Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Hope for the Future and South Yorkshire Climate Alliance collaborated to produce a Climate and Nature Hustings as part of the Festival of Debate during the local election campaign.
and Listen to Geen Party Councillor Alexi Dimond and Labour’s Craig Gamble Pugh debate important issues concerning the Climate and Nature Emergencies and what the Council should be doing about them. Shamefully both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives failed to provide a speaker despite being invited.
Here is a transcript of the initial part of the debate.
Chair Nigel Slack
Craig Gamble Pugh Labour
Biggest issue facing us is the Climate and Nature Emergency-astonished only 2 candidates have shown up.
Involved in SYCA-Chair of board for some time- but tonight only speaking for Labour Party. No longer debating if there is a crisis. Goal to be net zero city by 2030. Debate now about how we achieve that. Debate is about who is best placed to tackle the climate emergency. Labour has it at the heart of everything they do in the city. Parties that haven’t shown up are not addressing the issue. National Government presiding over crises of their own manufacturing. Sleaze and economic collapse. Not the climate and ecological emergency. When we have a national Government who are ripping us all off –mega profits from fossil-based energy at over-inflated prices have no incentive to change to clean renewable energy. The government literally pumping effluent into rivers and waterways. They are not going to be part of the solution, they are part of the problem. Lib Dems have made themselves irrelevant on all fronts. Labour Party’s purpose is to achieve fairness. Social and Economic Justice so we have a society and an economy that caters for everybody, where nobody is left behind. With the impact of climate change already hitting there is no social and economic justice to be had unless it goes hand in hand with environmental justice. The Labour Party can no longer do the job it was established to do and strived to do over many decades unless tackling the Climate and Nature Emergency is at the heart of everything we do. It is crucial to Labour’s purpose of being
Alexi Dimond Green Party
The climate emergency is the biggest issue facing us today. All of our futures are at stake. The climate emergency is the reason I decided to stand for election in 2021 and become a Councillor on Sheffield City Council, to try and get the Council to take the action we need to take if we are to have any chance of a future. Since I’ve been elected and been on the Council what I’ve found is it’s been very frustrating in terms of trying to get the Council to adopt the policies that we know are necessary if we are to become net zero by 2030 if we are going to tackle the biodiversity emergency in Sheffield and I think what has been lacking the political will by the other parties, the established parties in Sheffield, so I’m here to convince you why you need Greens in the room on Sheffield City Council if we are to have any hope of tackling the climate emergency locally. On every issue, it has been a struggle. We’ve faced kickbacks on what might seem like the smallest changes to get over the line. It has been a real frustration. I hope we are going to speak today about those local issues, the things that we can take action on, locally in Sheffield, rather than dwell on what the national Government is or isn’t doing. Because we all know that the Tory Government is woefully inadequate, is exacerbating the climate emergency not making it better. However, we can’t afford to wait for them to do the right thing and we can’t afford to wait for another Government to come in and save us because there is no guarantee that they will anyway. There are Councils around the country, even very close to us, that have more ambitious targets and have made much more progress on the climate emergency than we have done in Sheffield. I think we need to emulate Councils like Nottingham, and I’m here to convince you that Sheffield Green Party is the only party in Sheffield that has the political will to do that. Greens on the Council make all the Councillors up their game on climate and ecological issues. We are the ones that first proposed declaring a Climate and Nature Emergency, which was at first rejected and then brought back by a Labour Cabinet member later so he could claim the credit. We got the Council to declare a Nature Emergency as well. I’d like the Greens to be able to take control of the Council but that is very unlikely, but what I will say is the more Greens we have on the Council, the more we can push Labour and the other parties in the direction that we need to be going to take action on the climate emergency. A balanced Council, a hung council, with Greens on the administration means that Greens can push the green policies and we can get them supported by means of one of the two other parties and they will be heard and debated not rejected out of hand. I think the big challenge with the climate emergency is the implementation. Without Greens on the Council, there wouldn’t be significant green policies to implement. I think we can point to times when have been prepared to make the difficult decisions to get things over the line, for example, the Clean Air Zone, when Labour and the Lib Dems sought to delay the CAZ we forced that over the line even though it wasn’t perfect and we thought it could have been better designed and go further, but it was really important that we did. There were other examples like the pedestrianisation of Pinstone Street, which again may be a small thing but was a huge battle. So I hope over the course of this debate I can show you the Sheffield Green Party has positive policies which we will fight for and we will have the political will to act on.
There has been a lot of talk and not a great deal of action since the Council declared a Nature Emergency. What hard targets with deadlines and supporting finance is your party committing itself too.
