Calder Valley MP candidates debate climate change at election hustings

Three of the four candidates fighting for the Calder Valley seat in the General Election were questioned on what they or their parties would do to tackle climate change at a hustings meeting.

Extinction Rebellion, Calderdale Friends of the Earth and Treesponsibility hosted the hustings at Hope Baptist Church, Hebden Bridge.

Candidates who were at the Climate Change hustings in Hebden Bridge, from the left, were Josh Fenton-Glynn (Labour), Richard Phillips (Liberal Party) and Javed Bashir (Liberal Democrat)

Candidates who were at the Climate Change hustings in Hebden Bridge, from the left, were Josh Fenton-Glynn (Labour), Richard Phillips (Liberal Party) and Javed Bashir (Liberal Democrat)

Liberal Democrat candidate Javed Bashir, Labour candidate Josh Fenton-Glynn and Liberal Party candidate Richard Phillips answered questions submitted at the meeting.

Conservative candidate Craig Whittaker, who is defending the seat, had a long-standing prior engagement and was unable to attend but did send a statement which was read out when other candidates made their overall pitches at the start of the meeting, following remarks from two young people who outlined what they expected from candidates on climate change.

Questions were chosen to represent a wide range of issues relating to climate change without any repetition, allowing more ground to be covered in limited time.

All four candidates agreed climate change was a major challenge facing individuals and governments across the globe.

Coun Fenton-Glynn, who is a Labour councillor for Calder ward on Calderdale Council, said flooding events like those of 2012 and 2015 showed how climate change was affecting Calder valley people and experts say they expected more. “That’s not normal. If we don’t do anything in the next 11 years it could be too late,” he said.

Mr Phillips said said measures the Liberal Party would be looking at included scrappage schemes encouraging people to buy lower energy using white goods and stopping deforestation.

Mr Bashir said the Liberal Democrats’ Remain stance on the Brexit issue was important because climate change was an issue of such magnitude it had to be tackled collectively, including with European partners.

Government policy and funding and people’s actions as individuals, such as consumer buying habits, were two elements that would be central to responding to climate change.

Mr Whittaker in his statement said he recognised the urgency of the issue and the UK could be proud of its record, setting legally binding long term environmental targets, with a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions to be met by 2050.

The UK had cut emissions by 40 per cer cent while growing the economy by two thirds and was the best performing G7 nation, he said. Government industrial strategy and support for agriculture and zero deforestation were other measures Government was taking, said Mr Whittaker.

Through the evening the candidates faced questions on what they would do to stop reliance on fossil fuels, what strategies their parties would pursue to combat flooding, how nationalisation might effect people being able to choose a renewable energy provider, how use of diesel vans and lorries might be addressed, the ability of governments to meet targets they set for tree planting, whether or not Government would sign up to a Future Generations Act to endure all policy decisions had to be made for the long term, whether agriculture should move to producing for plant-based diets and finally what was their Martin Luther King-style dream for the world.

In responses, Coun Fenton-Glynn spoke about Labour policy on how carbon neutral goals would be reached, with Government needing to be a driver, flooding alleviation measures mixing engineering, natural flood management and the need to pressurise Yorkshire Water to maintain valley reservoir stocks at a 10 per cent lower level, and nationalisation aiming to ensure 100 per cent of people’s power came from renewables.

Labour’s green industrial revolution would include elements like putting freight back on rail, he said, and public bodies like local and national government should switch their vehicle fleets to electric. Incentives to farmers would help with reforesting and rewilding.

Mr Phillips spoke about Liberal Party policy, and some ideas of his own, including moving from fossil fuels to green energy from wave, wind and geo-thermal sources, the need to reforest and rewild the landscape, and the possibility of exploring sourcing power from more efficient, modern and safer nuclear reactors.

Transferring vehicle use from diesel and petrol to electric needed investment in technology, he said.

Mr Bashir spoke about Liberal Democrat policy on decarbonising the economy, the need to plant more trees and their role in flood alleviation, and the risk nationalisation posed to being able to choose to buy energy from a 100 per cent renewables source.

Electrifying rail networks would reduce fossil fuel use and projects like Hydrogen 21 gas-to-hydrogen transfers being pursued with industry partners were important, he said. Ambitious tree planting targets should be met but they had to be realistic, said Mr Bashir.

All candidates attending said they would sign up to a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in England – there is one in Wales – to emphasise long-term policy planning.

And while encouraging people to move to a more plant based diet might be an aim it had down to personal choice and incentives and help should be offered to farmers to help them transition, they said.

Coun Fenton-Glynn criticised Mr Whittaker’s record but the event as a whole was not a “knocking” event, with candidates attending facing some testing questions.

In a “wild card” question Coun Fenton-Glynn in turn faced a question from Mr Bashir about his role as a councillor and the recent Todmorden Lidl planning application with which residents were not satisfied with elements relating to the dispersal of floodwater. Coun Fenton-Glynn said the council had held back approval until work had been done and it was probable it needed to be looked at again as it was the authority’s job to hold them to account.