Summary of Jonathan Essex’s questions at County Council meeting

Surrey County Council’s big transport investment plans fly in the face of Climate Emergency

Despite declaring a Climate Emergency last year, Surrey County Council’s coronavirus recovery plans seem to have ignored climate and other environmental considerations while applying for much-needed government funding. Green Party Councillor Jonathan Essex (Redhill East) raised the issue at a council meeting this week, questioning why £42m in road infrastructure investments did not include a formal environmental or sustainability report, as mandated by the council’s Climate Change Strategy.

Jonathan also sought to affirm the council’s commitment to promoting reuse and retrofitting, rather than new builds, via support for the #RetroFirst campaign from the Architects Journal (see https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/retrofirst). The Climate Change Strategic Board has pledged to consider this at their next meeting.

Councillors in the dark about highways contract

It is widely known that Surrey County Council’s current highways contract will be coming to an end in 2022, but the fact that the process to appoint a new supplier started this week came as a surprise to councillors. An article in the construction industry press confirmed that contractors have been alerted to plans for a maintenance framework contract of up to 21 years, worth £800m. (See https://www.constructionenquirer.com/2020/06/23/highways-firms-on-notice-for-800m-surrey-deal/ for details made public).

At this week’s Council meeting, Jonathan Essex submitted a question asking for further information on the progress of the new maintenance contract.

Jonathan said, “It is unacceptable that the Council is looking at the possibility of locking us into such a lengthy agreement without consulting with councillors. We must be able to scrutinise the terms of any possible contract, including the potential for aspects to be delivered locally, such as tree maintenance and basic pothole repairs.”

Cycle Planner needed – now

Cllr Essex also called on the council to enquire whether they would now employ a Cycle Planner, given that it only managed to secure half the funding it bid for from central government for emergency walking and cycling schemes. He also requested a costed breakdown of the county council’s submission to the government setting out which aspects of the bid were funded.

Jonathan commented, “This indicates to me that the earlier bid was either out-of-scope or inadequate. The council must have the right skills in-house to deliver on actions to tackle the climate emergency here in Surrey. This should include a Cycle Planner with the expertise required to draft future submissions, develop best-in-class plans and implement them across the county.”

East Surrey Green Party have consulted residents and cycle groups to inform proposals for cycling and walking infrastructure which would power a genuine transition away from the domination of travel by car. For details see http://redhillgreens.org.uk/2020/06/green-councillor-makes-emergency-cycling-and-walking-investment-proposals/).

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