Questions from Members on Notice
Councillor Croker asked the Leader of the Council the following question: What changes have been made to the council's structure in response to the climate emergency recognised by this council 12 months ago?
The leader replied that Horsham District Council had always had a strong focus on the environment, and environmental issues, which were a key part of the Corporate Plan. The council now had a Project Officer dedicated to environmental issues, and two new posts were being appointed as part of a Wilder Horsham District initiative in partnership with the Sussex Wildlife Trust. A cross departmental officer group had been established with the purpose of producing a plan for the Council to become carbon neutral.
The Leader went on to outline what had been achieved since the motion had been discussed on the 26th June 2019 and high lighted the following areas:
· The completion of the carbon audit by the council and the Carbon Trust, leading to the appointment of advisors to provide a plan to allow the Council to become carbon neutral. A report would be presented to Cabinet in September.
· The launch of the Wilder Horsham District partnership, the first of it’s kind in Sussex.
· New environmental grants for community groups and Parish Councils.
· A new piece of work as part of the Local Plan to complete a carbon audit of the whole district, to be followed up by an action plan for the district to become carbon neutral.
In reply Councillor Croker stated that an overview of the council’s progress had been provided at the last Environment and Recycling PDAG, but the larger challenge involved motivating and enabling the District’s residents to minimise their own carbon footprints. There was currently an Environmental Coordination Manager in post, under the Director of Community Services. These titles did not suggest the concerned response to the threat of climate change, but he was sure that both officers worked hard to address the issues. He asked that consideration be given to creating a post of Director for Climate Action, a more visible role which would highlight the issues, with a brief to introduce carbon mitigation filter for all of the council’s actions.
The Leader responded by saying that the Council was undertaking a great deal of work in this area, and that the Council that had advertised such a post, at a salary of nearly £100k, had yet to fill the position. Adding that financial burden to the council at the present time would not be warranted.
Councillor Milne asked the Cabinet Member for Planning and Development the following question:
Despite strenuous efforts by HDC, the government has refused point blank to lower our housing target to a level we can practically achieve. As a result, Horsham District is threatened by penalties whether we agree a target or not. Will the Cabinet therefore agree to hold a public debate on this issue, involving all relevant parties and local experts, to consider our full range of options in challenging the proposed target?
The Cabinet Member for Planning and Development replied that the council had been, and will continue to do, all that it could to challenge the target and bring housing numbers down. Letters had been written to the Government and meetings undertaken with local MPs to set out the issues that were faced.
The government had made it clear that the council must continue with making a plan. If there were no plan in place, then there would be a risk from uncontrolled development across the district that did not provide the required infrastructure.
The second decision is where to accommodate the homes that were in that plan and the recent Regulation 18 draft Local Plan consultation had produced high public input. There had been more involvement than ever before and the information gained from that consultation would feed into the council's decision making process. This was ultimately a councillor decision. More public debate would not change the position or make decisions easier.
Cllr Milne replied and said that one way to change the target was through the exceptional circumstances generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The changes to the local economy that had resulted were surely enough to challenge the government’s targets.
The Cabinet Member agreed with the question, and went on to say that legal advice was being sought on the matter. So far the Council had been informed that Covid-19 did not change the housing requirement.