South Hams District Councillor signals a warning…

29th September 2020

I am making this statement as a South Hams District Councillor and member of its Climate Change and Biodiversity Working Group.

I joined this working group as I have a long standing interest in climate and the weather. My father was a forecaster in the Met Office and taught me a great deal. I am not a climate scientist but I think I have a good understanding. I wanted to contribute and help ensure the Council produce a good plan to address climate change and biodiversity loss in the South Hams as part of our contribution to the global effort that is needed.

Unfortunately, from day one this working group has been dysfunctional. It has been run in such a way that members have had very little control over the process. It has been my view for some time that it is just window-dressing and I am certainly wondering if I can remain associated with it.

The notion that the working group should engage with the community and with existing organisations and groups and gain the benefit of their knowledge and resources has been fiercely resisted. This insular view has been a serious drag on progress. There is finally to be a so called Community Board but I have little faith it will be anything more than just another manikin in the window. What is being mooted is that it should not include councillors and it will meet just once every three months.

The commitment was always weasel words in my view.

We also now have a Climate Change Officer. I do not envy him his job. He is not his own master and given I am on the working group I find it odd that I haven’t the foggiest notion what his brief or work programme is.

The result of all this nonsense is that 15 months after the Council declared a Climate Emergency all we have is a 26 page document that is meant to encapsulate a strategy but does not. It is vague, unimaginative, contains no targets and does not come close to what is required.

The excuses on offer shift, but they include covid-19, lack of resources, and Devon County is doing what is required. All these excuses are just exactly that. What is really meant is that this is low priority and we intend to do the minimum we can get away with.

Due to the good offices and skill of my fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Birch we managed to get £400k earmarked for Climate Change and Biodiversity projects. This was welcomed across the district and of course the Tory administration tried to take most of the credit.  But then, to add insult to injury, it became clear at a meeting of the full council last week on the 24th of September that the £400k was no longer safe. This is quite outrageous, though not surprising. The commitment was always weasel words in my view.

One might have hoped that Climate Change and Biodiversity loss would not be political and we could all work together but when one is faced with a Tory majority, albeit a small one, that always votes together and which seems determined to not face up to its responsibilities in this regard, then it is very difficult not to get political. I know the budget is tight, but this is an emergency that dwarfs all others, including covid-19. It should be guaranteed and I would argue be part of a much bigger community investment programme.

I don’t think the working group or the Council is full of climate change deniers, although I do wonder about one or two of the Tory  members. What is depressingly clear though is that very few councillors have a proper understanding of the enormity of what we all face or the very little time we have left to do something.

This year alone we have seen forests ablaze across the world; even above the Arctic circle the permafrost is melting and peat is smouldering; the warming oceans have generated larger, more violent and more frequent storms that have caused havoc; there have been huge losses of ice from the Western Antarctic and evidence that this is accelerating; Greenland is losing ice at a colossal rate; we are seeing eco-systems collapse with a frightening rate of species loss and then there is of course the huge damage being caused by plastics and other pollution. All this and much more has been reported in just the last 12 months.

It is clear that even the worst-case IPCC predictions were far too conservative and there are some well respected UK scientists that think they may be wrong by an order of magnitude. Listen to Prof Peter Wadhams from Cambridge. Listen to Prof Kevin Anderson from Manchester. Listen to Sir David Attenborough. The implications for the South Hams in just a few decades could be devastating flooding and loss of coastal villages, roads and railways; consequential damage to tourism and the local economy; increased extremes of weather that will affect farming… the list goes on.

It has been suggested that these protests are just alarmist political grandstanding. I will leave it to you to decide. Personally, I wonder at the apologists that seem unable to comprehend the anger at the complacent indolence they are complicit in.

The next meeting of the working group is on 22nd of October. We will see what happens, but if you have any empathy with what I have said you might consider emailing a district councillor or two. They clearly need to be told. One way is to use

SHDC Cllr John McKay
Ward Member for West Dart



30th September – John Lloyd – The reaction by the Council is typical of the System of Denial and not unexpected- anything to avoid the frightening reality. To understand this denial and why we are struggling to get to grips with what is facing us all Councillors might care to read Deep Adaption by Professor Jem Bendell. First published July 2018 and updated July 2020. We have no choice but to adapt right now which is what a Climate Emergency policy is intended to achieve at local level.

1st October – Nicky Hopwood – As a member of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Group on South Hams it is up to you as a member to make positive contributions instead of the negativity you often speak as borne out in your statement above. If you are so disillusioned with this Group then I suggest you put your money where your mouth is and resign instead of just threatening. You are derogatory to members of South Hams Council when you speak about our lack of knowledge and taking the Climate Change issue seriously. Most of us have children, grand children and great grand children who we want to enable to live in a cleaner healthier environment. You say that the group has resisted working with other interested parties yet a few weeks ago the Group listened to several Climate Change activists and took their views on board, all these speakers had Climate Change at the forefront of their agenda. All of what YOU are say is political grand standing which is such a shame when the issues are so serious. You say you don’t know the brief of the Climate Change officer, well find out, ask at a meeting, tell the Chair of the group you want information on what he does or simply speak to him, he is very approachable. No Councillor Mackay you won’t do that because if you did you wouldn’t be able to moan about not having the foggiest idea about what he does. Leave your negativity at the doorstep, it really isn’t productive

2nd October – John McKay –

Cllr Hopwood… you are confusing negativity with concern, frustration and some anger. Having grandchildren is no measure of anything … other than fecundity possibly. It is certainly not an indicator of an understanding of the looming catastrophe that is climate change. A member of the CC working group that I imagine has progeny stated at a meeting a few months ago that “CO2 is good for biodiversity … that’s why they blow it over tomatoes”. I said “What ??” and it was repeated. It is interesting just how many errors of fact can be contained by such a short sentence. It did nothing for my positivity I’m afraid.

Several days prior to the last meeting I requested some agenda items. I have no doubt they were not to the taste of the Chair, but I didn’t even get a reply to my email. One requested item was the work programme of our Climate Change officer. By the time of the meeting, no agenda had turned up. So we were all just expected to rock up to the skype meeting without a clue as to what is to be discussed. At this meeting we were presented with a set of recommendations for approval and were expected to just rubber stamp them. This meeting often does not take any minutes either … possibly just as well.

The working group has consistently been presented with fait-accompli and expected to just approve them. The process of adding a few meaningless tweaks is the working groups only influence. But, we have indeed had the opportunity to hear from outside groups just recently, and it was a refreshing experience. All credit to Cllr Birch for pressing for this to happen. Had this happened 12 months ago and was part of the continuous engagement that I have been asking for we would now have a plan worthy the name and an educated climate change working group.

The refusal to ring-fence the £400k is pretty much in line with the whole sorry saga. If taken over 4 years, it represents just 1% of the budget… does that sound like a recognition of the armageddon we might be facing ?

I have said for some time now that the working group should become a committee. That way its deliberations would be open to the public and they could direct questions to it. There is no constitutional reason why it could not become an Advisory Committee, so why hasn’t this happened? I would suggest it is because scrutiny by the public would not be welcome.

I will do my best to be positive, hard though it is.

  3 comments for “South Hams District Councillor signals a warning…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.