Waltham Forest Council put on notice by lawyers over ‘climate inaction’

Lawyers have written to Waltham Forest Council, threatening a legal challenge and warning it is on course to violate its legal obligations on climate change.

ClientEarth are a group of environmental lawyers who have written to 105 local authorities across England stating they need to introduce proper climate change plans, or they risk breaking the law.

Waltham Forest Council was contacted as one of the local authorities currently developing its local plan; the framework for development in the borough over the next 15 years.

Environmental lawyers have given the authority eight weeks to explain how it will set evidence-based carbon reduction targets and ensure these targets are made central to its planning policy.

If the council doesn’t comply, legal action could be launched against it.

Despite the council declaring a climate emergency earlier this year and promoting active transport methods and encouraging residents to leave their cars behind, ClientEarth remains concerned.

The group launched the campaign to draw attention to what it sees as the “massive shortfall” in climate compliant local planning policy in England and to advise authorities of their legal duties under planning and environmental law.

ClientEarth environmental lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change. Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government.

“Clearly central government needs to do more, yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.”

Mr Hunter Jones added scientists have warned we have just 10 years transform our economies to avoid catastrophic climate change.

He said decisions that will affect our climate are being made now by local authorities with no idea if these decisions are consistent with national or international commitments to curb CO2 emissions.

Local authorities across the country have declared climate emergencies and announced local carbon reduction targets.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, deputy leader and cabinet member for the environment, said the authority has a strong record on tackling the climate emergency, having reduced emissions by 46.2 per cent since 2005.

He added the borough’s Mini Holland cycling scheme, or Enjoy Waltham Forest, has been used as a blueprint for other councils in the UK to promote greener forms of transport.

The council declared a climate emergency in April this year, which the cabinet member said highlights the authority’s commitment to improving the environment.

Cllr Loakes added that authority is aiming to promote sustainable development and minimise environmental impact in its local plan and encouraged residents to look through the plans and have their say.

He added: “However, we are looking at how we can reduce emissions across all council departments and services. This month we will be launching our Climate Emergency Commission that will help us to evaluate our climate strategy for the next decade, including setting ambitious and achievable emission targets.

“We continue to deliver our many programmes that improve the environment including rolling out new electric vehicle chargers in residential locations, planting large numbers of trees, returning road space to forest and planted environment, investing in better cycling and walking infrastructure, and utilising zero emissions delivery services.”

The council also plans to close Hoe Street in Walthamstow on Sunday September 22, along with around 30 other roads across the borough for World Car Free Day.

Cllr Loakes added: “We will continue to build on our substantial track record, providing much needed political and civic leadership, alongside working with residents to help them find practical, common-sense ways to change their behaviours and think more about how we can all reduce our emissions further and quicker.”

London has committed to net zero emissions targets by 2038.

Alice Richardson

Local Democracy Reporter