As Durham County Council’s public consultation on the Climate Emergency comes to a close at the end of October, various schemes and policies are being suggested to improve County Durham’s environmental footprint, including electric bicycles and geothermal heating.
Last week Durham History student Neve Ovenden hosted a panel discussion in Durham County Hall on Durham County Council’s Climate Emergency Update Report, with speakers from various environmental interest groups present.
Professor Jon Gluyas (Director of Durham University’s Energy Institute) suggested the council should be using the county’s mining history in order to provide geothermal energy to homes. Gluyas stated “50% of what we use our energy on in the UK is heating… Every village in Durham remembers the mining industry, we need to get water from below the ground to heat homes”.
Durham County Council currently invests £49 million in fracking and £9 million in Russian-Kazakhstan oil and gas
Jo Ellis, a chartered town planner and former Durham Council employee turned local activist, argued instead that they should be focussing on transport. “Almost a third of our emissions come from transport… Electric vehicles take up more energy to make and still produce similar issues of congestion, land use and to some extent carbon emissions. We need to make transport easier, safer, cheaper, and more sustainable”, Ellis argued.
Lucy Whelan criticised the Council for currently investing in fracking and Russian energy companies. “The Durham County Council pension fund currently invests £49 million in fracking and £9 million in Russian-Kazakhstan oil and gas”, stated Whelan. The council have said they are in the process of changing this.
We need big carbon sequestration schemes if we have any hope
“To reduce emissions in County Durham, we need to scrap current policies, including the plans for two relief roads that will run through nature reserves, though the green belt, and directly impact current rights of way, slicing through areas that host protected species” argued Whelan.
“You typically get a 20% increase in road use if you build new roads for cars. The same is true of cycle paths”, added Jo Ellis.
XR’s Lucy Whelan suggested the need for more encouraging cycling policies in Durham, to which Professor Gluyas responded: “We are trying to get an electric bike scheme going in the university”.
Councillor John Clare argued that Durham County Council were keen to listen and extend their plans, promising to change current policy so that “In every planning application there will be a carbon assessment of the impact”.
But Whelan expressed frustration with the Council’s pace – “This [Climate Emergency Report] doesn’t seem to go very far. We need big carbon sequestration schemes if we have any hope. What is being done to improve peatland, beyond protection of existent peatland?”
Councillor Clare admitted “I’m happy you’re not satisfied. We absolutely have to go further. It’s just talk at the moment, we need action”. Councillor John Clare is the Environment Champion for Durham County Council, and this event was hosted by the City of Durham Labour Party. DCC’s Climate Emergency Consultation will be open for public submissions until Thursday 31 October.
Photographs by Neve Ovenden