This year is a decisive one for SMDC in its attempts to deliver a climate action plan that stands a chance of hitting its own targets of making itself and the district hit net zero by 2030. Having now missed his first commitment “to produce a comprehensive climate change plan effective from the year 2021/22”, Cllr Porter has promised to deliver a plan for the council’s activities “by spring”, go to public consultation in the summer, and then unveil a comprehensive plan for the whole district by the time of the COP26 Summit in November.

Albert Einstein may have finally demolished the concept of absolute time in 1905, and at a quantum level even relative time no longer makes it into the maths equations. But here in the Moorlands, we’re still going by the seasons and on that basis alone, it looks a very tough call for the council to come up with a plan that will meet its own requirements and its own (revised) timetable.

MCA members have recently been meeting SMDC at officer level to go through the plan in detail. There is no doubt there is a new sense of urgency at Moorlands House and that work, which in many cases should have been started way earlier, is now underway.

The respected climate consultancy Anthesis is now working with SMDC. Anthesis deals with numbers, measurements and real, achievable plans and is unlikely to be afraid to speak Truth to Power. They are certain to point out that many necessary areas of work, such as on transport or energy efficiency, have only just started.
On its own reckoning, SMDC needs to get enough of substance out to public consultation by summer – June seems the most likely month – allow for feedback and then produce an agreed plan in the autumn. That is a tough task.

It is also unclear at what stage the input of the SMDC climate working groups will be fed into this process. These groups have slowed down in recent weeks in advance of the county council elections but, when they resume in full, SMDC will be looking for more concrete results than have yet emerged. It is likely that the groups will begin working towards more definable targets with the aid of SCATTER, the local authority focussed emissions tool, but the quality of the results will, naturally, be uncertain and the likely fate of any suggestions that do come out of these groups is unknown.

SMDC is also looking beyond the district for the future; the council is also set to increase its engagement with the Centre for Alternative Technology. Until now CAT has been involved with carbon-literacy training at SMDC; the next step is likely to be a Zero Carbon Innovation Lab, also involving Keele University and other councils in Staffordshire. At the moment it’s uncertain what precise shape this Lab will take; fortunately the involvement of CAT decreases the chances that the Lab becomes yet another talking shop or club to join.

What is certain is that CAT will be telling SMDC (and any other councils involved) that they will have to move beyond council-only action if they are to have any chance of meeting their Zero Carbon targets. This will have to involve a wider range of stakeholder groups than has yet been possible under the existing structure; but it will mean that SMDC has to dramatically increase its effectiveness as a hub for climate action – a hub of information on legislation, administrative hurdles and potential funding sources. In short, an enabler.

To achieve this it is clear that more resources need to be devoted to the climate function at SMDC. It is, as yet, unclear whether this will be in the shape of a dedicated climate change officer (perhaps shared with High Peak), or a senior executive expressly charged with the function. The present situation – with hard pressed officers trying to put together the pieces of a plan, in between their other roles, and a lack of meaningful engagement at the elected executive level – cannot continue if the targets are to be taken seriously. To be fair, all of this is known at many levels within SMDC; it is now a question of gaining political approval.

Alongside engaging constructively with SMDC in their attempts to develop a credible plan – and in the future helping reshape the climate action architecture in the Moorlands – MCA is also continuing with its programme of engaging with wider civil society in the district, attending farmer facilitation meetings, for example, and the recent Parish Assembly. Increasingly, MCA is being asked to present at town and parish council levels on how they can move forward on climate change action.

MCA is also seeking to engage the County Council and hoping that this process, painfully absent up till now, may gain some traction after the May elections. For the elections themselves, MCA is producing a questionnaire which asks candidates of all parties or none to commit themselves to specific climate change actions, should they be elected. We encourage MCA members to take note of their responses when casting their votes.