As Conservatives our primary instinct and value is to look after what we have, but that doesn’t mean we will not try to do things differently.
This week we declared a climate emergency in our town, following parliament recently – and over seventy other local authorities up and down the country. Given the pressures on our town, we believe this is entirely the right thing to do to ensure all of us, including the local council, can put the right focus on ensuring we do everything we can to reduce our impact.
In the spirit of co-operation on such a critical issue, we invited Slough Labour to join us in presenting a declaration as a joint motion of Council at the next full council meeting in July. Protecting our Environment should not be a political football. We believe the time has come for us to co-operate fully, regardless of heritage or background.
Prior to presenting Slough Labour with our declaration and proposal we had already had open dialogue with representatives of the Green Party in Slough, showing that we aren’t afraid to work cross-party on critical issues such as this. Having reached out to the Labour group in good faith, we regret, but are not entirely surprised to see that that Cllr. Swindlehurst, Leader of the councils ruling Labour group, sees it differently.
Slough and its residents – as with many towns – are under immense pressure. We live next-door to one of the busiest and largest airports in the world, are surrounded on three sides by three of the most important and busiest motorways in the country and our town is one of the most densely built up and populated urban areas in the entire South East of England.
All of these contribute to the symptoms that show from this pressure. We are one of the most polluted towns in the country and have one of the worst air qualities. Our roads are some of the most congested, with one of the highest accident rates. Our few and precious green spaces are under constant threat from development. Nearly 5000 homes in the borough live within areas at risk from flooding. What all this means for us is frightening - actual life expectancy once you get to aged 65 is one of the worst in the country with Slough ranked 290th in the UK for men, having fallen from 130th in 2008, and over 4500 children are suffering from asthma in our town.
Whilst we know there is so much more to do, whilst we are pleased with our government’s record on trying to reduce the impacts of climate change and the environment, it our teams own passion for this cause locally that speaks for itself. Our activists, candidates and councillors have been working hard for years to try and raise the profile of these environmental issues - and we are not short of ideas to help us reduce our impact, and just this year we have been doing a number of things actively to try to help.
We continue to help residents raise the profile of green spaces that are under threat from development, such as Bowyer Rec off St Pauls Road in the centre of town, whose residents are worried about losing the only leisure green space the community has. These green spaces have benefits that far outweigh the value of the land on which they sit – providing leisure spaces for families to enjoy recreational activities, helping us to stay more active. They help to absorb carbon from our air, keeping pollution from getting worse, helping us to lead healthier lives.
We submitted amendments to Labour’s proposed council budget in February that would have seen the introduction of free parking and installation of additional charging points for electric vehicles in the town centre, supporting residents to make the switch to electric easier. Our amendments would also have provided funding to assess and implement improvements to accessibility in our public transport network, supporting more vulnerable, disabled and elderly residents to be able to use our buses and taking more cars off the road. In April our motion at council was carried unanimously with the support of the Labour group to allow taxis to use our bus lanes, helping to ease congestion on our roads and therefore pollution in our air.
Our local election manifesto this year also pledged to campaign to implement a GreenRedeem scheme to help drive our recycling rate in Slough. This scheme, already successfully launched by our neighbouring Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council, works by rewarding residents with points they can use in local shops or to donate to charity, simply for recycling more – benefiting the whole community.
Whilst the reasons why we impact climate change – and it’s impacts on us – are often scientific and complex, the ways we can help to do something about them are often simple. To really drive change on this issue for the benefit of future generations in Slough and around the world, it requires us to work together, and that is what residents want us to do for once - put politics aside. Our work so far this year alone on environmental issues highlight that we are committed more than ever to the challenge.
The whole team at Slough Conservatives – members and councillors alike - maintains that our offer still stands to have a joint declaration on a climate change emergency – so Cllr. Swindlehurst is welcome to change his mind, without prejudice.