Talking politics: James Baker (Lib Dem Leader in Calderdale)

Green bins
Green bins

This week, Coun James Baker discusses why more needs to be done to improve the recycling rate in Calderdale and help the environement.

It’s of huge disappointment that Calderdale Council has experienced the biggest drop in its recycling rate out of any council in England.

According to official figures from DEFRA there was a massive 14.1 per cent drop in our recycling rates in 2015-16. This is largely the result of a new waste disposal contract that the Labour cabinet signed up to. The fact of the matter is our waste disposal contractors Associated Waste Management (AWM) have been sending more of our compostable waste to incinerator or landfill. A smaller element in our decreased recycling rate is due to additional waste generated by flooding, and the fact that our kerbside recycling rate has been steadily dropping. From 21 per cent in 2012-13 down to 17 per cent in 2015-16.

Rather than acknowledge there is a problem here that needs addressing the current Labour administration on the council has adopted a defensive attitude. Firstly trying to blame the changes on how DEFRA reports on recycling, then flooding, and then trying to claim that incinerating waste is more environmentally friendly than recycling it. The first step to solving a problem is at least recognizing there is one.

On the Council the Liberal Democrat group has consistently pushed the environmental agenda. Scrutiny work I have chaired has made recommendations on LED street lighting, affordable warmth, increased CO2 targets, re-fitting council buildings to be energy efficient, extra provision for cycling, and called for a feasibility study into low emission zones for air pollution. It was also Liberal Democrats who proposed a motion opposing fracking in the borough. Although it’s pleasing to see some of these recommendations have been met with cross-party support (and credit to councillors from all parties that have worked on these issues) it’s disappointing there has been so little action from the Labour administration on others areas including air pollution.

Air pollution kills ten times as many people in Calderdale as road traffic accidents do. It’s been linked not only to lung and heart diseases but also Alzheimer’s disease. In Calderdale we have pockets of high air pollution, in valley bottoms, and near congested roads, with recorded levels that exceed the legal limits. Sadly our record on monitoring this has been poor, and the new strategy to tackle air pollution really fails to get to grips with these pockets of pollution.

We urgently need action from government and the council to tackle this problem. These actions ought to include more incentives for bus companies, and individual drivers to switch from polluting diesel vehicles to low emission vehicles. We also need a feasibility study into how low emission zones could be implemented in Calderdale, innovative planting and engineering solutions to reduce air-pollution, and real-time monitoring of air pollution levels so people can check themselves how much they and their families are being poisoned. Liberal Democrats will continue to push for improving our environment and protecting it for future generations.