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School children inspired by David Attenborough urge Canterbury City Council to declare climate emergency

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

School children inspired by David Attenborough to protest against climate change are "disappointed" councillors refused to commit to making Canterbury carbon neutral by 2030.

Conservative councillors claimed it would be "unfair" to "bind" the next council into this commitment two weeks before the election.

As a compromise, the policy and resources committee agreed to deliver two reports on plans to reduce carbon emissions and "recommend" actions for the future council.

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WATCH: Children demand action from council

It comes a week after Maidstone Borough Council became the first council in Kent to declare a climate change emergency.

An eight-year-old pupil from St Peter's Methodist Primary School, Emmanuel Thomas, was among the nine members of the public who urged the council to follow in Maidstone's footsteps at the meeting last night.

He told councillors how he was inspired to join protests against climate change by television presenters Stacey Dooley, Chris Packham and David Attenborough.

He said: "I'm only eight years old but even I can understand the signs in these programmes. Human actions are causing our atmosphere to go out of control.

"Scientists of the world said if we do not reduce our carbon emissions right now, when I'm your age the world will go so wrong we won't ever be able to make it better.

Pascal Sleigh, 13, and Emmanuel Thurston, eight
Pascal Sleigh, 13, and Emmanuel Thurston, eight

"We need to reduce our carbon dioxide every year by 15% until 2030.

"I have learnt about percentages at school, so I think the council can understand it too."

He told councillors how on the way to school he walks through a lot of polluted air due to traffic.

Emmanuel asked councillors to "change their behaviour" by encouraging more people to cycle or improve public transport for the "future for us, children".

He added: "I don't always like it when my mum tells me to change my behaviour but I know that it is the best for me."

However, chairman Simon Cook told the public this is not within their control as Kent County Council is the highways authority.

Despite pleas from the public, Cllr Cook criticised the move to declare an emergency a fortnight before a new council is set to start.

He said: "I think it's appropriate for the next council to work out what their priorities are and not for us to tell them what they are.

City council leader Simon Cook (8832344)
City council leader Simon Cook (8832344)

"This would be binding the council to commit the council to formulate a strategy and enact that strategy.

"That can come within their Corporate Plan."

He explained the council are already taking actions to address climate change and "wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise".

But the leaders of both the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups criticised this move as "kicking a can down the road".

Cllr Alan Baldock (Lab) said: "The motion, as it stands, sets up nothing more than a wide, ambitious view of what we need to do.

"To declare a climate change emergency is simply saying that we recognise this council need to act with speed and absolute determination.

"We plan, as a council, to be carbon neutral by 2030.

"It doesn't say we can't do this in five, ten years.

Cllr Alan Baldock
Cllr Alan Baldock

"All good journeys start with a plan and all good decisions made start with a plan of what you want to achieve."

Cllr Michael Dixey (Lib Dem), who proposed the motion, said: "We have been sitting on our hands for ten years as a world and now we are still sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen - that's really, really sad.

"We still haven't got that urgency fitted.

"No district is perfect but we can do a heck of a lot more.

"We have to ask questions about why we are sitting around and doing so little."

He added the multi-storey car park by the train station "does not show leadership about reducing pollution in Canterbury".

Cllr Andrew Cook (Con) then said this showed Cllr Dixey's true intention for putting forward this motion.

He said: "This motion is actually about the car park and not about controlling the climate. I get the public are talking about climate control but Cllr Dixey's motion is different."

Cllr Cook's remarks were met with groans and jeering from the public gallery.

Comments from Cllr Jenny Samper (Con) were also met with uproar from the benches as she explained it is up to individuals to take action, not just the council.

Some members of the public were unimpressed with the council's reaction
Some members of the public were unimpressed with the council's reaction

She said: "We each contribute to things that go on in this nature, I'm sure members (councillors) are very conscious about the amount of pollution being brought into the atmosphere and we do what we can.

"It is not just the responsbility of the council, it's the members of the public.

"You don't think it's about the public but it is because the members of the public make up 99.9% of the population in this district."

Labour candidate Clare Connerton, who spoke at the meeting, claimed the Conservatives "showed contempt" for the activists and were "patronising".

She praised the "brilliant young people" for talking out against the "complacent Tory council".

She said: "The general feel in the room was that if we can't do absolutely everything about the climate emergency globally, we shouldn't really try to do anything.

"The emphasis was on their lack of responsibility rather than the very many things that we could be doing."

The public will decide the fate of the council next week on May 2.

The election is set to be highly contested - with Conservatives putting forward a candidate for every seat and Labour following behind with one fewer candidate.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have agreed a pact where they will not be fighting against each other for seats in selected wards to maximise their chances.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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