Member Champion for Climate Change Annual Report 2020/21

Over the last 12 months, we have seen a significant acceleration of global climate change, which has had local manifestations in Barking and Dagenham. We have seen flash floods and an unprecedented tornado rip through our streets. We have some of the poorest health outcomes relating to air pollution in London and the time for action on this is now.

I am wholeheartedly dedicated to the cause and want to see a greener, healthier borough in the coming years. The reality is that we cannot avert climate change now, but we can plan for and in many cases mitigate the worst effects.

Part of the solution is educating towards behavioural change, part of it is legislating with future generations in mind. There are nature-based solutions and there are solutions rooted in how we deliver services sustainably. The bottom line is that we all have a part to play, and the council aims to lead by example.

Since I last reported back, the council has been making great strides towards realising its ambition of becoming the green capital of the capital. Our climate targets fall under three broad categories which I have worked to influence over the past year and a half, these are the built environment, transport, and our parks and open spaces. I have also played a key role on the Air Quality Action Plan Steering Committee and helped Cabinet Members drive the policy forwards. Since its introduction I have instigated a quarterly monitoring committee bringing together heads of department to ensure that targets and actions are delivered to improve the air we breathe.

THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has approx. 18,000 homes that require deep retrofitting which includes internal and external wall insulation, loft insulation, heat-pump technology, solar panels etc. the cost of which is c.£85k per unit, which poses a significant challenge.

One of my early suggestions was to work alongside other local authorities with similar housing stock in order to establish a collective position whereby we can tender out the work in phases to bring down costs. This process started in December 2020 and officers are currently working on a long-term plan to decarbonise the boroughs housing stock alongside a delivery partner.

In addition to this, I’ve also been looking at development, making sure that we are building sustainably and mitigating any air quality impacts from the construction process. Throughout the past year I have been meeting regularly with Be First to discuss upcoming projects, through this I have instigated an audit of contracted construction companies to ensure they meet environmental standards, and have launched a review of funding streams for green infrastructure such as Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), S106 and the Carbon Offsetting Fund.

TRANSPORT

Since the start of 2021 I have been an active member of the Walking and Cycling Strategy Steering Committee. The committee was established to devise a phased investment plan to improve the connectivity of our borough. They key focus of the strategy is to improve active travel options and make our roads safer for all users – motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. My input has helped establish our priority schemes, which for next year will be improving the cycle route from north to south from Marks Gate to Dagenham Dock.

When I was young I never learned to ride a bike, so as part of promoting active travel I met up with Vandome Cycles and Sustrans for a ‘bikeability’ training session, which is offered to local residents in Mayesbrook Park free of charge every Wednesday. Active travel has a number of benefits, not least reducing emissions and helping to keep people fit and healthy. 

I have also worked alongside other ward councillors, advising on schemes to improve the street scene, making short journeys more appealing for residents on foot. Two excellent examples are Rainham Road South and Whalebone Lane South.

When it comes to electric vehicles (EV) the reality is that at present the borough has low ownership. However, the government are phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles which means over the next decade motorists will rely on EVs and the infrastructure will need to reflect that. I have attended many national stakeholder conferences and have worked closely with Be First and the council to influence our EV strategy. As with all progressive policies the local authority is aiming to lead by example and is in the process of electrifying its fleet.

In terms of public transport, I am working hard to lobby Transport for London to ensure that our bus stock is fully upgraded so that all busses operating in the borough are hybrid, electric or hydrogen. The Thames Clipper is also coming to Barking Riverside which will alleviate pressures on the c2c line, and Crossrail is on the way, albeit late.

PARKS AND OPEN SPACES

The natural world is my real passion and over the last year, as Covid restrictions have eased the ‘Wild and Free in LBBD’ scheme which I launched in 2020 has really come to life. The Park Rangers have worked incredibly hard to develop an engaging programme of events for families at Eastbrookend Country Park, and I have worked alongside them and officers to make the rebranded Discovery Centre a real destination for residents and visitors. Part of this process has been the opening of the Eastbrookend Tea Room which has brought a new energy to the centre, attracting hundreds of residents and visitors to the borough through its doors. Check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EastbrookendCountryParkTeaRoom

This has been an amazing and transformative 12 months for our parks, and I am proud to have played an advisory and practical role in shaping some of the projects. In December 2020, alongside delivery partners SUGi and The Conservation Volunteers we planted 32,000 trees in Parsloes Park creating the largest ‘Miyawaki’ forest in the United Kingdom, the revolutionary planting method uses native trees and brings a host of increased environmental benefits. More here: https://www.lbbd.gov.uk/parsloes-park-forest-of-thanks

Earlier this year I joined the Cabinet Member for Public Realm in opening the Ripple Greenway. This previously disused space was reimagined by Sustrans and Trees for Cities and a new linear park was delivered. The park features a number of sculptures based on ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. More here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/projects/2021/london/the-ripple-greenway-bringing-neglected-greenspace-to-life

The Dagenham Corridor received a make over last year which included new wayfinding/signage, benches and accessible pathways. Following this Beam Parklands and Eastbrookend Country Park both received Green Flag awards at the start of 2021, and the Discovery Centre even featured on Transport for London’s 150 years of cultural heritage poster. Building on this success the Park Rangers and comms team have developed and launched a fantastic new website dedicated to the borough’s country parks: https://barkinganddagenhamcountryparks.com/

In July I submitted a motion to the council to double canopy cover across the borough by 2040. Officers are currently working on a strategy to deliver this through new woodland creation projects, and an increase in street tree planting. At the very start of the year, I sat on the BD Giving Panel which awarded £20k to the River Roding Trust for them to deliver more trees along the River Roding on the western border of the borough.

