18 October 2021
Dorset's Green councillors tackled a range of topics at the October Council meeting.
Kelvin Clayton called for the integration of the priorities in the Council's Climate and Ecological Emergency strategy across all the Council's work including allocation of resources (with a designated officer to take the lead), a change to policies in the Dorset Local Plan on listed building consent so that they positively encourage the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures, and Clare Sutton raised the issue of whether virtual Council meetings should continue.
Cllr Clare Sutton argued for retaining at least an element of virtual attendance at Council meetings. One of the Highways Managers calculated that if the Council meeting had been held in person the marginal cost would have been around £2,400 and the carbon cost nearly 0.8 tonnes of CO2emissions.
Also enabling virtual attendance would encourage greater diversity - for many people such as students, single parents, carers, and simply those who have a ‘day job’, the role of councillor is far more doable if more meetings are virtual. So, for environmental and financial reasons, and to promote a more diverse council, she encouraged the Council to consider not returning to the old way of doing things.
Councillor Kelvin Clayton has been asking questions of the portfolio holder for planning about retrofitting and energy efficiency measures. He says: “A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concludes:
“The scale of the challenge to retrofit existing homes to tackle the climate crisis is enormous. Energy efficiency is a precursor to the transition to low carbon heat, so action must be taken in the 2020s to set homes on a decarbonisation trajectory to meet our net zero targets.” In Bridport, and other parts of Dorset, many of these existing homes have had requests to install energy efficiency measures, including the installation of double glazing, refused by our planning system because they are listed buildings. These listed buildings are nothing grand. Many are simple terraced houses that have been occupied by generations of working families, and the installation of double glazing would “lead to less than substantial harm” to their significance as a heritage asset. Could I have an assurance that the new Dorset Local Plan will take a different attitude to listed building consent and positively encourage the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures?
I have been contacted by more than one professional involved in submitting planning applications expressing their concern with the planning process within Dorset since we became a unitary authority. Of particular concern are the timescales involved in simply acknowledging applications, let alone in processing them. I understand that the increase in people working from home has led to an increase in applications and that the amalgamation of various planning systems into one has been a challenge, but I need to be able to reassure people who are getting increasingly frustrated by the delays, and I need to be able to reassure those small business owners whose business development plans are being held up by the delays. When can residents and business owners expect acknowledging and processing times to return to normal?”
The Greens have also been pressing for more resources to integrate the Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy into all areas of Dorset Council’s work. Cllr Clayton told Dorset Councillors:
“I obviously support the recommendation “that the climate and ecological emergency become one of main priorities of the council”. Achieving even our modest carbon reduction targets, however, will require that our Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and Action Plan becomes fully integrated into all areas of our work, and becomes a key feature of our budget – not just something paid for out of government grants. There will also be many occasions when delivery of the strategy and action plan is at odds with our other priorities – most notably, as the Leader of the Council notes, with economic growth. To ensure that delivering this Strategy and Action Plan becomes our absolute priority, becomes fully integrated across all departments, and to help resolve the tensions with economic growth, could I suggest that we consider the appointment of an Executive Director with the sole responsibility of its delivery – perhaps the Executive Director for Climate Change, Ecology and the Economy?”
 ‘Energy Efficiency of Existing Homes’, House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (22 March 2021)