This is a real key issue, which is why we forced the Council to declare a Climate and Nature Emergency, with pressure from local activist groups. It is really hard to talk about hard targets and supporting finance without having feasibility studies and briefings from officers to look into how much things would cost. There already have been things put in place by Sheffield Green Party when we were on the Executive. For example we really pushed hard on trying to ban Glyphosate. We’ve had some success there, particularly in Parks and there has also been a feasibility study on banning Glyphosate, which we are waiting to hear the results from, on the Streets Ahead team. We’ve got much further to go. We need to get Housing on board to stop the use of Glyphosate. I’ve been on the Waste and Street Scene Committee this year and we’ve adopted a new grass verge policy which will make it a lot easier for residents to be able to plant grass verges with wild flowers without having to go through the difficult process of getting insurance. We’d like to see things adopted in the local plan such as Ecological Impact Assessments on all new planning applications. We’ll talk about that more later.
Labour is making a commitment in this manifesto in the local elections that we will establish Sheffield as a centre of excellence for retrofitting skills working in partnership with the Colleges. I think that is a really crucial thing I want to talk about because I know from looking at the very different teams of officers in the Council and organisations and businesses, that one of the things that are stopping the people from taking the actions that they need is there’s a gap in the skills and therefore in the supply chain. So even when we have seen action teams from the national government like the Green Homes Grant to try to pump prime the market for people to be able to do the kind of climate action that they can do to make their homes warmer and cheaper to heat because their skills aren’t out there, the companies aren’t out there to do the work and therefore that halts progress. We know that’s a national situation and it’s quite an exciting prospect to build on Sheffield’s past as being a leading light on the provision of energy. Nobody knows how important energy can be to a local economy and to communities and culture than if you speak to people that have been living in coal and mining communities. We’ve been a leader in energy and those skills and industries and actually investing in retrofitting skills and other green skills is a key thing that we want to push as part of Labour’s agenda and that fits alongside Labour’s traditional emphasis on education. Now we are bringing education in alongside tackling climate.
Q2. The Lowcock Report on Sheffield’s Street Trees drew attention to poor local engagement practices and a lack of accountability. What is your party committed to doing to ensure this isn’t repeated in relation to the development and implementation of the decarbonisation route map?
I think it is really important to say that the publication of that report was a real shocker, it was a moment where all of us who were involved in public life in local government were needing to draw some sharp breaths and really look in the mirror and face up to just how inadequate that whole situation had been dealt with and I think it is really positive that the Council I think is united across the political parties that we have to apologise for the things that went wrong and to accept in full recommendations that Sir Mark Lowcock has made. And part of that I think needs to be a culture change across the organisation about how we tackle things. I know my first stint on the council was in a ward where the trees were an absolutely huge fundamental issue and I lost my seat when I defended it in 2018 and missed that whole debate so I’ve been on the sharp end of that as an illustration of an issue of where you don’t find as representatives a way to hear the solutions and the input. And in actual fact, a lot of terrible things have happened and a lot of people have suffered as a result and the net result is we’ve done all the things that people were pointing to before so I was down Western Road the other day and low and behold, all round these beautiful memorial trees are these big patches of flexi-pave, which is exactly what residents and campaigners were saying at the time would be the solution. Why did we have to go through that whole disaster in order to get to the right solution? We haven’t got time to make these kinds of mistakes again and I think you can see in the way that a lot of the conversations about some of the traffic schemes were undertaken during covid lockdown, the engagement wasn’t as good as it should have been and therefore there has been resistance. So we can’t keep affording to make these mistakes.
Thank you very much for the question. Contrary to what Craig has said we didn’t learn much that we didn’t already know from the Lowcock Report. But I agree that it is damming and I am a bit worried that there hasn’t been that culture change that we need, due to the same people who oversaw the lies and the misinformation, doubling down to attack local residents still being in positions of power. There hasn’t been that accountability. That’s why we’ve called for an EGM to discuss that. We were hoping that it would be heard before the election but it will be after the election. I think where there has been culture change this is because we moved to a committee system that replaced the strong leader model and this was a result not of a change of heart by the ruling Labour Party at the time, it was the result of the hard work by campaigners working to change how Sheffield was run. They were successful in persuading thousands of people to vote for change in a referendum. This could have happened a long time ago if it had been supported by the Labour Party and we could have worked with a committee system over a longer period of time and it could have been the best it can be. I’m glad it’s here now but what we do need to do in order to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again is to fully commit to the committee system, make it work, ensure that we bring the public into committees more effectively than we have done and make sure we also hear from experts in their field by inviting them to committees. There needs to be more engagement with local people. I support the Committee system as a way of having more accountability and decisions being made with the consent of the public
Q3. What will you and your party do to make it easier to cycle in Sheffield?
