John, Ned, Mike and I attended Max Wilkinson’s climate emergency meeting last night in the main council chamber in the municipal offices. It started at 7 and was still going after 9. There were about 120 people present, including councillors, members of Extinction Rebellion and the Green party, our small Labour contingent, people from environment groups and Vision 21.
The discussion was interesting and varied and themes ranged from food (how Gloucestershire might adopt the Preston model); business (how CBC might support agencies working with businesses and sustainability); transport (how Cheltenham might reduce pollution and move away from dependence on cars, by improving bus and cycle opportunities – at one point here a respondent mentioned Alex Chalk’s claim that part of the problem was that not enough women cycle!).
More critically, several contributors noted the gap between CBC’s warm words and the reality over the years. Members of Vision 21 pointed out that in 1992 documents were written and produced which covered much of the current ground and had been ignored since; John Hughes pointed out that the Cheltenham plan promised to ‘manage and reduce flood risk while doing absolutely nothing towards this either as a matter of policy or in the day to day reality of the planning process’; a parish councillor from Leckhampton pointed out that the new school did not accord in any way with the objective of sustainability and would massively increase traffic by placing the new secondary school in the wrong place and, while a county councillor talked about pensions, I pointed out that he himself works in a council where thousands of pounds of pension money is invested in fracking (although he denied this).
Finally, the discussion was mixed and there was overlap and repetition but there was a refreshing openness to the issues and Max was a good facilitator and seemed genuinely interested. We will await to see whether he brings up the adoption of the Preston model at the next appropriate council meeting, which Mike Jarvis pressed him quite hard about! There was a wonderful contribution by an 18 year old about the incompatibility of rampant capitalism, huge corporations and saving the planet, and there was much applause (it made me wonder whether the Lib Dems remember the coalition, but I promised myself not to get party political!)
It was interesting to hear from Extinction Rebellion, born down the road from us, and council members took up their invitation to join their people’s assembly next week and we will certainly be going along as well. It is next Tuesday 13th August from 7-9 p.m at Bayshill Unitarian Hall, GL50 3ET.
Joanna Hughes, Cheltenham Labour Party Chair