East Devon: Climate change concern at call for district council to scrap virtual meetings

Calls for face-to-face district council meetings to resume in East Devon have raised climate change concerns over the impact on the environment.

The move by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to restart face-to-face meetings rather than hold them online has been labelled “ironic” at a time when the authority says it is committed to cutting carbon emissions, writes local democracy reporter Philip Churm. 

The comments came in a meeting of EDDC cabinet on Wednesday, November 2, as the council agreed to endorse the Devon carbon plan and refresh its own climate change strategy.

In July 2019 EDDC declared a climate change and biodiversity emergency while also working with Devon County Council to address the issues.

Devon’s carbon plan is regarded as the roadmap for how the whole county will reach net-zero emissions by 2050, at the latest.

While delivering a report about endorsing Devon’s carbon plan EDDC officer John Golding, who is the strategic lead for housing, health and environment, said: “I’m pleased to say that the Devon carbon plan was published a few weeks ago after several years of working towards what I think is an ambitious and realistic net zero plan for the entire county.”

Independent councillor for Seaton, Jack Rowland, praised the work done by Mr Golding. He said he fully supported the plan but suggested there may be some hypocrisy.

He referred to an eight-point interim action plan outlined in the report.

“There’s a heading there called ‘energy consumption is minimal’ as a target and under that is a bullet point,” he said. “The first one says ‘we drive less’ and under a heading called ‘community action for a net-zero Devon’ the first bullet point says ‘we think innovatively.’

“The irony is not lost on me as to why we’re here this evening, sat in this room, for two reasons. One; we were obviously carrying out meetings remotely via Zoom, which worked perfectly well, which actually reduced every councillor’s travel to this building. And the second point is we were thinking innovatively in terms of how long we were carrying on having our meetings remotely via Zoom.

“We did receive criticism that we were the only council left in the country that was still carrying out meetings that way. I actually see that as a badge of honour that we should have been portraying even more.”

Leader of the council, and independent member for Coly Valley, Paul Arnott said: “I just want to set Cllr Rowland’s mind at ease on the point he has just made because, fortunately, since only three out of 21 – or one-seventh of the Conservative party – are here tonight, there’s less pollution created than might otherwise be feared.”

The cabinet unanimously agreed to endorse the Devon carbon plan and refresh its climate change strategy to align and show how it will contribute to delivering the plan.

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