Sleepy Shropshire knows about going slow. It’s a county of hidden valleys, ancient castles, Tudor architecture, and sleepy villages. In the south of the county Ludlow is the slow food capital of England. Further north, the River Severn winds itself through medieval Shrewsbury on a meandering loop, switching back on itself as if it has all the time in the world.
Going slow can have its disadvantages, though.
When Zero Hour campaigners asked Shropshire Council to pass a cross-party motion in support of the Climate Ecology Bill in December 2020, we expected it to be rubber stamped. The council had already declared a climate emergency, and over 100 residents wrote in support of the Bill. It seemed a simple shoe-in.
From the first debate, it was clear that the road ahead was bumpy. The Council’s Climate Portfolio Holder argued that the eminently simple motion needed scrutiny at a Task & Finish Group. He claimed this was ‘categorically not a wrecking amendment’. Opposition councillors described it as kicking the motion ‘into the long grass’.
For the next eighteen months, the motion navigated the Council’s byzantine scrutiny process. In July 2022, we finally received an update. The Group had been divided over the issue of citizens’ assemblies, with some Conservative members objecting to the idea very strongly.
The compromise was that the council would give its ‘broad support’ to the Bill, minus the provision for a national citizen’s panel. Zero Hour Shropshire protested, pointing out the huge success of the Climate Assembly in 2020 (set up by parliamentary committees) which Government Ministers welcomed.
Sadly, our protests were ignored.
After it emerged from scrutiny, the motion was left to wither. No one contacted Shropshire’s five MPs—including Philip Dunne, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee—to express the Council’s support for the Bill, nor did they contact the local press. It took another six months of chasing by campaigners to get the council to complete the process in February 2023…two years from the date of the original motion.
Our experience in Shropshire proves that small group of determined campaigners can get results even against the odds. What’s disappointing, though, is how long it took.
When the Shropshire campaign started, the 1.5C goal still seemed possible. Today, the UN says there is ‘no credible pathway’ to it. Shropshire’s experience is emblematic of a wider lack of urgency. We have squandered too many years already, which is why national legislation like the Climate & Ecology Bill to tackle the climate crisis robustly, urgently, and fairly is so desperately needed.
Our campaign’s focus is now on lobbying Shropshire’s five MPs.
We’d like a rest, but there isn’t time…
Jamie Russell, Zero Hour Shropshire