25 November 2020
At the full Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole (BCP) Council meeting on Tuesday 24 November, portfolio holder for ‘Transport and Sustainability’ Councillor Mike Greene confirmed the new Conservative administration’s intention to drop a key pledge from BCP Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Declaration.
In the declaration, passed by a near-unanimous vote by BCP Council as one of the very first motions of the new unitary authority in July 2019, the council committed to holding a ‘citizens’ assembly’ as an important opportunity for public input into council plans to address the climate and ecological crises.
A ‘citizens’ assembly’ is a method of involving the general public in the democratic decision-making process. The members of the public are selected through independent sortition to ensure that the assembly is demographically proportional and representative and participants are provided access to a range of experts in the relevant field to work to compile recommendations for council action.
Green Councillor Simon Bull said of the move, “It’s outrageous that the Conservative Cabinet are dropping a core pledge of the Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency declaration and denying the residents of BCP a stake in the decisions needed to make their home conurbation a greener, more sustainable and equitable place to live. It’s even more outrageous to decide this after claiming that public engagement and participation would be a hallmark feature of your administration, as the new BCP Council leader, Drew Mellor did in his leadership bid.”
The recent vote of no confidence in former council leader Vikki Slade had been called by the Conservative group partly in response to what they perceived as a failure to consult the public on the temporary road closures for pedestrian and cyclist use, even though public consultations on the scheme were being delivered in line with the government guidelines.
Councillor Drew Mellor made public engagement a clear focus of his successful bid for Council leadership, but Cabinet member Mike Greene’s response to public questions on the issue of the ‘citizens’ assembly’ and the councillor climate working groups, raises questions about the new administration’s commitment to deliver on this promise to residents.
Green Councillor Chris Rigby, commenting on Councillor Greene’s response to the many concerned members of the public said, “For the climate action working groups to be labelled as ‘losing direction’ is incredibly disappointing as this was the forum where residents submitted concerns and ideas and these were being thoughtfully considered, discussed and put into action as part of the ongoing climate and ecological emergency plan.
“The removal of these along with the citizens’ assembly highlights the Conservatives' lack of consideration for public engagement, and shows that they have little to no interest in what the general public think on one of the most pressing issues that we need to address.”
Simon Bull and Chris Rigby said that his response to the public questions also misrepresented the work and decisions of the Unity Alliance, by claiming that under the cover of the pandemic, they had dropped the climate budget and plans to address the climate and ecological emergency.
They explained that while it was true that many of the projects the Unity Alliance had in the pipeline, including the citizens’ assembly, were put on hold and some of the budget, as with the budget for other services, had been redirected at a time when additional government COVID19 support was not forthcoming, there was always an intention to return to these projects once the pandemic situation abated.
Councillor Greene did confirm that the public consultation on the ‘Climate and Ecological Emergency action plan’ was still set to go ahead and would be brought to full council in December. The public consultation, which had been put together by the former portfolio holder Councillor Felicity Rice and council officers, was ready to go out on the 30th September, but officers decided to delay its publication in response to the vote of no confidence motion due to take place the following day.
While they welcomed the confirmation that the public consultation is still planned to go ahead, Councillors Bull and Rigby emphasise that it is no substitute for bolder, broader public participation in the council’s decision-making processes. They also note that consultations can lack real meaning when councillors have predetermined positions and fail to take public opinions into proper consideration.
Councillor Bull said, “So many of the Conservatives seem to either believe that if you recycle a bit more and drive an electric car, all will be well or that a solution to the climate and ecological emergency will be found in time, so we can all carry on business as usual. Both of these approaches allow them to do nothing at the risk of everyone's future.”