Ealing Transition’s climate hustings were enthusiastically attended, with more than 100 people filling the rows of St Mary’s church eager to hear candidates from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Conservative, and the Green Party share inspiration and serious ideas for tackling the climate and ecological emergency in Ealing.
We are grateful to Cllr Andrew Steed (Liberal Democrats), Cllr Deidre Costigan (Labour), Cllr Julian Gallant (Conservative), and Dr Kate Crossland (Green Party) for attending the event on behalf of their parties, and spend their evening with us. We were also delighted to have as our chair, Dame Alice Hudson, Chief Executive of Twyford CofE Academy Trust.
Ealing Transition make this statement in line with good practice as indicated in Electoral Commission documents: “There are many candidates standing in this borough election. We have chosen to invite 4 from the major national political parties: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party. We consider that the candidates we have invited, represent views from across the political spectrum and that we have shown impartiality. We have invited as many candidates as our resources and time allow and hope for a wide ranging debate“.
What follows is a summary of the questions asked, and the main ideas explored as answers. We have kept the summary general and unattributed to avoid the appearance of any political affiliation and to focus on the solutions that are available to us to address the climate and ecological emergency. Links to the manifestos of the respective parties are set out below.
1. The government has committed to half of all urban journeys being walked or cycled by 2030. What are the candidates’ plans for how these commitments will be reached in our borough?
- A discussion of the role of electric vehicles ensued. Most if not all candidates saw electric vehicles as an improvement on vehicles having current internal combustion engines, but not as a magic solution. The particulate pollution from braking systems remained problematic, and electric cars still remain costly in terms of embedded carbon and other resources. All candidates appeared to support the installation of electric chargers and the electrification of the council’s fleet.
- The importance of taking journeys by bicycle was discussed. At least one candidate mentioned the importance of bicycle training and maintenance schemes. Others pointed out that better cycling infrastructure is also needed, and that walking often takes second place to cycling. Better pedestrian infrastructure in the form of wider pavements and better crossings is also needed.
- The introduction and removal of Low Traffic Networks was touched upon, it being agreed that following the recent contentious trials, better communication about such schemes would be needed. Candidates promised to support LTNs if there was effective consultation and sufficient backing on the streets concerned.
- At least one candidate focussed on the need not just to encourage active or car free travel travel, but also to actively reduce the number of car journeys being made. A carrot and stick approach to travel incentives might involve road pricing on the one hand (the idea that the polluter pays), and improved pedestrian / cyclist infrastructure on the other.
2. If elected would your party campaign for air pollution monitors at all schools in Ealing?
- Most candidates thought that air monitors at schools would be a good idea, but the question arose about what would be done with the data. One candidate proposed providing the information to parents in real time. They also recommended better messaging: when London’s air quality is bad instead of just advising people with respiratory conditions to stay home, how about advising drivers to take another less polluting form of transport?
- One candidate focussed on the work being done on the Council’s school streets programme noting that 14 schools in the borough were already signed up to this.
- There was a discussion around stricter fines for drivers idling their engines while stationary, but also a comment on how difficult it is to actually prosecute drivers caught in breach of the regulations. The fact that electric vehicles do not automatically result in cleaner air due to emissions from braking systems was touched upon.
- The contribution of Heathrow to air quality was mentioned, but not actively grappled with. Elsewhere, how could Heathrow become an example of industry employing low emission technologies to promote green growth and green jobs?
3. How can candidates support local residents’ wishes to protect Warren Farm in its entirety as a protected space for nature, providing a much needed Biodiversity gain that the Mayor of London says is vital to meet climate change targets?
- As one candidate pointed out “the devil is in the detail”. The council currently promises to balance a commitment to sport on warren farm with creating a nature reserve on “most” or “the majority” of the same sight, while creating 10 new parks in the borough. Is this sufficient given the need to protect biodiversity? Could the sports facility not go on more suitable land elsewhere, where rewilding is not already underway? How would the nascent wildlife respond if the sporting facilities required the installation of a stadium and floodlights?
- One candidate noted that access to nature is just as important as access to sport.
4. What environmental requirements would your party put in place for the construction of new homes and buildings, to make them energy efficient?
- Most candidates agreed that the construction of tall towers across the borough was not in keeping with a commitment to net zero. Smaller units of around 4 to 6 floors being ideal both from the carbon cost and human scale.
- All candidates agreed that any new buildings should be future proofed, and at least one argued that developers should not be able to shirk their carbon and environmental commitments simply by making a payment to an appropriate penalty fund.
- Many candidates agreed that local councils should have stronger powers to refuse planning applications (on climate grounds), without their decision being overturned at the appeal stage.
5. What is your goal for insulating existing Ealing homes and how will you find the money and labour to achieve it?
- Changes to VAT. The costs of retrofitting existing properties and making them energy efficient is currently not exempt of VAT, and as a result it can be cheaper simply to scrap existing buildings and replace them with new builds. At least one candidate argued that this should change.
- The council’s work in securing funding to retrofit 750 homes in Ealing was noted.
- One candidate noted that landlords need either a better incentive under existing council licensing schemes to improve the energy efficiency of their properties, or that there needed to be stronger legal requirements on them to do so. Otherwise, the costs would be borne by tenants in the form of higher bills. Stronger renters’ rights might be the answer.
- The importance of supporting jobs in Ealing in retrofitting and green heating was discussed, though no specific policies were mentioned.
6. Given that the built environment/construction industry produces around 40% UK Carbon Dioxide emissions and that it is one of Ealing’s biggest industries, how will you reduce this source of climate damaging emissions?
- The answers to this question were a continuation of those discussed in sections 4 and 5 above.
7. Addressing climate change means people changing their lifestyles in ways they may find difficult and challenging. What are candidates already doing in their own lives to tackle climate change?
- All candidates tried to avoid driving or had given up their car in favour of a bicycle.
- Some had looked at insulating their home or considered heat pumps
- Many candidates were evangelical about reducing foodwaste, and the need to reuse, reduce and recycle.