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Local elections are YOUR chance to use the most potent lever you have to fight the climate crisis – your VOTE!

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Last Friday morning I went for a walk, along Dane O’Coys Road and through Hoggate's Wood. It was a breathtakingly beautiful spring morning with the trees bursting into leaf in the sunshine and the cacophony of birdsong in the air.

But as I walked, my heart ached.

The wood reverberated to the sound of a generator on the Bishop's Stortford North (BSN) construction site next door and houses were visible in every direction. An advancing army of buildings hemming in this ancient woodland.

Nature seems to be having a tough time in our town at the moment.

A friend stopped me the other day to tell me he had to call the fire brigade to free a muntjac trapped in the fence on the development behind Foxdells Lane.

He’s also seen rabbits and foxes moving into mounds of earth on the BSN site while work there is paused. What will happen to them when work resumes?

A muntjac trapped in a fence on the Bishop's Stortford North site (46603552)
A muntjac trapped in a fence on the Bishop's Stortford North site (46603552)

And many people have expressed their concern to me about the visible loss of trees around the town, including those removed on the Northgate End multi-storey car park site.

I can’t help but wonder: how much nature do we have to lose to realise we have lost too much?

I know people need homes. Our town is growing and that can be a good thing. However, it becomes a problem when we put the growth imperative above everything else: cars trump clean air, buildings trump nature.

Many people will accuse me of naivety and say ‘Oh come on, that’s just how it is’. But this is not the only way.

Other countries do it differently, make different choices. We need to remember this is a choice – is it the one we want to make?

Developers want us to have our nature in neatly managed packages, ones that fit around their plans. Places where you can park the car and walk without getting your boots muddy. I think we have enough of those already.

I am not arguing against development. I’m arguing for thoughtful custodianship of nature.

Not because it’s nice to have, but because it is essential: for our health and wellbeing, for our food chains and the air we breathe, for our survival.

We are nature. We are, to quote native American Chief Seattle speaking in 1854, "but one thread in the web of life. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves."

So we need custodians. Decision-makers bold and brave enough to put the environment we depend on first, to view every decision through the lens of climate and nature and to hold others – especially the developers shaping our town – to account.

I’m writing this the day after Earth Day (Thursday April 22). There is possibility in the air. It feels as if a political tipping point has at last been reached.

The world leaders who joined US president Joe Biden’s virtual summit made massive commitments to cut carbon emissions over the next, decisive decade (some of them more credible than others).

In the words of Christiana Figueres, architect of the 2016 Paris Agreement, these pledges keep the target of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Centigrade ‘alive'.

They probably don’t go far enough yet, but it’s a good bet that the ensuing policies will have a ripple effect which will take us further than we can imagine. If all those promises are kept, there’s a chance of keeping us below 2C and perhaps avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

That is a big if. But the political will is finally there and that is in large part because of people like you.

Politicians – globally, nationally and (dare we hope?) locally – are waking up to the fact that action on climate change is becoming a vote winner.

Which brings me to our local county council elections.

Whilst I believe that our individual choices and actions matter – because they stimulate markets and inspire others – I am also painfully and increasingly aware that you and I can’t solve this crisis.

We need systemic, structural change and that has to come from our political representatives at every level.

The most potent lever you have to fight the climate crisis is your vote.

So please use it wisely on Thursday May 6 – and beyond. Choose leaders who have a commitment to thoughtful, responsible, creative custodianship of our world.

Demand a far-sighted vision that’s not limited to cycle paths and bike racks, but that imagines a future where we can live and thrive alongside the nature that sustains us.

In the next GreenWatch column, we’ll be publishing highlights of the candidates’ answers to a series of eco-focused questions posed by the Bishop's Stortford Climate Group.

An update on housing developer's carbon reduction commitment at Bishop's Stortford Goods Yard...

Regular readers may be wondering what is happening with energy performance at the Goods Yard. Well, I have an update for you.

The crux of the problem, as you may remember, is that the reduction in carbon emissions promised by housing developer Bellway Homes (3.22% below building regs) fell far short of the reduction proposed by site developer Solum in the outline planning application (24.6%).

East Herts Council planners pushed Bellway to do better and a revised energy statement was submitted in December 2020. Bellway proposed covering the roof of block A2 (one of five blocks) with solar panels (a total of 40kWp), which would achieve a total reduction in emissions of 11.26%. At first glance, this looks like a step in the right direction.

However, the environmental consultants advising EHC were not impressed, concluding that "the strategy does not align with the target performance of the outline planning application energy strategy... and what is proposed is the bare minimum for compliance".

They also questioned what benefits the residents would get from the solar PV since it "cannot directly feed the dwellings... If there is no benefit to the residents then the dwellings are not benefitting from the technology and the PV becomes a stand-alone installation". Which sounds to me like a last minute add-on in the hope of keeping the planners happy.

The council has been advised to ask Bellway to provide a strategy which delivers the original 24.6%. The revised statement continues to await a decision from the planners. Can it be that the planning department is at long last baring its green teeth?

I hope so, particularly since Bellway has just bought a second residential plot from Solum. Let’s hope that this time, carbon reduction measures are fully integrated from the start and deliver benefits directly to the Goods Yard residents for decades to come.

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