Friday, March 10, 2006

Councils to take lead on climate change

Local authorities will be placed under a duty to consider the effects of climate change in exercising their functions under changes disclosed by the Government today.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks acted to amend the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill after Opposition pressure.

The backbench Bill, introduced by Labour's Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh N and Leith), will require the Government to produce an annual report on steps taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy efficiency.

In report stage debate today, Mr Wicks said the Secretary of State should also produce a report on ways in which councils can improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and alleviate fuel poverty.

Local authorities would "have to have regard to the report in exercising their functions" but would also have the flexibility to adopt the best local solutions.

He promised that the obligation would place no "new unfunded burdens" on councils.

For the Tories, Gregory Barker welcomed the move to make the issue a "duty to consider" for local authorities.

"It's pretty timid stuff," he acknowledged. "But it is about putting these things on the agenda, re-asserting political leadership and making sure they are a priority ... for local authorities."

Tory former minister Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) said there was a risk that the "well-meaning Bill" was no more than a "gesture".

He said: "Our job should be to pass necessary legislation, practical legislation, legislation which will add value to the statute book and indeed to the body politic not endlessly to overload the statute book with more and more good thoughts and clever ideas."

Mr Forth questioned whether parish councils and community councils would be equipped or resourced to be able to consider the effects of climate change as outlined in the Bill compared with larger authorities.

He suggested council officials could spend their time better than going over energy reports.

Mr Forth also said he wanted to see the term fuel poverty removed from the Bill.


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