South Tyneside environmental group STEP challenges council on its climate record

A resident-led South Tyneside environmental group has argued South Tyneside Council’s greenbelt development strategy is at odds with the its climate pledges.

The South Tyneside Environmental Protection (STEP) organisation, which campaigns around protection of the area’s green belt spaces, among other causes, has claimed the council’s approach to development of such zones is hampering its climate ambitions.

Environmental governance records at both local and national levels are coming under increased scrutiny in the run-up to November’s COP26 summit, set to be held in Glasgow.

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A spokesperson for STEP said on top of impacting the local authority’s aims to lead the way on the region’s ‘green transition, the council’s planning decisions were threatening the area’s remaining green spaces.

White Mare Pool, Leam Lane.

"South Tyneside Council appears to be intent on a strategy of building on the Green Belt which will have a negative impact on climate change,” Steve Lavelle said.

“This is at odds with the strategies to combat climate change that are encompassed in planning guidelines.

“The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which sets out government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied by local government, says (para 149 and footnote 48): ‘Plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long-term implications for flood risk, coastal change, water supply, biodiversity and landscapes, and the risk of overheating from rising temperatures, in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.’

"This means that local plans must demonstrate how their policies are in line with the legally binding carbon emission reduction targets set out in the Climate Change Act (i.e. net zero carbon by 2050).

Some of the borough's green belt space sits in Whitburn.

"Local plans should be based on an understanding of both the baseline carbon dioxide emissions within the council area, the emissions inherent in future development and growth within the plan period, and the actions and policies that will reduce emissions in line with the trajectory set out in the Climate Change Act.”

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South Tyneside Council responded to the comments by mounting a defence of its environmental record since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, and cited the lack of a clear roadmap from national Government regarding how local authorities are to fit into Number 10’s trumpeted ‘net zero’ targets.

“The Climate Change Act 2008 has committed the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050,” said a council spokesperson.

“Although, no specific council delivery targets have been set by the Government as yet, as a council we declared a climate emergency in 2019 and have pledged to take all necessary steps to become a carbon-neutral council by 2030.

South Shields Town Hall.
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“We also set ourselves an ambitious three-year challenge to cut CO2 emissions by 4,285 tonnes by March 2023 and we are already two thirds of the way towards achieving that figure.”

The council added that it was two-thirds of the way towards its target of cutting CO2 emissions by 4,285 tonnes by March 2023. More than 9,000 trees have been planted across the borough since 2019, the local authority said, while renewable energy schemes are under development locally and the area’s network of electric vehicle charging points is currently being expanded.

An annual update report on the local authority’s carbon neutral plans, which were launched in early 2020, and action to this end over the past two years was presented to the council on July 22.

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The local authority spokesperson also said: “Our commitment towards climate change remains strong and focused.

"Through our climate change strategy, Sustainable South Tyneside, we are implementing actions that bring about real change, significantly reduce our carbon emissions, while increasing our renewable capabilities to move towards to a cleaner, greener resource for energy supplies.

“We continue to champion a carbon neutral future for the borough, with our climate change ambitions embedded across all council activity and a key consideration in our decision-making.

“The local plan will include policies designed to ensure development and use of land contributes to the mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change. The Council will be looking to adopt a new local plan by 2023. This will involve extensive consultation before it is submitted for independent examination.”

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