Full Council Meeting October 2019

Council Webcast. Scroll to 1.29 for the relevant section

In the video you will see questions being posed to Sheffield City Council concerning the climate and ecological emergency and biodiversity. The questions were answered by Cllr Mark Jones who is the cabinet member responsible for the environment. He later sent a much more detailed response, which follows. It is a long read so I have summarised it here, with my comments in bold.

  1. Council policy is to become Carbon Neutral by 2030. Good! But XR demands 2025 to allow for equity for poorer nations.
  2. There are currently 4.4m trees in Sheffield. Some estimates say this needs to be doubled in order to sequester Carbon. Council are looking for tree planting sites. No actual commitment here yet.
  • Admission that far more work is needed on energy production/industry.
  • Housing important. Desire for all homes to be energy efficient and produce their own power.(no real commitment)
  • Carbon emissions to be measured using Govt data on energy use and reported annually on website.
  • Since the Climate Emergency was announced in Feb the council has
  • Produced a Carbon Budget (but it does not explain what policies are needed to achieve it)
  • Had a Full Council meeting to debate this
  • Experimented with dimming street lights in 3 areas
  • Introduced electric bin lorries
  • Held a consultation on the Clean Air Zone (which is controversial as it does nothing to persuade private car drivers not to enter the city centre) The Climate Alliance are broadly in favour of it but the Green Party have said it should include private cars.
  • Purchased electricity that is 100% renewable. Good
  • Explored opportunities to reduce Council emissions and generate own electricity (no real commitments)
  • Committed not to widen roads unless this improves active/public transport (this is their claim for widening the ring road which was not necessary)
  • Committed to holding a Citizen’s Assembly on how to further reduce emissions. (no date committed to yet)
  • Considering expanding district heating network. (which is powered by burning rubbish producing lots of CO2)
  • Proposing Carbon Literacy training for Council Staff (Good- but no commitment as to when this will start.)
  • Proposing Carbon Impact Assessment scheme to accompany all new policy. (Good, but how much influence will the CIA have on the decisions of Councillors?)
  • An investment proposal has been made to secure resources to implement policies.
  • Currently working on Citizens Assembly with plans to launch this “soon”. (when?)
  • Considering mass mailing to public to communicate about Citizen’s Assembly.
  • Some roadside verges are being left to grow to encourage biodiversity. This could expand. (when?)
  • Denial that Glyphosate is dangerous-but workers should wear safety equipment.(you have not read the science!)
  • No plans to reduce Glyphosate usage. Trials of alternatives have not been successful. (where is the evidence for this?)Labour Green New Deal could eventually produce conditions to make hand removal of weeds affordable. (Good, but biodiversity loss isn’t waiting for a Labour Govt!)

So the Council have made limited progress, but they are certainly not yet acting “as if their house is on fire!” This is an emergency and we need rapid solutions and commitments.

Here is the response in full

Dear Graham, Geoff, Rachel and Nathan,

Thank you for your questions at Full Council. Please accept my apologies for not getting these responses to you sooner. I’m not at all sure that my answers are quite all they should be, but I didn’t want to delay in sending them any longer. It goes without saying that the answers are not a ‘final’ word or position on these many matters. I am always happy to consider what we can do next and would be more than happy to discuss any alternate answers/views that you may have.

I’ve broken the answers up to address the many questions directly. I hope that is okay?

Answers to Geoff’s questions:

  1. Please, can you confirm that the City Council’s target is to become zero carbon by 2030?

To help set the scene, I’ve included the following note regarding June 2019 Full Council statement from Cllr Dagnall, my predecessor:

Following Full Council in June, Cllr Dagnall (then Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change) issued the following press statement;

‘As a city we came together in February to declare a climate emergency and we have been working with the Green City Partnership to work out our next steps. I am delighted to be able to announce today that we will be committing the city to a minimum of 2030 as our carbon neutral target.’

I am mindful that ‘zero carbon’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are not one and the same thing. If ‘zero carbon’ means that Sheffield would emit no carbon by 2030 then I do not feel that this is an achievable goal. I do however feel that we can become ‘carbon neutral’, that is I believe that we can through our collective efforts, both physical and intellectual achieve a position where Sheffield can off-set/sequester and carbon emissions that we produce.

