Feature by Dan Antunes
With an air of determination and resilience, members of Kirklees Climate emergency action, a group that encompasses members from Greenpeace, Save the Trees, and Friends of the Earth as well as other climate groups, gathered in front of the Town Hall on Wednesday to put emphasis on the importance of the Climate Emergency declared in January.
The other main focus of the protest was the £100 million expansion of the Leeds Bradford City Airport which highlighted the frustration at the climate emergency. With the devastating impact on ancient woodland that’ll be cut down for better route access to the airport and the Co2 emissions that will come from the expansion, the feeling of dissatisfaction was more than warranted.
Chayley Collins, a key organiser for Friends of the Earth, detailed her anger that although they’re ‘‘grateful for the council … passing a climate emergency bill… we need to act like it’s an emergency’’ and ‘‘everybody needs to be working on the issues’’’. The ‘‘concern over some policies the council are supporting which don’t appear to be compatible with their climate emergency’’ seems to show lack of meaningful intent towards the aforementioned bill.
Also expressing concern at the ‘‘road project which will cut down a lot of ancient woodland in Cooper bridge’’ and explaining that ‘‘new roads aren’t a good thing and that cutting ancient woodland down isn’t good for climate’’, the protest acted as a very real reminder of the damage the expansion will create.
Other representatives from groups like save the trees also explained their frustrations with the ‘‘lip service’’’ the council had given by planting some new trees as if that would counter the ‘‘lo[ss] of two woodlands at Ashbower road and the woodlands at Cooper bridge bypass’’. Considering whether ‘‘Kirklees should even be taking back the Climate emergency declaration because of all the trees they’ve been cutting down’’ the air of disgust was echoed in the sentiment that’d Kirklees might as well ‘‘not bother’’ planting saplings ‘‘because they’re cutting down mature trees all over Huddersfield and [they] want it to stop’’.
The loss of woodland will also greatly impact the biodiversity of the area which will not be able to be ‘‘reconstructed in a lifetime or even several lifetimes’’ and will ‘‘releas[e] great amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere’’. The attitudes of the protestors were also reflected in some of the councillors’ mentalities.
Green party Leader, Andrew Cooper stated that ‘‘the importance of the motion’’ was ‘‘to highlight the fact that public bodies like Kirklees are investing in airport expansion’’ which can ‘‘undo’’ the work done ‘‘on addressing climate change’’. He continued on to say that ‘‘the council’s got to be mindful of those impacts as well because we can do positive things for the environment but we can also do negative things. We’ve got to make sure we don’t do the negative stuff and we invest in planting trees more, not taking away what we already have.’’
Fellow Green party member Susan Lee-Richards also expressed similar sentiments adding that Kirklees ‘‘should be investing more in public transport’’ and that ‘‘people shouldn’t be thinking about flying more but about when they really have to’’. The councillor also went on to talk about the party’s stance on HS2 (a new high-speed railway connecting London, the Midlands, Crewe and Manchester) going against it in the belief that it’s a ‘‘bit of a vanity project because it’s over budget’’ and will negatively impact the woodland area. As HS2 is ‘‘on hold at the moment … cutting down any ancient woodlands should also be on hold whilst their reconsidering the whole proposal’’.
The Liberal democrats also weighed in on the motions as Anthony Smith, a representative for Lindley, wants to ‘‘put together policy measures that we can put to council’’ to ‘‘curb pollution around our schools, address issues in biodiversity, tree planting, a whole host of measures’’. When asked about the impact of cutting down the forest the councillor stated that he was ‘‘dead against it’’ and that ‘‘there’s no way we should be cutting down ancient forests. It’s ridiculous’’. The party were also hoping to make an impact through putting pressure on the council’s attitudes towards air pollution.
Alison Munro, the Liberal Democrat representative for Almondbury, discussed how ‘‘aware’’ she was of ‘‘schools across Kirklees that are concerned over the level of air quality through emissions in areas around schools’’. The councillor then spoke about how ‘‘susceptible’’ children are towards ‘‘the long-term exposure of particle emissions and nitrous dioxide which can lead to asthma and breathing difficulties … causing all manner of problems in later life’’. The councillor also stated that the motions had intention mirroring the ‘‘concern’’ parents had ‘‘that their children are breathing in this polluted air and want their council to prevent it’’ with the idling of cars is a big concern around schools.
Labour Councillor Fazilla Loonat, the representative for Bately East, also showed consolidation with the protestors in the belief that ‘‘It’s important to push things like climate emergency because it’s the future of our children and if we don’t look after our children’s future who will’’.
Overall the actions of the protestors and the councillors proved effective as the council; withdrew support for Leeds City Region funding improved transport links to Leeds Bradford Airport, called for a reinvestment of those funds in activities that will promote carbon reductions and tried to ensure that Leeds City Region applies the principles of their Declaration of a Climate Emergency in all the decisions that they make.
In regards to air pollution they agreed that; air pollution needs to be tackled for the benefit of children’s health in the local area, that more preventative measures need to be taken, there need to be more promotion of sustainable travel and developing dialogues with schools as well as implementing new initiatives including ‘no-idling zones’.
Although there is still a lot more to achieve in the Kirklees area, it’s good to see the right values embedded within the environmentally concerned public as well as some of our councillors.