A CLIMATE emergency declared in the town last week has come under fire from councillors who have urged Barnsley Council to form a citizens’ assembly in order for residents to help shape a greener borough.

At last Thursday’s full council meeting, the stance was formalised whereby targets to achieve zero carbon status were agreed following a recommendation outlined by cabinet members.

The council’s strategy is to reduce pollution levels and bosses are aiming to achieve a zero carbon borough by 2040 - ten years sooner than the government is aiming for nationally - as air pollution has been cited as the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Ruling cabinet members had previously recommended that the council aims to achieve zero carbon status as an organisation by 2040 and for the wider borough by 2045, albeit with no residents’ input.

However, Couns Peter Fielding and Jake Lodge proposed targets of 2030 and 2035 respectively - assisted by a citizens’ assembly where residents help shape the decision-making process - but this was ruled out.

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Coun Fielding said: “I am bitterly disappointed but not surprised that this council has rejected the amendments we put forward.

“Our targets to achieve zero carbon status by 2035 reflected the targets of many other local authorities and were based on the plethora of current scientific evidence as to the increasingly urgent nature of the climate emergency.

“We took advice from Extinction Rebellion, who are leading the field on this topic, and our recommendations mirrored the specific aims of Barnsley Trades Council and indeed the national Labour Party.

“The refusal of the ruling party members to even contemplate a citizens’ assembly on climate change was particularly disappointing.

“Such assemblies are being created by an increasing number of councils and are widely recognised as a means to engage and inform the local community and as a means of guiding our collective efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

“By taking this stance, Barnsley Council is effectively refusing to engage with or consult with the wider community, choosing instead to impose its own unambitious targets and its own methodology on the community.

“The council set these targets without any prior consultation or cross-party discussion - an approach which I fear will be doomed to fail.

“Cabinet member Coun Chris Lamb and council leader Sir Steve Houghton both made it clear that they would not agree to the commitment of any financial resources to tackle this issue - a clear statement of the lack of commitment given to tackling the urgent issue of the climate emergency.”

In 2017, Public Health England estimated that 3.8 per cent of all deaths in Barnsley in those aged 30 and above were attributable to fine particulate air pollution.

Councillors have been given details of the work already in progress towards cutting the council’s contribution towards pollution, including the introduction of electric vehicles to the local authority’s fleet and more efficient boilers in its rented homes, but traffic congestion at flare-up points including Dodworth Road and around Barnsley Hospital have been brought up recently.

Coun Fielding added: “Now is not the time for prevarication - it is the time to halt the hypocrisy of continuing with the kind of environmentally damaging developments in Barnsley such as building roads through Penny Pie Park and developing our green belt.

“That would show a real commitment to meeting our true carbon reduction targets. By setting targets 25 years in the future, they are giving themselves the false perception that these kinds of harmful developments can continue for now.

“I sincerely hope that this council will revisit their carbon reduction targets and I, with others will continue to press for earlier, more meaningful targets and the creation of a citizens’ assembly.”