We would have to look to increase the number of trees we have in Sheffield. I think that currently we have c4.4 million trees in Sheffield. Some estimates suggest that we would need to double this number of trees to sequester enough carbon. I am already exploring how and where we can plant significantly more trees across Sheffield.

With regards the capturing and recycling carbon from energy production and other industrial activities we will need to significantly expand our technological capacity. I have held brief conversations with others. Unfortunately, I do not feel that we are anywhere near where we need to be yet.

We will also need to push forward significantly on new house building standards and retrofitting of existing housing stock. Plans were in place for a significant shift in building standards. Unfortunately, the collision government and minority Conservative government delayed, delayed and the binned those proposals.

I will be looking for increased build standards and sustainability measures to be included in the any local plan that will come forward. We must make all homes as efficient as possible, and I feel we should be looking to make all homes power stations, producing energy to fuel our city, not just power our homes.

  1. How do you plan to measure the reduction in carbon emissions each year?

The Council expects that it will use energy consumption and carbon emissions data which is collected annually by the Government.  This was the source of the data for the Sheffield Carbon budget report, produced by the Tyndall Centre for the City early this year. However, the Council will be considering the most appropriate and suitable approach for Sheffield as part of its work to develop a carbon neutral plan for the city.

We are exploring who else we can work with to identify carbon emission measures, either by direct measure of energy consumed or possibly proxy/correlative measures such as air quality and particulate density which could help in inferring carbon consumption through waste product production.

  1. How will this be reported to the public?

The Council are exploring a number of options in order to enable the city’s carbon emissions to be reported on an annual basis. I would have expected that we would publish our data on our website as an early step. However, I expect more responsive and accessible reporting systems to come forward over time. I feel that this would be one of several issues that a citizens assemble could be tasked with addressing.

Answers to Nathan’s questions:

  1. What progress has been made since you announced the Climate Emergency in February to reduce carbon emissions?

Since February 2019 and the declaration of a climate emergency, the Council has progressed a number of initiatives which will contribute to reduce carbon emissions;

  • Engaged the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change to produce a carbon budget for the city.
  • Held a special Full Council meeting in July to discuss the Tyndall Centre’s report ‘A Carbon budget for Sheffield’.
  • Light dimming trial – Over the last month the Council has been trialling dimming of streetlights in three parts of the city. During the period, lighting levels were reduced by up to 14%, which will help to reduce the amount of energy consumed and carbon dioxide emitted. I am currently exploring the feedback from the consultation on these streetlight-dimming trials and anticipate being able to announce additional measures in relation to streetlighting shortly.
  • Electric bin lorries – Sheffield is one of the first UK cities to trail the use of electric bin lorries. The vehicles have been retrofitted with electric drive systems designed and manufactured in Sheffield and use electricity that is generated by the waste they collect. The re-powered lorries produce zero carbon emissions and no air pollution.
  • Clean air – Held a substantial consultation on the proposals to implement a Clean Air Zone in the city.  As well as delivering cleaner air, the CAZ and associated programme will increase the number electric vehicles in the city significantly, with a resultant decrease in vehicle carbon emissions.
  • Purchase electricity from 100% renewable sources for all Council buildings
  • The Council is continuing to explore the opportunities to reduce its own direct carbon emissions, as well as generate low or zero carbon energy.
  • We have committed to undertake no road-widening schemes that are not aimed at improving active transport/mass transport capacity.
  • It will be using the Climate Citizens Assembly to work with people from across the city to develop approaches to reduce city-wide emissions, as the Tyndall Centre report noted that reductions are required from across all sectors of our city in order to achieve our 2030 zero carbon city goal.

I can assure you that there are additional measures currently being explored from increasing heat storage and expansion of the district heating network. A network that remains an extremely efficient way of heating homes.

