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CLIMATE CHANGE: County council green chief says targets 'on track'

Wednesday 16th December 2020

A Kent environment chief says climate change targets remain “on track” despite concerns about major road and airport plans for the county, writes local democracy reporter Ciaran Duggan.

Cllr Susan Carey (Con), Kent County Council’s (KCC) first ever environment cabinet member, said the amount of harmful greenhouse gases emitted from the authority’s estate have continued to reduce this year.

A KCC report published last week shows Maidstone County Hall has cut carbon emissions by nearly 30% on its large land base over the last three years. At cabinet yesterday, Cllr Carey said: “This is really good news.”

KCC’s Conservative administration has pledged to play an influential role in reducing the county’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

A more ambitious target has been set to achieve net zero carbon on its own estate by 2030, which includes libraries and office buildings, although excludes schools. It means about 28,000 tonnes of carbon will need to be cut in the next 10 years.

However concerns have been raised about how realistic the aspirations are, given commitments to potentially air-polluting schemes, such as a new Kent and Essex link via the Lower Thames Crossing and the resumption of flights at Manston Airport in Thanet.

Car and air travel ground to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic first struck the UK in March as people were told to stay in their homes during a national lockdown.

This resulted in carbon emissions plummeting on KCC’s estate from March to June, the biggest drop in nearly two years, as more people worked from home.

Despite this, Cllr Carey told her nine Conservative executive colleagues: “We are still on track, even if it had not been for lockdown.”

Opposition councillors last week questioned the council’s aspirations given commitments to a series of large-scale air and road infrastructure projects.

They include the creation of several Brexit lorry parks in Ashford, Ebbsfleet, Thanet and Dover and the £8.2billion Lower Thames Crossing, which would see 14 miles of tunnel roads linking Gravesend to Thurrock in Essex.

Meanwhile, diesel buses – rather than electric or hydrogen – are expected to be used on a proposed route from Dover Priory Station to a major housing estate in Whitfield. This forms part of the £16million Dover Fastrack service.

Hundreds of flights could also resume from Manston Airport over the next few years.

KCC Green Party leader, Cllr Martin Whybrow, called for an urgent review to be carried out by County Hall during a full council meeting five days ago.

The Folkestone and Hythe member said: “KCC should do a screeching U-turn on its support for the carbon-guzzling, air-polluting, habitat-destroying Lower Thames Crossing.

“We need to categorically oppose new and expanding airports everywhere, not just at Gatwick.”

Going forward, KCC economic development director, David Smith, said plans were underway to replace gas systems in houses by 2030 while the production of petrol and diesel vehicles would likely be banned over the same period.

An unnamed Kent-based firm has recently secured a contract with a bus company in London to supply hydrogen from an energy plant based near Herne Bay. This has been described as “ground-breaking”.

At cabinet yesterday, Mr Smith said: “The opportunity for generating energy from nil carbon-emitting resources for Kent is high.”