'I hope people will use this heatwave as a bit of a wake up call'
As the county experienced its hottest day in history yesterday we speak to climate change activists about local plans to tackle the biggest issue of our times
By Sarah Ward
Records were broken across the country and our county yesterday as temperatures were thought to have breached the 40˚c mark - official readings will be out later this morning.
With a number of fires breaking out in fields and shrub land across the county, roads closed and emergency services busier than ever, for many the extreme temperatures have put the effects of climate change and what the future may look like in Northants into sharp focus. But some have been talking about and campaigning on this issue for a long time. We hear from them as the hot weather forces the discussion to heat up.
Cllr Emily Fedorwycz was elected onto North Northamptonshire Council last May with two colleagues, Dez Dell and Sarah Tubbs - the first Green Party members elected to a council in the area. Climate change and the green agenda is the primary focus of their group, but despite the noise from the Conservative-led council, Cllr Fedorwycz does not think the authority is moving quickly enough to take action.
A climate emergency was declared in its first days back in 2021, but since then she says movement has been slow.
“Since the budget was set in April we have not discussed the £1m that was set aside to tackle climate change.
“It has not gone for discussion to the executive advisory panel for climate change. Why has it not come forward?
“At the moment climate change is just a topic on the agenda. Leader Jason Smithers said it would be a golden thread running through all policies but it is not happening.
“We have the budget but nothing is happening. I am hoping that more is going on in the background that we just don’t know about.
“£1m is also a drop in the ocean (the council has just set aside another £1.3m for potholes) and we will be pushing for more money.
“The big thing I think we need to do is focus on one or two things and have a go. We don’t have the resources to do everything - which is why I have pushed for carbon literacy training for officers so that they can incorporate it into the policies.
“I also think we have an opportunity in the county to be a leader in hydrogen energy. I understand the executive is looking at that as a concept.”
She says the events of the past two days have given her sleepless nights (not just due to the heat) as she worries about those who are unable to cool themselves down or afford appliances to help them do so.
On Monday she went out to water tree saplings that had been put in recently as part of a community plant and yesterday she went to visit vulnerable residents to check on their welfare.
“I hope people use this heatwave as a wake up call,” she says “because this is just the start”.
“For the first time in a long time people are starting to experience what climate change feels like.”
Frustrated by the slow pace of the local authority’s activity, caught up in politics, red tape and a lack of officers to do the work, Emily is now starting to focus on community initiatives that can make a difference and is exploring community energy schemes that can help deprived communities with their bills.
The North unitary has employed a consultant to do a carbon audit of its services and it is understood this report should go before the councillors in the Autumn.
We tried to contacted the council’s lead for environment Harriet Pentland but she was not available.
Jane Wood is chair of grassroots organisation Climate Action - West Northants
Jane says things are happening within West Northamptonshire Council but they are not happening quickly enough and she fears that some of the leading Conservative group have not bought in fully to the idea.
“My concern is we need to have a well managed plan and it needs to be set against measurable targets.
“The officers at the council are very good, but there are only two of them and the authority has not allocated any budget to climate change.
“The cabinet member is Phil Larratt and I feel he is not moving the agenda forward as you would expect.”
Jane says that against the stretched budgets of other local authority money for climate change action feels like it is a competing priority.
“Only if they [the council] are put under pressure by the public will they make the necessary changes,” she says.
“There is a lot of focus in the media of what people can do as individuals to reduce their own carbon footprint. But while I think that is obviously important - that is not enough. One of the really important things people need to do as individuals is to speak up, to your councillor and MP and say, “this is not good enough - you need to do more”.
“The more people speak up, the more others will. I think there are a number of people who are worried about climate change and may not know what they can do - however the more it becomes normalised the more of those conversations that we need to have will happen.”
Jane says there have been a number of local groups that have formed recently and efforts by individuals and communities can help reduce the carbon footprint.
“If people can come together in their villages and communities it all helps cut the carbon footprint,” she says. “If you have a street that is lined with trees instead of concrete it will be immeasurably cooler.”
She says her group’s focus is moving toward housing. The local authority’s social housing provider has retrofitted a home to improve carbon efficiency, but this has been at a significant cost.
For more information about Climate Action -West Northamptonshire you can visit its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WeAreCAWN/
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