I am currently establishing a Carbon Impact Assessment scheme that will go with all council decisions. This is intended to focus minds not just on how we do business, but how we can do it better. And always in terms of carbon expenditure. This will be a stepped process which will initially focus on Carbon Literacy training throughout the council. In the medium term we will need to increase capability within the council so that we can better evaluate and predict the ‘carbon cost’ of all future council activities.

  1. What financial resources have been allocated to reduce the carbon budget by the 14% required by the Tyndall Report this financial year?  Given the likely target reduction shortfall this year what additional financial resources will be made available to catch up next financial year?

An investment proposal (mandate) has been produced and is awaiting approval to secure resources. This is a significant spending commitment, which given the austerity that the council has faced is one not taken lightly. However, I wholly accept that we must invest now if we are have any chance of delivering carbon neutrality by 2030.

  1. When will the first Citizen’s Assembly take place to advise the Council on how to reduce emissions?

The Council is considering the most effective approach and is exploring how other Local Authorities are progressed assemblies which is helping inform the development of our approach.  A start date for the first assembly has not been confirmed, but this is expected in due course.  The Council wants to ensure that the process is fair and equitable and considers the evidence in a full and comprehensive manner.

I am determined that letters will soon be going our to invite citizens to participate in the Citizens Assemblies. Establishing a panel will take some time but we can use this lead/lag period to further establish the parameters for the citizens assembly to ensure we can be up and running as soon as it practically possible.

  •  Getting the public on board is crucial – rapid and significant changes to our society cannot be done by stealth. Why has the council produced no publicly visible (ie beyond a page buried in SCC website) information on the climate emergency, or communicated the danger to life facing people around the world and in Sheffield? What plans does it have to do so?

The Council is considering the most effective approach as part of our wider climate communications strategy.  This will be closely linked to the citizens assembly, and full consideration will need to be given to how we engage with all of our residents and communities, as well as our businesses and other city institutions.

We have received a proposal for a mass mailing to all households outlining what we are hoping that the citizens assembly will deliver, and explaining why we feel that climate change is such an emergency.

Answer to Rachel’s question:

  1. Why aren’t roadsides and verges in our city being left alone wherever possible to allow wildflowers to grow? We have less than a fifth of our winged insects and pollinators left – without them, humans will die. In Amsterdam, an effort to leave verges untouched resulted in a 43% increase in bees. Why are we not taking this strikingly simple and costless action to preserve life?

This already happens – as part of the changes to the Streets Ahead contract implemented in April 2018, around 712,000m2 of rural verges and a further 442,000m2 of grass verges along main roads and arterial routes were all moved onto to a single annual cut programme in the autumn (with the exception of sight lines at junctions) to allow wild flora and fauna to thrive on roadside verges. This project was undertaken in conjunction with Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Sheffield University.

I would like to see if we can expand the number of vergers that can be seeded to increase biodiversity and allow for a comprehensive network to be established that can support wild-life movement into and throughout our city. By increasing connectivity of existing ‘bio-reserves’ I would hope that we can engineer a system that builds resilience into the existence of these wild-life friendly environments.

Answer to Graham’s questions:

  1. Why don’t the workers spraying our streets with dangerous Glyphosate wear protective gear?

All staff are issued with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment as detailed on the label requirements and COSHH assessments for the use of glyphosate. However, if workers are not wearing this equipment then we must address this issue. Any help in identifying abuses of the wearing of protective equipment needs to be address.

  • A court case against Monsanto in the States was won by a man who developed cancer after using Roundup. He was awarded $289 million in damages. What preparations have Sheffield Council/Amey made to be able to pay out damages to workers who get cancer as a result of their use of Glyphosate?

The cancer risk from the use of Glyphosate is categorised by the World Health Organisation as being in the Group 2A classification – the same level of risk presented by activities such as eating Red Meat, Working Night Shifts or operating a food fryer.

The scientific evidence regarding Glyphosate is unclear and it may be that there are other elements within Roundup that could be responsible for adverse health reports. Also, it is equally important to understand the nature and scale of exposure to chemicals/compounds and the impact these exposure dose rates may have had on those exposed to the given chemical/compound.

