ACT: three years and counting!

On April 18th 2019, Audrey Compton was standing outside Forde House, the home of Teignbridge District Council (TDC), with a group of people holding banners. They were there to lobby the council to pass the climate emergency declaration proposal put forward by Councillor Jackie Hook. 

“We really didn’t think it would pass, but it did, unanimously, and with an amended carbon neutral target date of 2025, which was quite a surprise,” says Audrey, a Teign Valley farmer and environmental campaigner.

That target date was the most ambitious in the country, says Fuad Al-Tawil who was also at Forde House that day. “We thought it would be tough for the council to meet that target so suggested setting up a support group.”

The suggestion was welcomed, and Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) was formed in the summer of 2019 following a public meeting in July at Coombeshead Academy in Newton Abbot attended by about 200 people. 

Fuad says: “The idea was to support TDC to deliver on its climate emergency declaration and to work with community organisations in Teignbridge, including parish and town councils, as a bridge between them and TDC.”

New ways of working

A voluntary organisation working with a district council was a novel idea – unique even. Fast forward three years and how has that worked out? Well, the monthly meetings still happen and ACT has given freely of its expertise and opinions, which appear to be valued. It has at times offered a critical voice, and remains completely independent of the council. “We have built a good and pretty unusual relationship with the council,” says Fuad.

Kate Benham, ACT chairperson, says it has been a learning curve for both parties. “The council moves slowly, which can be frustrating, but it’s a case of understanding what it can and can’t do.”

ACT members join Councillor Jackie Hook and council officer Will Easton to view work on renewable energy projects at the Teignmouth Lido in July 2022
 

Andrew Shadrake, a founding member of ACT, believes ACT has kept the pressure on the council: “Things have happened that wouldn’t have happened without us. We offer a resource, particularly on technical knowledge, that TDC relies on.”

However, the reality remains that carbon emissions have barely budged. Says Fuad: “ACT has  succeeded in doing what we set out to do, in terms of supporting the district council and engaging the community. But in delivering on what matters, carbon reduction, we haven’t succeeded.”

Action on nature and carbon

ACT has had success on the ecological front, in particular with its Wildlife Wardens scheme, launched in the autumn of 2020. There are now 100 volunteer wardens spread across Teignbridge who have received training and do what they can to help wildlife in their parish.

Wildlife Wardens being trained to complete surveys by the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre
 

“It’s been twice as successful as I ever hoped,” says Audrey, who set up the scheme and runs it with Flavio Winkler-Ford, a part-time paid coordinator.

“The great thing is wardens follow their own interests rather than ACT telling them what to do,” she adds. 

Spurred by the success of wildlife wardens, in early 2022 ACT launched the Carbon Cutters initiative in a renewed effort to move the dial on carbon emissions. Trying to achieve this through engaging with local councils has proved tough. ACT will continue to work with councils, but will concentrate on engaging with community groups for the Carbon Cutters scheme.

“We are working with around 13 groups so far,” says Kate. “They are hugely enthusiastic and really want to help.” The scheme is run by part-time paid coordinator Peta Howell, with the help of a group of ACT members.

Still going strong

Demonstrating the global carbon budget at the Energy Roadshow in September 2022
 

Three years since launch, ACT still has a core group of enthusiastic, ambitious and committed people, and a wider membership of close to 450. That’s an achievement in itself, says Andrew.

Moreover, with Wildlife Wardens, and now Carbon Cutters, “we have tested and succeeded in developing a model for people to take action. We have also demonstrated a way of moving a district along, and raised the profile of climate change in the community.”

Flexibility is a key strength. “We are an evolving organisation that is learning all the time,” says Kate. “It’s good that we’re not afraid to change direction if we need to and try new things.” Mandy Cole, a psychologist who volunteers with ACT says it’s also important that “we don’t tell people what to do. We listen and learn more about what would help them to do more about climate change.”

There is also the personal reward for ACT members that comes with taking positive action, working with like-minded people and just having fun. For Audrey, “the last three years with ACT have been the most productive of 20 years of campaigning on climate change”.  

Support conversion not demolition of Bradley Lane

Friday 8th October saw the public release of the planning application for Bradley Lane in Newton Abbot (22/01500/MAJ), writes ACT Wildlife Warden Eloise Rokirilov.  Long pending, starting at 171 documents and growing, the expiry date for comments remains at 4th November. The application calls for wholesale demolition of all the buildings, the burial and diversion of the medieval leat, and the construction of 90 new residential properties.   

