(Service Director (Planning Services)) To consider the attached report.
The Service Director (Commercial & Regulatory), J Nolan, referred to the Council’s decision to declare a climate emergency at its meeting on 19 September 2019. The recruitment of a new climate change officer was being proposed, initially for two years, to address changes the Council would need to make for Epping Forest District to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Council would be engaging with young people and appoint an ambassador from the Epping Forest Youth Council. Cabinet approval would be sought on a draft plan for wider engagement with key stakeholders including the Youth Council.
The Service Director (Planning), N Richardson, advised that the Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy), A Blom-Cooper, was drafting an action plan and once agreed, regular update reports would be issued. There were also a number of other Essex local authorities preparing similar plans and therefore, there might be the opportunity for some sharing.
Councillor I Hadley asked what experience the new climate change officer would need to have. The Service Director (Planning) replied that job candidates were likely to require a combination of air quality and planning background expertise. He informed members that Colchester Borough Council had received some 27 applicants for an air quality officer position there.
Councillor D Wixley asked about a tree planting strategy as he was a tree warden, had an interest in trees and had recently heard that Essex County Council intended to plant some 375,000 trees in Essex. He did not know if this was just on Essex County Council land or trees would be sent out to other local authorities. He referred to Councillor N Avey’s forthcoming report to Council that 120 trees were to be planted in the Epping Forest District, which did not seem a particularly high number. He was aware that the Portfolio Holder, Councillor N Bedford was trying to resurrect the ‘green arc’. He suggested that green spaces on the Limes Farm estate (Chigwell) and Jessel Green (Loughton) could benefit from tree planting.
The Service Director (Commercial & Regulatory) replied that the climate change officer’s work would be divided into three main areas – enforcement, active planning and management of the Council’s estate regarding energy efficiency and its open land. He agreed that Councillor N Bedford had a keen interest in this area.
Councillor S Heap asked how assertive could the climate change officer be, i.e. was the position more involved with monitoring or would the officer be able to recommend the Council update relevant policies etc. The Service Director (Commercial & Regulatory) replied it would be very challenging for Epping Forest to become carbon neutral by 2030 and an action plan would need to be developed that would meet Cabinet’s approval. The Council would ultimately be measured on results.
The Chairman asked if a job description for the climate change post could be circulated to members before going to advert. The Service Director (Commercial & Regulatory) agreed that a proposed job description could be circulated for comment.
Councillor J McIvor remarked that it was sensible for the Council to work with other local authorities on this and could we lead the way and invite other officers and host meetings. The Service Manager (Planning) replied that Uttlesford was leading the way on climate change along with Colchester Borough Council but the Council would liaise with other local authorities.
Councillor H Kauffman asked if the new climate change officer could deliver ‘easy wins’ that would help improve air quality in the District provided that a budget was in place to achieve this. He had been in contact with Councillor N Avey to request the Council stepped up its provision of electric charge points in Council-owned car parks. This was expensive to do but budgetary power behind these basic initiatives was required.
The Service Manager (Contracts) replied the Council would be installing electric vehicle charging points at its leisure centres in Waltham Abbey and Loughton, and was also looking at the feasibility of other Council-owned car parks. However, there would be additional costs in car parks where there was currently no power provision and he would be working with the new climate change officer on this project. The Service Director (Planning) added that Planning (Development Management) did issue planning conditions to install electric vehicle charging points.
(1) That the proposed recruitment of a new climate change officer be noted;
(2) That the proposed job description for the climate change officer post be circulated to members before going to advert by the Service Director (Commercial & Regulatory); and
(3) That an action plan would be developed to deliver the Council’s resolution to declare a climate emergency and its pledge to do everything within its power to make the Epping Forest District carbon neutral by 2030.