This is something I am passionate about. I think in Sheffield what we really need in order to be able to encourage more people to cycle is to have safe segregated cycle routes that you see in many other countries and cities and even in the UK. To do that we need more investment in cycle routes and to do that we need to raise money and make sure we have the political will to follow through with changes that may be initially unpopular but everyone will see the benefits of. We also need to commit to not spreading misinformation and whipping up hysteria on what the potential impacts on businesses might be on having cycle routes because all the evidence suggests, in studies across the country, that actually active travel is really good for business. We would hope to raise millions of pounds a year for investment in public transport and active travel by looking at a Work Placed Parking Levy similar to what they have in Nottingham which raises £9 million every year so they can put it into active travel and public transport. This would allow us to invest heavily in routes that would be safe, segregated and accessible. I like to call cycle routes “mobility routes” because they don’t have to be exclusively used by cyclists, they can also be used by mobility vehicles and scooters. You can have lots of other alternative ways of travelling in segregated cycle routes.
We’ve got some exciting cycling schemes and modal shift schemes in the works. The Little Holland Scheme is in and around Darnall. That’s a really good example of a community with relatively low car ownership, and quite a lot of people isolated. There’s a lower-than-average degree of economic engagement, Getting people active, getting people able to get around, get out of that air polluted choked up part of town and take ownership. For years we’ve been trying to slow people down going through there on the M1, and actually giving people the tools and giving people the freedom to be part of the solution themselves is empowering. And I think some of the schemes that people harangue me about when I talk to constituents at surgeries and on the doorstep where cycle schemes have been put in and they’ve not been quite right so they’ve had to be changed or whatever. There are two things I would say to that. First of all, it’s perfectly fine, When these low-traffic neighbourhood schemes are being trialled and they go through experimental road closures, the clues in the question. They are experimental. And if we don’t experiment with things how are we going to find new ways of solving these problems? The second thing is the way that the funding works for these schemes, it’s so stop-start and sporadic, there’s no strategy from Central Government, and that means we have to put a scheme together because there’s some money on offer, there isn’t the time to do all the engagement which we’ve talked about and that creates an environment where we get things wrong.
Q4. What commitments will you give to community groups that want to use their green spaces for nature recovery and well-being?
A lot of us are ward councillors and a lot of our candidates across the city are very involved in things like Friends of Parks groups. I think it is really positive within Nature Recovery Sheffield network and you look at some of the local organisations doing things like planting trees locally, clearing paths allowing bits that were green deserts before to rewild and provide better biodiversity services for us all. So I think increasing the way we support those community groups, friends of groups etc, and also I think looking at how we use the policy frameworks that we’ve set out in the Local Plan. So for example we had a really excellent presentation at one of the committees I serve on from a group that was campaigning for swift boxes to be incorporated into new build properties. So engaging with those groups. This is how people are passionate about things across the city and they’ve got the solutions to stuff that otherwise we might overlook, so enabling an open culture where people can have that dialogue with us and provide the solutions for us is actually a quick win.
So in our ward in Gleadless Valley, we are really proactive in supporting and working with community groups. We have a really amazing network of community gardens, We are really lucky that we’ve got Gleadless Valley Wildlife Trust to work with and there’s lots of exciting things going on. I think it is really important for Councillors to support these groups with ward pot and Council wise as well we’ve recently made it a lot easier for people to get trees in their local area on their streets. If you go to a website called Trees for Streets you can get a tree planted on your street via this app which is really useful. We’ve been working to try and get trees for places where there is not much greenery, such as the bottom of Chesterfield/London Road, which will help with urban drainage as well, so it is really important to get more trees for flooding reasons and climate mitigation. To work with organisations like Regather on the sustainable food strategy to help local people grow more in Sheffield. We’ve got a lot of farmland in Sheffield. Sustainable farming which will benefit the local community is something that we really want to support and Craig mentioned Swift boxes and that’s another thing we would like to see in the local plan and in the new build. Another thing we try to do is protect local urban green spaces in the Local Plan but we were outvoted there, but it is something we will still push for, making sure that any ecology impact and climate impact assessment and biodiversity net gain is actually real and measurable rather than tick box.
The science is clear that we need to reduce meat consumption or switch to plant-based options in order to tackle the climate crisis and enable nature recovery. What measures will your party take to influence meat consumption patterns in Sheffield?
