Column: Talking Politics - Climate emergency, or climate hypocrisy?

Coun Steven Leigh, Leader of the Conservative Group on the need to see real action on the environment.

By Zoe Drye
Thursday, 30th June 2022, 11:30 am
The Labour Cabinet voted against declaring an Air Quality Management Area in West Vale, despite the severe levels of congestion in the vicinity of a primary school and care home (picture courtesy of Lyndsey Ashton, Greetland Pressure Group).
The Labour Cabinet voted against declaring an Air Quality Management Area in West Vale, despite the severe levels of congestion in the vicinity of a primary school and care home (picture courtesy of Lyndsey Ashton, Greetland Pressure Group).

Calderdale Council declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ in January 2019, but their record on the environment has been abysmal. Labour’s decision not to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in West Vale at June’s Cabinet meeting is a testament to their climate hypocrisy.

Soundbites, buzzwords, and bluster are three words which come to mind when analysing the performance of Labour-run Calderdale Council when it comes to the environment. ‘Let’s clear the air’, ‘Emissions Reduction Pathway’, ‘Climate Action Plan’ to name a few of the usual talking points voiced by Coun Patient, the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Resilience. Whilst the Cabinet Member continues to virtue signal on personally swapping his car for a bike, for most families in Calderdale, this is not a serious proposal. Many people are not fortunate enough to live close enough to their place of work, nor are their children in walking distance of their schools.

We require long-term strategic planning with developed proposals to drastically reduce emissions and meet our net-zero commitment by 2050. The Labour-run Council continues to reiterate its achievements in electrifying some of its vans and rolling out LED streetlights, but it is overshadowed by many inconsistent and incomprehensible decisions, which will have a lasting impact on the borough.

Labour’s Local Plan will build thousands of homes on the Green Belt. These commandeered Green Belt sites will no longer be able to assist in natural carbon mitigation by absorbing pollutants in the air. Many of these sites are located near congestion hot spots such as Brighouse, Hipperholme, Rastrick and West Vale. In terms of West Vale in particular, over 600 additional houses are set to be built, adding more vehicles to an area where the infrastructure simply cannot cope. More vehicles will sit idle in traffic, impacting upon the health of primary school children and local care home residents. The Labour Cabinet refused to endorse the Place Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation to declare an AQMA in an area which for years has been very marginally complying with national air quality objectives, but dismissed it based on unsound evidence citing improved levels of air quality in 2020, at the height of restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there were greatly reduced traffic volumes. This is not the first time that Labour has treated air quality issues so disdainfully.

Last year, they approved the application for an incinerator in Sowerby Bridge (in a valley bottom!), rather than utilise the legal instruments at their disposal and challenge the application. Luckily, due to the great campaign of residents assisted by Ryburn Conservative Councillors, the incinerator application has now gone to judicial review.

The Labour Cabinet has failed to rise to the challenge of its own climate emergency. At the last Cabinet meeting, we heard Coun Patient claim that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would not seriously consider an AQMA in West Vale, despite this decision being entirely at the discretion of the council. Last year, he claimed his ‘hands were tied’ on the application for an incinerator, yet we found out that there was more that could be done. We are tired of the press releases and photo opportunities; we want to start seeing some real action on the environment.