Our Green Councillor Looks Back on his Achievements at Amber Valley Borough Council in 2020.

30 December 2020

I sit on the Planning Board, so many of my achievements as a councillor are planning-related.
Since being elected in May 2019, I had been frustrated that AVBC, in the shape of the Planning Board, persistently approved applications which, in my view, took no account of the climate emergency. Whenever I raised this with the planning officers, inside or outside of meetings, I was told that we couldn’t require developers to build energy-efficient homes because our (out-of-date) Local Plan does not allow us to do so.


A particular frustration was that the planning officers, in my view, applied a very narrow interpretation to the definition of “environmental sustainability”, a requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework. I felt that they interpreted it as applying only to biodiversity, with no acknowledgement of the requirement to “mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy” (NPPF, para 8).


My persistence was rewarded when, in June 2020, I was informed by the Planning Department that it would add some additional wording to reflect the NPPF (paragraphs 149-154) and to demonstrate, perhaps more explicitly, that it is considering all applications in terms of climate change.


Consequently, PB reports for larger developments now include a “Climate Change” section. However, I feel its effect is limited, because it refers only to taking into account “landform, layout, building orientation, massing and landscaping” (NPPF, para153b)


So, I have persisted with my argument that we should be building homes fit for the climate emergency, this time focussing on getting an Informative Note attached to the Planning Report. An Informative Note does not have the same power as a Planning Condition, but it amounts to advice to the developer. A fellow Green Councillor on an AGC Zoom meeting had given a pointer to the work Swale District Council had done on this.

It has been a long process, but I have now received notification from the Planning Department that its reports will include an Informative Note about energy-efficiency; the wording is yet to be agreed, but at a recent PB meeting I managed to obtain an IN which stated that “The applicant is strongly urged to consider any appropriate measures/features, such as EV charging points, de-carbonising heating systems and measures outlined in the Design & Access Statement” (which promised controlled solar gains, high levels of insulation and air-tightness, Solar Photovoltaic Panels and Solar Thermal Panels). I realise that “strongly urging” is not the same as “requiring”, but our Local Plan doesn’t allow that, and at least this prepares developers for the level of performance which I am hoping our new Local Plan will require. That is next year’s big challenge! A statement similar to the IN will also be placed on the Planning section of the council website.


I have also managed to obtain a commitment from one of the Executive Directors (AVBC doesn’t have a Chief Exec) that the council will introduce a “Climate Change” section in the “Implications” part of council reports.


At a Full Council meeting in September, I introduced a motion, which was passed, that the council “calls for the Derbyshire Pension Fund to disinvest its remaining funds in fossil fuels and to invest in renewables”.


Also, I have very recently acted on another of Julian Dean’s (Green Party Climate Change Officer) Climate Action Briefing Notes, on Sustainable Procurement. In December I suggested to the Governance and Audit Board Meeting that “sustainability” be added to the list of ethical themes to be included in the Council’s Procurement Strategy; the Auditor accepted my suggestion and agreed that it should be included by officers. The Chair also suggested that the auditor take the issues forward at other councils should he do a similar piece of work there. The word is spreading!


Often the most rewarding achievements are those related to residents who contact me with issues which concern them as individuals or as members of the village community. These issues include speeding, parking, Tree Preservation Orders, waste-collection, rubbish bins, COVID-19, dog poo, leaf-clearing and planning. Some problems are beyond a quick fix, but it is very satisfying to be able to see an issue through to a proper solution.


Our quest for Plastic Free Duffield continues. We have achieved three of the required five objectives, but need to get more businesses and community groups to commit to removing single-use plastic items. We are so lucky to have such a diligent team working on this.


I have been working with a primary school in the village in an attempt to establish a School Street, but Derbyshire County Council, which is the authority responsible for Highways, is not supportive of this idea. Watch this space!


Biodiversity, wildflowers and grass verges. I have suggested to AVBC that the council reduce the number of cuts per year. They have already done this to an extent, but feel that residents may not be supportive of a reduction to just one cut a year, so I’m hoping that a positive public reaction to a few small wildflower areas in Duffield will provide evidence to the contrary. Again, watch this space!

 

Dave Wells, 30th December 2020






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