New plan to turn the district green

HUNTINGDONSHIRE S environment strategy, due to be published in June, will be the most important document the district council has ever produced, a senior councillor claimed last week. The strategy will set out how the council will green itself and the dis

HUNTINGDONSHIRE'S environment strategy, due to be published in June, will be the most important document the district council has ever produced, a senior councillor claimed last week.

The strategy will set out how the council will green itself and the district over the coming five years by tackling climate change, using resources efficiently and protecting and improving the environment.

The idea for the document was a parting gift from former environment cabinet member Nick Guyatt a year ago, shortly before he moved to live in Luxembourg. It has taken a year to work up the 75-page draft that follows HDC's signing the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change last spring. It will be distilled into a 16-page leaflet for public consultation beginning in Environment Week in early June.

Councillor Peter Bucknell, who has taken over the environment portfolio, said the biggest indication of global warming was the rise in average land temperatures, which were predicted to rise more sharply in coming years.

"This is the most important document the council has done," he said.

Paul Jose, the council's new head of environment and transport, said the local challenge was to safeguard the district's built and natural environment. "It's not only about the council taking action, but the wider community, too," he told HDC's cabinet.

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The issues that had to be tackled included improving energy efficiency in homes - HDC has recently been awarded £1.3million to develop eco-homes in Hartford - increasing use of renewable energy by switching to green tariffs, and reducing motorised travel and emissions from vehicles.

Planners must encourage greater use of Brownfield land and insist on new homes being energy-efficient and water-efficient.

HDC already had one of the best recycling records in the country, he added, and was heavily involved in the Great Fen project, which was "not just about bugs and birds, but also about flood risk management".

Far from reducing the amount of agricultural land, it would safeguard huge tracts of land around it, he told the project's sceptics.

Local purchasing, prudent land use for development of the 11,200 new homes due in Huntingdonshire by 2021, water efficiency and reducing waste would all part of the efficiency strategy.

Protecting and improving the environment would involve developing and safeguarding green leisure space, encouraging biodiversity and reclaiming contaminated land, at the same time as protecting the district's unique built and natural character, Mr Jose explained.

This was HDC's "opportunity to become an exemplar for sustainable living," he concluded.

But members were in no doubt that for the strategy to succeed in the wider community, co-operation would be needed from trade, industry and the public.

Councillor Deborah Reynolds said its success would begin with changed behaviour in people's homes. "Some of this is just basic good housekeeping, such as turning a light off or blocking up a draught."

Operations director Malcolm Sharp said pressing ahead with the policy would also unlock additional funds for the council from central government, such as for the Hartford eco-homes.

But the council's leader, Councillor Ian Bates, predicted that implementation of the policy would involve HDC in taking difficult decisions that might not be universally popular.

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