Something we have already done is school dinners, ensuring that one day a week is a meat-free day. I think making that 2 days would be really good. There is also the plant-based treaty that other councils have signed across the country that commits all meals at Council functions, which there aren’t that many of and we certainly don’t get any free lunches at the Council now! But I think if there are any functions that the Council is putting on if they offered a plant-based meal at them that’s already doing a small thing to reduce consumption but also sets a really good example that other groups can emulate. It’s all about education and having those conversations. It is not something that the Council could enforce. We obviously couldn’t say “We are going to ban meat” but by adopting a plant-based treaty in Sheffield and encouraging a meat-free day in schools every week, people will be having those conversations and asking why are you doing this. I think it is nudging people in the right direction. Encouraging Vegan markets as well, they are always really popular.
I’ve had some contact with the plant-based treaty organisation and when we first started to correspond I think the expectation was that if the Council just cuts out meat and dairy from its catering operation it will make a massive difference. There’s a jug of milk that we get once every 6 weeks at full council meetings, we could swap that for non-dairy but I don’t know how much of an impact it would make. This is not something we have talked about as a party group and we’ve not got anything in our manifesto specifically, but as an individual member of the relevant committee, I have asked officers to have a look at what the total catering output is so we can make an assessment about what the impact would be and what the implications of it would be. One of the things that we can do to encourage people to make those behavioural changes, I’ve actually already talked about the need for a sustainable food strategy and if we can support food producers and organisations. manufacturers and suppliers in the local economy not only are we building up our ability to do community wealth building and develop that doughnut economics where things aren’t being imported from all over the place and the carbon footprint of our food is going down but we are also meaning that non-meat plant-based food produce is going to be in more ready reliable supply, more locally, which then reduces the price which then means its more attractive to buy local produce that’s cheap and affordable rather than the price of meat is astronomical. Before you look at the real cost of meat, if you actually factor in the proper ethical treatment of animals and ethical production methods so actually sustainable food strategy is one way to lead people away from Meat and towards plant-based.
How does your party intend to improve recycling provision in Sheffield in general and to reduce the use of single-use plastics in particular?
In terms of recycling, there was a recent Council meeting where people got very excited and started to wave around the different-sized receptacles that different parties have introduced for recycling in different administrations over the last 15 years. So we don’t want to get into that kind of debate today. I think this is one which needs to be done in a way that brings the public with us, So there are some people in my ward who find it arduous to find the space to store the different containers and wheelie bins to sort it all out. The people who are living in flats and communal buildings who don’t have the same access to the kerbside collections that many of us do. So we can look at pushing forward with those things. We can also look at pushing our private sector contractors to actually take more of a variety of plastics and look at where we can unblock things which means its too selective., At the minute we have to put certain categories of plastics in our brown bin and the rest we have to collect up and take to the collection points. The other thing is that we have supported on the Waste and Street Scene Committee this year representatives from the Labour Party were very keen to support the trial of the food waste collections. I argued for my ward to be one of the trial areas for the city. On the whole, we have had no complaints. People were saying there would be rats and maggots and foxes and all kinds of biodiversity that people aren’t so keen on. That doesn’t seem to have happened. People have been really keen and we’ve actually got people now saying why have we not got it. When can we have it back? I think there’s probably a general agreement that we need to push for it to be brought in on a general basis. That’s a good example of bringing people with you.
I’ve been on the Waste and Street Scene Committee this year. The food waste trial was really successful and exciting. The issue that we are waiting for is that Central Government are supposed to be bringing out a White Paper on this telling us what we have to recycle which should include lots of different types of plastics because at the moment we don’t recycle enough plastics in Sheffield. We are really keen to get that food waste trial extended to the whole city and adopted as soon as possible. We’ve also supported different approaches to collecting waste. In my ward, we’ve got the Gleadless Valley master plan. We’ve been working really hard to ensure that waste management is on to look at collecting waste much more effectively. In different communities-high rise flats, and maisonettes. Other things we’ve looked at the Green Party generally support the plastic-free pledge, So we’d like to remove single-use plastic from all council operations and premises and encourage plastic-free initiatives, There is a group called Plastic Free Sheffield Central which I have met with a few times and I’ve been working with the Waste and Street Scene Committee for the markets to ban single-use plastics from any food markets that they have so that is something that I am advocating for. Another thing we would look at is community composting and whether that could work alongside any food waste trial. So basically plastic-free pledge, and make sure that we recycle as much of our waste and also reduce waste by promoting the right to repair.