This is not to say that the council are taking exposure to roundup lightly. We will continue to monitor the advice regarding Roundup and any such herbicide used.

  • Last year Sheffield Council/Amey used 1750 litres of Glyphosate. It has been proved to cause mortality of species including bees, predatory mites, lacewings, ladybirds and beetles. Argentinian studies suggest that glyphosate use leads to a decline in honeybee activity. The demise of the monarch butterfly population in New York has been blamed on glyphosate. Glyphosate in soil takes 140 days to break down to half its toxicity and will continue to be taken up by plants from the soil for 2 years and longer. It’s toxic to earthworms and inhibits fungi essential for tree health, collecting nutrients and water to feed their host plant and protecting tree roots from harmful fungi and root rot diseases. Despite this, it is sprayed around trees in Sheffield. When is the Council/Amey going to stop using Glyphosate?

Our network is 1180 miles long. In using 1750 litres of Glyphosate last year this equates to spraying approximately 1.5 litres per mile, if it was applied uniformly and indiscriminately across Sheffield. This is not the case. Roundup is used in a more targeted way.

In regard to biological half-life of Glyphosate in soil there remains a lack of clarity or consensus. Many studies suggest that the half-life may be as little as 1-day post application. Similarly, there may be less than 2% of applied chemical lost to run off into the soil.

In terms of the insect impacts, although Glyphosate is proven to affect the bacteria in the guts of honeybees, the main impact is removal of their primary food source – wildflowers through the efficacy of the product in killing ‘weeds’. This does however open the question as to what are ‘weeds’ and what is a ‘desirable flower’.

  • The Council advised us in an article in Now Then magazine that they have been trialling alternatives to Glyphosate such as steam, hot water and foam spraying, mulching and not treating perimeters of open spaces such as parks. Have the trials which used alternatives to Glyphosate been successful? 

The trials have shown relatively poor efficacy in comparison to the use of glyphosate, resulting in a significant amount of hand and mechanical weeding and sweeping being required to achieve a similar standard. This level of physical activity is not currently sustainable.

Allowing weeds to grow unchecked will quickly result in deterioration of the highway network due to them pushing through the surface and will cause trip hazards and a significant increase in complaints due to the visual impact on the streetscene.

We will continue to explore how we can reduce the impact of damaging ‘weed’ growth. I would anticipate that as road and pavement replacement decreases throughout the remaining part of the highways maintenance contract then weeds growing through the pavements etc. will decrease as there will be less opportunity for seeds to get underneath the pavements.

5. How successful have these measures been in reducing the amount of Glyphosate used? 

As highlighted above the measures undertaken to reduce Roundup usage proved far from positive. Any reduction in glyphosate use has been offset by the significant additional resource of having to mechanically remove weeds. However, we will continue to explore how we can reduce the use of herbicides.

Labour have committed to pursuing the Green New Deal (GND). Should Labour be elected to run the country the principles of the GND would result in system change and re-evaluation of public service and public good. As part of that process we would look to move our economy towards an expanded service sector where ‘human’ energy will replace fossil fuel derived energy.

Under such circumstances, and once the debilitating impact of austerity has been overturned, we may then be able to effectively and efficiently keep our highways clear of weeds without the use of petrochemicals and products derived thereof.

We are not yet at that stage. But we are looking to see how we can get there as quickly as possible.

  • Why aren’t residents warned when Glyphosate is going to be sprayed on their street?

All weed spraying operations are undertaken in accordance with the EU Sustainable Use Directive, EU Water Framework Directive, HSE Guidance and Label Requirements, this is not a requirement of these pieces of legislation.

I would expect however that all use of Roundup or similar herbicides would be undertaken in a save and appropriate method. We will continue to review the practise and look to minimise the use of Roundup wherever appropriate.

I know that these answers are not all that you would hope that they be, but I have attempted to be as clear an open as to the issues we currently face in delivering the environment that I think we would all like to see.

I do hope that you can see the direction and ambition that the council has adopted. I am sure that these ambitions will evolve as we move forward. I also hope that you will be able to challenge us at every stage to do the best possible at that particular time.

Best wishes,


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