Efforts to tackle climate change in the Moorlands will be led by not one, but two councillors, after it was concluded the job is too “strenuous” for a single person.
This week, it was announced that the climate change and biodiversity portfolio would become the first at the district council to be headed up by two Cabinet members.
Independent Coun Andrew Hart, who represents Biddulph North, said it was a “privilege” to step into a supporting role alongside Conservative Coun Joe Porter, who has been the portfolio holder since May 2019.
But Opposition councillors have argued that the fact such a role had to be created is evidence that the district council’s approach to tackling climate change has so far been a “failure”.
Coun Hart’s appointment was announced at the authority’s annual meeting last Wednesday by Conservative leader Sybil Ralphs.
She said: “Staffordshire Moorlands District Council is very committed to addressing climate change.
“We have demonstrated that on more than one occasion. Perhaps one of the most important occasions was when we appointed Coun Joe Porter as Cabinet member for climate change and biodiversity.
“It has become clear over the last few months just what a task Coun Porter has got in hand. So much so, that I felt the workload for one Cabinet member is quite strenuous.
“Coun Porter is doing a marvellous job, but he does need some assistance. Therefore, I decided to appoint a Cabinet support member to assist him with this very, very important portfolio and I have chosen Coun Andrew Hart.”
Coun Hart told the Chronicle after the meeting: “I am very pleased to be doing it. I was a Cabinet member previously from 2007 to 2012, so it’s a privilege to do this job.
“I envisage that there will be some changes in the portfolio; it won’t be a change of direction, but there will be some new directions.”
Labour Coun Nigel Yates, who represents Biddulph West at the district council, saw the appointment from a different perspective. He is standing today (Thursday) to become a county councillor and has made climate change a key feature of his campaign.
“It’s a surprising appointment because Cabinet members don’t usually need support,” Coun Yates said. “To me, it is an indication of the failure of the current portfolio holder to get a grasp on the brief.
“We applaud anything where it looks like there is going to be an acceleration or a sense of urgency, but Coun Hart will have to demonstrate that he’s up to task.
“As far as I am concerned, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I would like to see tangible action instead of just more and more words. It is coming up to the second anniversary of the declaration of the climate emergency and we still haven’t got a climate action plan.
“We need to be planting more trees and developing wildlife corridors, but there is no evidence of that happening. All we have had is a few photo opportunities with some orchards, which is like a drop of water to cure a drought.”
Responding, Coun Hart called the comments “nonsense”. He argued: “When it comes down to it, appointing another Cabinet member shows how seriously the district council is taking climate change.”
The Conservative and Independent coalition at the council has previously come under fire for what critics have deemed a “lack of information” on how it will tackle climate change.
At a meeting in February, Opposition leaders hit out after the issue was only referenced four times in a 47-page document drawn up to accompany the budget.
Coun Ralphs said at the time that climate change considerations were being “indirectly” included in a financial plan.