This has been a very exciting and busy year as Member Champion for Climate Change. In the coming months I hope to continue building on the borough’s achievements to ensure that we realise our vision to become the green capital of the capital.

Promoting Active Travel in Barking and Dagenham

Barking and Dagenham Council in association with Vandome Cycles, Sustrans and Be First offer a fantastic range of cycle training options across the borough for children and adults. Whether residents are new to cycling, or just want to brush up on their skills. Training is free and available to anyone who lives, works or studies in the borough.

The council is currently developing a new Walking and Cycling Strategy and steering committee member Councillor Andrew Achilleos, the Member Champion for Climate Change, has been looking at ways to encourage residents to make shorter journeys on foot or by bike.

Cllr Achilleos said: “We know that travelling from one side of the borough to another, or from somewhere like Marks Gate to Dagenham East is difficult without a car. However, research shows that a high percentage of people are still driving five minutes up the road for a pint of milk.

“That’s why we are trying to make it more appealing and easier for residents to walk or cycle short distances by improving existing cycle networks, creating new ones, and changing the character of our streets. The Walking and Cycling Strategy is about creating routes that work for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to better connect growth areas and existing communities across the borough.”

Active travel has a number of benefits, not least reducing emissions and helping to keep people fit and healthy. During a recent meeting it came to light that Councillor Achilleos could not ride a bike, so on Thursday 15 July he met up with cycle instructors from Vandome Cycles for some training.

Cllr Achilleos explained: “I like to practice what I preach and if I can pick up cycling at 34, anyone can do it. When I got on the bike it was a case of finding the confidence in myself to stay upright, once I had that it was a fun experience. Richard from Vandome Cycles was a great instructor and I would encourage residents of all ages to book in on a training course during the summer!”

Sessions are held from 4pm to 8pm on Wednesdays at Jim Peters Stadium in Mayesbrook Park. You can receive one-to-one training from a qualified instructor in the following:

  • Basic cycle skills: Practice off-road and learn the basics. Improve your skills to cycle confidently through your local area.
  • Urban cycle skills: Practice off-road and then move on to quiet roads to refresh your cycling technique.
  • Advanced cycle skills: Learn how to improve your cycle skills at complex junctions, in heavy traffic or at night.

Why not arrange your first session for free today?

Contact Vandome Cycles by email: info@vandomecycles.co.uk or call 020 8220 3075.

Halt Airport Expansion and Invest in a Green Transformation

Firstly, it is important to recognise that supporting the environment doesn’t mean neglecting the economy. However, after declaring an environmental and climate emergency it would be hypocritical to support airport expansion and the increased emissions that come with it. That is why I recently announced my opposition to the London City Airport master plan.

As a key stakeholder in the local air quality action plan, and having organised a campaign against waste incineration which would increase emissions across the south of Havering, I know all too well about the damaging impact poor air has on human health and biodiversity.

A report from the British Lung Foundation earlier this year highlighted that Havering has the fourth highest rate of lung disease related deaths per annum in London, and that Redbridge has the fourteenth highest. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that our area broke World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter and emissions. It is easy to link these two reports.

The flight path of City Airport runs directly over the south of the constituency and across areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham – I’ve seen the emission dispersal maps and with a prevailing easterly wind, Havering and Redbridge are set to take an environmental hit if these plans are agreed.

Opposing airport expansion doesn’t mean I want to see the country ground to a halt. There are proactive measures we can take that support the environment and contribute to a green and prosperous economy. Here are just a couple;

Renewable energy

At present Havering and Redbridge produces 47 megawatts of renewable energy. I want to see this hit 95 megawatts via local energy providers investing in solar, wind and sea that can collectively break the hold of large fossil fuel providers.

This year in Barking and Dagenham, we launched our own energy provider; Beam Energy which uses 100% renewables – I am led to believe that Redbridge are going to sign up to the company, increasing bargaining power and bringing down costs for residents. Investing in green energy also supports the creation of more skilled jobs in the power industry.

Housing and construction

Across Havering and Redbridge only 32.5% of the housing stock is insulated to a high standard. For best practice on energy efficiency we need look no further than the award-winning work of Norwich Council and the Goldsmith Street Estate. Built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards it promises a 70% reduction in fuel bills. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/observer-view-on-stirling-prize-winning-goldsmith-street

I want to see councils delivering similar schemes to Norwich, but I want us to go further; per tonne cement and steel release an average 1000kg and 1800kg of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time to move away from environmentally damaging forms of construction.

After listening to Southwark Councillor Leo Pollack at Labour Conference this year I am convinced that we can take a bolder approach. I would like to see council owned construction companies and a switch to Cross Laminated Timber as an alternative to cement and steel – call me a dreamer but I’d also like to see the green belt reforested and effectively managed, creating a sustainable source of CLT building materials and thousands of jobs across all of the outer boroughs.