Why is Bradley Lane of interest or importance to anybody? 

Of environmental as well as historic and archaeological importance, Bradley Lane is a brownfield site containing a set of attractive mill buildings, and a medieval leat that runs through the valley and into the town, joining the River Lemon underground near the Jolly Farmer. Mills have been sited on or around the area since the 13th century. They were originally built to serve Bradley Manor, the nearby Grade I listed National Trust property.  

The buildings are a testament to the wealth and contribution of the Vicary family, who were key to the industrial prosperity of Newton Abbot. Employing around 700 people at its peak in the 1800’s, the family’s substantial business interests included wool milling, fellmongery (stripping wool from sheepskins) and tanneries. With the increasing use of synthetic rather than natural materials, among other things, the business finally closed in 1972. Bradley Lane cottages were, of course, workers cottages in their time, and there is a WW2 bunker between the mills and the old Benbows buildings.  

Suffering repeat destruction from fire and flood over the centuries, the mills were proudly rebuilt on each occasion. The current buildings display a family plaque, “JV & S Rebuilt 1883”, celebrating its reconstruction in this year before its penultimate catastrophe, there also being a fire in 1921. 

The mill buildings are far from the end of their life, being built of red brick, Devon limestone and local clay brick, some of the strongest material around. Historic England and the government themselves have started shouting more loudly about the need to avoid demolition, and instead retrofit and convert buildings as a way of meeting net zero. In a climate and ecological crisis, this makes sense. Demolition releases substantial carbon and other particles into the atmosphere.  

Purchased by Teignbridge District Council in 2010, the mills continued to be used for commercial purposes. The council profess a long term intention to develop the site, and is proud of championing social housing on a brownfield site. Councillors state the intention is for the proposed development to include 44% affordable housing. However, the Viability Assessment report indicates a flat refusal by the developer to provide affordable housing as it is not financially viable. Instead, the intention is to sell 18 of the 90 units (20%) to the Guinness Trust, which will provide social rent housing. Homes England have offered funding of £2,063,400. 

More crucially for the environment, the Waste Audit Statement shows striking, estimated figures:  

  • 14,000 tonnes of concrete, brick and stone to be demolished, and recycled on site. 
  • 240 tonnes of asbestos to be removed and transported to landfill. 
  • 5 tonnes of greenery to be cut down and recycled off site. 
  • 450 tonnes of tarmac to be recycled on site. 

The present site has young trees on the west side by the River Lemon, and semi mature trees at the base of Hunterswell Road, where the recent bus survey proposed to put a bus lane, but according to this application, will instead have one self build plot on it.  

The Ecological Mitigation report shows thorough work on bat surveys, although it does not mention the leat, which is known to contain European eels, a protected species. However, it has general ‘mitigation’ measures for amphibians and reptiles. There are more details in the 2019 survey report showing that the site is within the South Hams SAC for Greater Horseshoe bats, and located within a Devon Great Crested Newt consultation zone. Also that otters had been recorded within 1km of the survey area. Mitigation will involve staged cutting, in order to allow nature to escape.    

Arsenic is recorded at 15 times the acceptable level and “the results of the risk assessment have shown that the concentration of arsenic within the upper made ground and lower natural soils poses a potentially significant risk of causing harm to end users of the environment”.  The document nonetheless maintains that there are no concerns of contamination, danger or pollution to people or the water course. 

 Newton Abbot & District Civic Society applied to Historic England for listing for the buildings, as well as to TDC’s own Community Asset Register, which would also allow a Community Right to Bid should the owner decide to sell. The latter issued a flat rejection stating, “the buildings do not fulfil the requirements of the Localism Act 2011″. They also failed to meet the listing criteria for Historic England. They were noted for their strong local importance, but did not meet enough national criteria and had suffered too many changes over time. TDC did not respond to requests for  internal viewings of the buildings, so any internal features could not be noted in the application.  

Having evicted their last commercial tenant in March this year, TDC is presumably paying each month for the buildings, which could explain the determination to succeed with the current planning application, in an effort to recoup finance and resolve the future of the site. Of the evicted commercial tenants, at least two returned to Torquay, losing business for Newton Abbot. Benbow Interiors moved to the Brunel estate in 2019 in a deal that saw a new, funded site being built for them.

