Side effects of pandemic could mean a 'better normal' for the environment

The “positive effects of the pandemic”, like increased home working and local shopping, can be harnessed to improve the environment in Telford and Wrekin after the crisis, a cabinet member has said.

Councillor Carolyn Healy, who holds the climate change portfolio in the borough’s Labour administration, said behaviour changes that aimed to suppress the coronavirus also led to greenhouse gas emission reductions. “We, of course, want to capitalise on that and ensure we don’t go back to normal,” she said.

At a full council meeting in the summer, Conservative Tim Nelson proposed a 'Think Green, Think Local' strategy, inspired by the “new way of living” many discovered in March. Speaker Arnold England ruled the motion was, effectively, an amendment to the cabinet’s existing 'Becoming Carbon Neutral Action Plan', and referred it to Labour cabinet for discussion there.

The 10-member executive rejected it, but Cllr Healy assured Cllr Nelson that many of its objectives were already being acted upon.

Reintroducing the motion to the cabinet, Cllr Nelson said: “The Covid shutdown in March showed a new way of living and, for many, a better quality of life.

“People shopped closer to home. They rediscovered their neighbourhood, on cycle and on foot, as families.

“This had huge green benefits; emissions plummeted. It also manifestly had health benefits.

“What will the ‘new normal’ look like? We must make the borough more self-contained. The council must help, encourage and enable our residents to live more local lives and more sustainable green lives.”

'A better normal'

He said the council’s action plan was only based on council operations and was “nowhere near wide enough in scope”. It should, he said, promote local food, promote home working, provide more space of allotments and introduce “vastly more electric vehicle charging” and “vastly more rooftop solar generation”.

Cllr Healy said: “You’re quite right that, while the changes in behaviour have primarily been about staying safe, these actions have led to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and we of course want to capitalise on that and ensure we don’t go back to normal, but instead go forward to a better normal that is better for our wellbeing and kinder to the environment.

“You will be pleased to know that that is exactly what this administration is doing. Early in the pandemic we established a set of Recovery, Reform and Reset boards to take the council from its initial emergency response into the post-Covid world. These are led by the relevant cabinet members and have been meeting weekly to quickly develop and deliver on actions.”

She acknowledged that the council’s carbon neutrality plan focussed on the local authority itself, but said the Climate Change Partnership incorporated the wider community.

“That is developing actions for the borough as a whole,” she said.

“It’s not for the council to dictate what the private and community sectors should do. It is something they own and can deliver on.”

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