In 7 years time, all new cars must be electric. What plans do you have for facilitating electric vehicle charging for Sheffield residents with no off-street parking?
The Council has already started to roll out more electric vehicle charging and we’ve got some charging points in our ward. Some of that has been done by the Mayoral Authority and some has been done by the Council itself. And that could be in all the council-owned car parks, we’d also encourage private car parks to have charging facilities. But I am clear that electric cars are not the answer to the climate emergency. The embodied carbon in new cars is not sustainable, Cars clog up our roads, they are dangerous, and they are far less efficient than reliable public transport. So we would be looking to make sure far more that the alternative to the car is our priority. We would try and electrify the buses and install more infrastructure for taxis to go electric as they have in Nottingham which has a far more ambitious carbon neutral by 2028 target. I think we could have made a lot of ground on this already. We haven’t done this because of the lack of political will by the other parties. We do need to roll out more charging points and I agree that they need to be accessible to everyone, not just those with a drive. Also, we need to make clear that cars are not the answer. The future is public transport, active travel, electric bikes, cargo bikes and all the other options.
A lot of the work to find solutions to this has been done already by our peers in other local authorities across the country. I was lucky enough to represent the Council on UK 100 Climate Leadership Academy the network of local government leaders who are committed to tackling the climate emergency and through that network as a politician and officers in the council who are implementing solutions who have access to this incredible wealth of experience and good practice so there are things that are out there. New technology for people who live in houses that don’t have driveways and need to park on the street where there are channels that can go through the pavement from the street that has been trialled. There are solutions that involve electric hook-up points being built into the street lights, and the lighting columns, there are things like local charging hubs, and there are things like getting the infrastructure so that the new generation of car charging points will be not very much longer when you are standing holding the plug to your car like you do topping up with petrol or diesel now –its so quick and so rapid. Our public transport infrastructure has just crumbled under a lack of investment nationally and the unhelpful policies that have been pursued so what’s the alternative? We’ve talked already about incorporating segregated infrastructure for active travel routes and cycling and walking routes. Getting people off the main highway some of the time so they can see our blue-green infrastructure and be going on the canal bank and river bank and through the parks and pockets of green space. But actually, we need to be fundamentally reforming the bus system and that’s why Labour, through the Labour South Yorkshire Mayor has initiated the process of bringing buses back under public control because until we have got that accountability in the public transport system we’ve just not got the levers at our disposal to get people out of cars. Part of the issue of transitioning away from cars is not just the embodied carbon that Alexi talked about it’s the particulate matter that’s thrown up from car tyres and brake pads and the friction of the vehicles going along the roadway and increasing street tree cover is one of the ways that means there is the tree infrastructure there which can capture and take a lot of that particulate matter, so its sitting on the leaves of trees and not swirling around and going into our lungs and blood system.
How will your party ensure there is joined-up planning and delivery for the training and skills required for nature recovery and climate action?
It’s one of the resounding things that smacks me in the face whenever I’m talking to different teams and different industries and parts of the Council about what the barriers are, is that we don’t have the skills or people qualified to work in the green industries that we need. I talked earlier about Labour’s manifesto proposal to establish Sheffield as a centre of excellence for retrofit skills. Also, we’ve talked about looking at a specialist business zone to invest and provide a home for firms with green manufacturing skills across the Sheffield to Rotherham corridor. We’ve built that into the local plan that has gone through its public consultation process. They are just a couple of clear examples of how we do it. For my part, I think we need to be building these kinds of skills into the core curriculum. We know that children and young people in schools in the education system are really passionate about tackling this kind of crisis. We need to also be building them the skills so that they can come out of it with the qualifications to be part of the solution and take the actions that we need to restructure the economy and society so that we are tackling it and it works for everybody.
I think the most important thing is to have joined up planning and delivery so as to get everyone in the room at the outset and coproduce the solutions. We’ve got loads of trusted and talented and dedicated organisations in Sheffield that we can work with to make these things happen, So Development Trusts in different areas of the city, the Wildlife Trusts, lots of community partners, and local businesses that actually care about Sheffield. So it is really about getting everyone in the room when we are designing these things, It’s also in the Local Plan for example, ensuring any new build has guaranteed jobs for local people. And also rewilding is another way that we can make sure a lot of people have good jobs in the local area. I’ve talked about the sustainable food strategy. I think that would be another key part of that. Retrofitting our houses with the community. Making sure that we have put into place criteria that mean local people have to be employed in any development and ensure that they are sustainable and of a really high standard.