NADCS had already engaged a national charity, Save Britain’s Heritage, who took the time to visit Newton Abbot with an architect in tow, and were inspired to produce a 32 page report with architectural illustrations showing an entirely different vision for the site. They advised it is possible to accommodate 111 homes by way of conversion and some new build, including 28 affordable homes, which is more than the present application. The architect has worked on some major post-industrial sites including Heartlands in Cornwall and Sarsons Vinegar Factory in London. There are many examples around the country of successful conversions, including Digbeth in Birmingham and Finzels Reach in Bristol to name two more.  

We are in a time of mass development, and a common theme of lack of affordability. Cranbrook in Exeter is currently in the news with another 1,000 houses proposed on 220 hectares of former farmland. The question has to be asked, where does it end?

With a deadline of 4th November, we would urge readers to comment on the planning application, and support conversion instead of demolition.(www.teignbridge.gov.uk/planning and search reference 22/01500/MAJ).

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We need more renewable energy and a new pricing system

The jolting rise in the price of energy should help focus minds on the urgent need to speed up the transition to renewable energy sources. We need to make that switch to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it would be good if it also helped reduce and stabilise energy prices. 

That’s not guaranteed under the current pricing system for electricity, where the price we pay is mostly set by the market price of fossil fuels, even though these only generate around 40% of the energy we use each year. Renewables are now the cheapest source of energy and supply more than 40% of the UK’s annual electricity consumption. But some gas generation is needed most of the time. So electricity prices are still tied to oil and gas prices. That’s why they are currently so high, and set to rise further.

It looks like we need more renewable generation and a new pricing system, especially as electricity consumption is set to rise significantly as we seek to decarbonise our heating and transport. The government’s target is for the electricity supply to be net zero by 2035. This can only be achieved by a major increase in renewables and nuclear power, along with a big reduction in the energy we use. We need to cut out unnecessary consumption and retrofit our housing stock.

Onshore wind turbines and large solar farms are the cheapest ways of creating energy, green or otherwise. Wind has the advantage, though, of using far less land than solar and is more efficient. It also has the lowest ‘embodied energy’ per unit of energy generated– the energy required during manufacture– of any form of energy production.

The first wind farm in the UK was opened at Delabole in Cornwall in 1991. Between 2009 and 2020 wind energy in the UK grew by 715%, but most of that generation is onshore in Scotland and offshore, mainly along the east coast of England. Onshore wind was effectively blocked in 2015 when the government banned public subsidies for onshore wind farms. The ban was dropped in 2020, but there are still tough planning requirements. 

The history of wind energy means existing sources are a long way from Teignbridge, involving electricity transmission losses. You may have noticed it can be pretty windy in Devon. Indeed, the South West is second only to western Scotland as the most exposed part of the UK. We should make the most of our natural advantages! 

Teignbridge District Council agrees and recently consulted on potential sites for wind turbines in the district. Action on Climate in Teignbridge put in a response to the consultation supporting the creation of onshore wind sites, provided they minimise adverse effects on the environment. Badly designed wind farms can damage bird and bat populations in particular. 

They can also be unpopular with residents. That’s partly why there was an effective ban for several years – wind turbines were regarded by some as a blight on the landscape, and noisy as well. On the noise front, wind turbines are now remarkably quiet. For planning purposes, noise from turbines must be shown not to add to the constant background noise levels for no further work to be required. 

There is not much to be done about the visual impact of most wind turbines. Like electricity pylons, roads and housing developments, they are man made structures in the natural environment.

It seems we are more likely to accept new structures that are familiar to us, like roads and housing. This is despite them having a greater detrimental impact than wind turbines both visually and ecologically, not to mention their high greenhouse gas emissions. Roads and housing are also more likely to persist for a lot longer than wind turbines, if eventually we are able to generate our energy from other low carbon technologies. We could also limit wind turbine deployment if we become more careful about how much energy we consume and distribute energy better.

But even if we build wind farms wherever we can in Devon, taking into account factors such as whether there is enough wind, the proximity to the grid and protected nature areas, less than 2% of the county’s total land area would be occupied by wind turbines. That compares to 5% of land in Teignbridge that has been built on. That doesn’t sound too bad for a technology that will help meet our carbon emission reduction targets and potentially be a source of cheap energy.

Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project

Teignbridge is a beautiful district to live in – but, like the rest of the world, it is part of the climate problem, but also, part of the solution! There are so many people worrying about the crisis – so many communities that would like to help reduce climate change – what if we could work on it together?

Action on Climate in Teignbridge is planning to launch a project that will support community-based volunteers or existing groups who are looking for ways to enthuse and inspire their community to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Can you spare a few hours to help us do this? You don’t need special qualifications, just enthusiasm for spreading the message that everyone can do something to reduce carbon emissions. We’re looking for people who love communicating (maybe even public speaking), organising fun events, creating colourful posters and graphics, and achieving miracles on a tight budget! If you can do any of these things (we don’t expect you to do all of them!), please get in touch with Kate about joining our team    

We are looking for an overall project coordinator.  If we can’t find a volunteer, we are confident that we can get funding to pay someone to be a self-employed, part-time coordinator. You wouldn’t need specific academic qualifications, but you would need to have a friendly and optimistic outlook, and be able to talk, write, listen and express ideas clearly.  

The first task for the coordinator would be to find and support community-based climate volunteers, who would usually be town/parish-based. We would be particularly interested in working with anyone who is a member of a Teignbridge climate group. 

The coordinator and volunteers would be given introductory training and ongoing coaching to help them deliver small-scale projects – but it would be up to them to find projects and challenges that will enthuse people in their communities. Here are possible carbon cutting projects that your community might like:

  • Energy – cutting home energy use and costs
  • Reducing the impact of our clothes/fashion industry 
  • Listening to teenagers – and helping them to take action
  • Running a repair café
  • Running a community larder

If you are interested in any aspect of this idea and want to find out more, please contact Kate 

ACT’s response to Part 3 of the Local Plan consultation

Teignbridge District Council’s current Local Plan, which runs from 2013-2033, is being revised and extended to cover the period 2020-2040.  Part 1,  which specifies the policies associated with new developments including renewable energy, was consulted on in 2020. The result of the consultation and any changes coming out of it are as yet unpublished.  Part 2, consulted on in mid 2021, covered what TDC describes as major sites for housing and employment.

The current consultation is on Part 3, covering sites for renewables (wind and solar), small scale housing and travellers. The consultation closes on 24th January 2022.

ACT is not responding to specific sites, where these are listed, unless we have identified a particular concern in relation to climate change or ecological impacts.  Instead, our response is to the broader aspects of these proposed sites and the associated policies/criteria that govern their selection.

We encourage everyone to respond individually, especially regarding specific sites they are familiar with.  It is important to include comments that address the criteria identified by the council in the consultation.  Not doing so may result in the comment not being given the weight it may otherwise deserve.

Although you are strongly encouraged to respond online, ACT’s response will be sent by email to localplanreview@teignbridge.gov.uk. This is because there is no facility to do this using the online facility other than for solar PV where there are no individual sites identified. 

COP26: Mission accomplished?

There are differing opinions on whether Cop26, the climate conference held in Glasgow last month, was a success or failure. There was progress on some areas and an agreement was signed, but there is little expectation the governments that signed it will take the action necessary to keep global warming to 1.5C.

Jessie Stevens, the Ogwell teenager who founded the People Pedal Power movement and cycled from Newton Abbot to Glasgow for the conference, says the event felt to her like a business meeting not a climate conference. “It was a sterile environment, and such a contrast with the outdoors life I had been leading on the cycle trip.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

Jessie describes her bike trip as “a life-changing experience”. She had nine full days of cycling, two rest days, and the last day was a short one, covering the final 20 miles to Glasgow. “I met lots of amazing people and learned lots of new skills.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

She was supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, and was accompanied on her first day out of Newton Abbot by 50-60 cyclists. The rest of the time between 10-40 cyclists joined her, for anything from an hour to the whole day, which was more than she expected.

“After the isolation of lockdown it was just great to be with people and the miscellaneous encounters I had were really special. It showed me just how much good there is in the world and how kind people can be.”

