DORSET Council is continuing to suffer reputational damage from after a controversial climate motion put forward by council leader Spencer Flower was passed, with little debate being allowed on the subject.
Climate activists and some opposition councillors say the adopted motion flies in the face of the council’s declared climate and ecological emergency, which has been in place since 2019, with Extinction rebellion saying it makes the council “hypocritical”.
Several councillors say the way the decision was taken was undemocratic.
Council leader Spencer Flower’s proposition was to “urge the government to introduce an energy policy with the principal objective of securing permanent UK energy self-sufficiency from as early a date as possible, utilising whatever forms of energy generation sourced from within the UK are necessary to this end”.
Opponents said this could give free reign for fossil fuel extraction or nuclear power in Dorset.
As Cllr Flower put forward the motion at a meeting in April, climate protestors interrupted proceedings by attempting to glue themselves to a table.
Councillors were eventually cleared from the council chamber and moved into an adjoining room, where further debate on the subject was not allowed and instead it went straight to the vote, with the Conservative majority giving the motion their backing.
The decision led to further protests at the May full council meeting.
One of those objecting to the motion, Cllr David Tooke, told a committee meeting on Thursday that while some of the council’s climate work had been done extremely well, passing the motion had created a negative impression.
“It is important, going forward, to keep our partners and the public onboard. Perception is the key, but … having recently called on the government to expand all sources of energy production has created a perception problem with our partners and the public… how can we counter-act that… how do we get rid of this negative impression?”
Climate portfolio holder Cllr Ray Bryan told the meeting that the idea that the council was suddenly supporting the extraction of fossil fuels was not the case.
“What we are trying to do is maintain a local source of them, in the interim, while we find alternative articles to use,” he said.
“Oil will always be needed in all sorts of way. The idea that we should suddenly do away with all forms of fossil fuels is just not practical.
“I can assure everybody that it isn’t our intention to open up oil wells all around the council’s area.”
Sherborne councillor John Andrews told the Place and Resource Scrutiny Committee that the council’s climate policies should concentrate on ‘green’ energy sources.
“This is a huge opportunity, we could be a national leader in tidal power if we put our mind to it,” he said.
Cllr Flower has said the intention of his motion has been mis-understood.
His four-part approved motion, in full, read as follows:
- Mindful of the current experience of global conflict and uncertainty, Dorset Council urges the government to introduce an energy policy with the principal objective of securing permanent UK energy self-sufficiency from as early a date as possible, utilising whatever forms of energy generation sourced from within the UK are necessary to this end. The council calls on the government still to meet its declared 2050 net zero carbon target, through a continuous reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels and by strategies designed to alter present patterns of energy demand and consumption.
- In the shorter term, the council urges the government to introduce flexibilities when considering the need for national energy self-sufficiency. This will recognise the serious, long lasting national security implications of the instability that accompanies the present but unavoidable need to import energy, and which is also a principal driver in the cost of living crisis now facing this country.
- Dorset Council strongly recommends the government to include in the forthcoming Planning White Paper a review of the minerals section of the National Planning Policy Framework, in order that planning authorities may have due and proper regard to the implications of climate change.
- The council calls for the Local Government Association to reinforce the national case for changes that will enable local planning authorities to have significantly greater influence in the determination of planning applications relating to the extraction of minerals in their areas.
By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins