Observer: “We’re impatient. This is an emergency. We can’t hang around. That’s frankly why we have to make these tough decisions now. No other council has ever taken out a referendum of this sort before – it’s a bit of a gamble.
“We’re giving our residents a chance to be the first in the country to take decisive action against climate change at a local level.
“The time is not later, it’s now. We’ve declared a climate emergency and now need to take urgent action by becoming carbon neutral.”
If given the green-light by residents in the May 7 referendum, the ‘Climate Action Fund’ would be used to finance a number of ways to reach the district council’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2025, and across the whole district by 2030.
The fund would generate £3million per year if council tax was raised by the equivalent of £1 per week for a Band D household.
Coun Day said: “The council generates about 3,000 tonnes of carbon a year against the district which creates about one million tonnes.
“Through this move we hope we will help other local authorities, the NHS, charities and businesses to also go carbon neutral and we want to help and encourage them to do that with this fund.”
The measures to be funded by the pot include a ‘district heating scheme’ using hydro-electricity harnessing the power of the River Leam, including a generator in the weir over MIll Bridge, to heat council-owned buildings and power the glasshouse in Jephson Gardens.
Coun Day said the move would create savings for the council which would be reinvested into the fund to create a ‘financial engine’ to drive other projects.
Electric taxis could also be introduced and electric vehicles to collect recycling, alongside a bid to prime minister Boris Johnson’s Electric Bus Scheme.
Improvement to public transport would also be on the green agenda.
Coun Day explained: “Moving to a new format with buses as seen in London, things like real time information instead of standing at a stop freezing for a long while, will encourage people to use public transport. If buses were clean with wifi it would be a much more pleasant experience. I live in a rural village myself and a reliable bus service into work would be a phenomenal boom. A lot of people wouldn’t bother driving into and parking cars in Leamington.”
Also included is a new Planning Development Policy to set the ‘highest eco standards in the country’ for new homes to include features like solar panels and insulation as well as creating a strategy for grey water management.
And while it might not contribute to carbon reduction, the fund would also be used to ‘build resilience’ to weather extremes.
Australian-born Coun Day continued: “We want to build resilience in our community. The fires I witnessed back at home in Australia over Christmas were pretty horrific and demonstrated step change. It’s not a gradual change what’s happening with climate emergency. Those firefighters were all volunteers, people like you and me, trained and provided with equipment via local authorities.
“This an opportunity to work with our residents across the district train them to deal with floods, storms and other weather extremes – things we cant expect central government to deal with.
“Our funding has been on nothing but a tightening shoestring. Inflation over last the last ten years has added up to around 25 per cent only been able to increase council tax by 16.9 per cent. We can do a lot less with the pound than we used to.
“The government’s revenue support grant used to be £10million. It’s nothing now. We’re working as hard as we can to be as efficient as possible but frankly there is nothing else we can use to fund this major programme.”
Coun Day revealed the cost of referendum would be some £300,000 which was being funded from the government provided ‘new homes bonus’ – which usually funds community facilities in new housing developments – while the campaign encouraging residents to back it was being funded from councillors’ own pockets.
A new senior officer role titled ‘programme director for climate change’ – paying up to £91,500 per year – will also be funded by the bonus.
Coun Day added it was an important advisory role to the programme which would be filled regardless of the referendum result.