Jessie had trained for the trip on Dartmoor, and says that proved a big advantage, as she found the rest of the country relatively flat! But although the cycling wasn’t too arduous, long days on the bike, twinned with long evenings of media commitments proved tiring.

Asked about her first impressions of Glasgow and the conference venue, Jessie says it’s hard to say as she had few expectations. “There was the culture shock of being in a big city after having gone nowhere bigger than Exeter for two years, and the venue itself was smart, massive and corporate. There was a lot of greenwashing, by which I mean lots of company stands and brand placement. It felt as if there was an agenda to how it was all laid out.”

Jessie had a coveted pass for the blue zone, where the negotiations between world leaders took place, as one of four Young Reporters for the Environment from the UK. “The blue zone [closed to the public] looked from the outside like it was somewhere you could move around freely but it was strictly segregated,” says Jessie, who spent much of the first week there.

“It felt like the youth representatives were there as a token. There were very few instances when we were allowed to speak, and when we were there was a strong feeling that young people were speaking but not being heard. It was upsetting. It didn’t feel fair to the people who had come from the Global South to share their stories.”

Jessie also observed a striking lack of diversity. “There was little female representation, or people of colour or different social classes. It was mostly middle class white men in suits. My impression was the event was chaired by the Global North without giving the Global South the spotlight they needed.”

She was sufficiently disillusioned that on Friday 5th November, on what was billed as Cop26 Youth Day, she and around 30 other young people walked out of the blue zone and joined the Fridays for Future protest march. “We felt the streets were the only place we could get our voice and message heard,” says Jessie.

Jessie also spent time in the green zone, which was open to the public, and spoke at an event about education representing the organisation Eco-Schools. She found the second week a much more positive experience. “I felt ground down by the whole bureaucracy in the first week. But in the second week when I was out on the streets I felt the power and energy of the people, which for me highlighted the power of collective action.”

Back in Ogwell, this is the key insight for Jessie. She has to give priority to her school work, with exams coming up next year, but will also devote time to community action and connecting with other social organisations. “One of the positives of Cop26 was the media coverage of the event, but there is still a lot of work to be done on awareness, and I’m passionate about getting more voices heard. The key point for me, though, is that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of people.”

Beach labyrinth reflections

Around 100 people walked the labyrinth created on Teignmouth Beach last weekend for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Plenty more watched the walkers from the promenade. 

The construction effort, directed by labyrinth artist Andrew Nicholson, was tough work as the chosen location, below the lighthouse, was particularly stony. Still, the stones added to the attraction of the finished artwork as they were used to mark the labyrinth pathways.

Passing families with children joined in enthusiastically to place the stones. “That building effort with the parents and children was my favourite part of the experience,” said John Watson of Action on Climate in Teignbridge, which organised the event. “All in all, it was quite a spiritual event which I think connected with people in a most original way.”

Labyrinths have a long history. People have been creating and walking them since the times of the ancient Greeks. In medieval times, Christian monks would walk them to reflect on the journey of their lives.

The idea of the Teignmouth Beach labyrinth was “to reflect on our concerns for the environment and be thankful for the special places in our lives”, said Andrew Nicholson (pictured above). 

Those walking the labyrinth were invited to pick up a piece of rubbish found on the beach at the entrance, reflect on their concerns as they trod the meandering path to the centre, then leave the rubbish and their concerns there. They could then take a stone from the centre and walk back thinking of places precious to them.

Scott Williams, an ACT member, said: “It was amazing and moving to see the flow of people travelling through such an ancient symbol. The solemnity and peace it created within those that walked it will stay with me.”

Of course, the sea claimed the labyrinth as the tide came in later in the day. Watching the water engulf the construction, a vicar from Dawlish remarked how appropriate the image was; a symbol of the threat of climate change to many people around the world.

“There were lots of people watching as the tide came in,” said Audrey Compton of ACT. “People of all ages. People who wanted to talk. It was obvious to me that we have suddenly reached a tipping point of understanding about the environment and desire for change. COP26 may not achieve nearly enough politically, but it has galvanised ‘people power’!”

For more on beach labyrinths visit the facebook page.

Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 7

In this podcast Emily Marbaix updates us on what wildlife wardens have been up to, reminds us of autumn jobs to do in the garden, especially those that help wildlife, and takes a look at the eco-friendliness (or not) of our pets, including what we feed them and the flea and worm treatments we give them.