Extinction Rebellion and two other environmental groups are threatening to pull out of Southwark Council’s climate emergency steering group, saying Tooley Street’s flagship ‘parklet’ policy shows ‘a lack of ambition and understanding’.
Southwark Council announced its first ‘parklet’ – a public space for cycle storage, planters and socialising – was being installed in Walworth last month.
Although many have welcomed the low-cost measure as progress in the right direction, and an improvement to overcrowded streets full of parked cars, the initiative has also received plenty of flak from residents online.
Beyond the social media mockery, in an open letter to Cllr Johnson Situ, Extinction Rebellion says the parklet scheme – dubbed as a ‘plant pot in a bench’ – is indicative of a lack of real progress in the council’s plans to achieve its ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The activists are now demanding that the council immediately commissions an independent review of its plans.
Eloise Waldon-Day, from Extinction Rebellion Southwark, said: “We are really keen to engage positively with the council, but we are concerned that our engagement within the Partnership Steering Group is being used as ‘greenwashing’.
“We have repeatedly asked for transparency and accountability, and for the council to drastically upscale their ambition and respond comprehensively to the comments and concerns that have been raised by steering group members, but we have consistently been let down.”
Karrim Jalali of Fossil Free Southwark, which also backs their demands, said: “I think the letter hits the nail on the head. The council’s initial plans for community engagement were terrible, and when partnership steering group members tried to address this with the council, they criticised us for delaying the strategy when it was the council who waited almost a year after declaring a climate emergency to do anything meaningful.
“We’ve invested a lot of personal time to read through hundreds of pages of documents, raise numerous concerns and comments, but the response so far from the council leaves us with no confidence that this level of effort is worth continuing.”
Amardeep Singh Dhillon from Nunhead Knocks, another steering group member, described the open letters’ demands as “realistic and fair”.
“It is the least the council should do, given what they committed to last year,” the campaigner said.
“The lack of concerted effort to engage Southwark residents on fighting climate breakdown only feeds fears that despite its declaration last year, the council doesn’t see this strategy as an important vehicle for action.”
Extinction Rebellion is calling for the council to urgently hold an independent review into its climate strategy, and other key council policy documents including the new Southwark plan, and the movement plan, to ensure that they are completely aligned with its climate emergency declaration. They say delivering on the climate targets also requires a commitment to a Citizens’ Assembly.
The activists threaten without a commitment from Tooley Street by December 8, they will “not be able to continue to engage in good faith”.
After being contacted by the News, councillor Johnson Situ, cabinet member for the climate emergency, planning and transport, said: “We are committed to tackling the climate emergency and are working towards carbon neutrality by 2030.
“We have worked with experts, campaigners and residents to inform a strategy and help us achieve our goal.
“We address emissions across the borough, in the buildings, transport and energy that we use; as well as looking at what we consume.
“We are also committing to strengthening policy, following the publication of our climate strategy, including new ways of engaging with local communities going forward.
“We are working on bold, far reaching, policy led climate action, but also welcome smaller, local led initiatives, such as the parklet project.
“This was put forward by residents at our climate conference in the autumn and we will be developing it further, side by side with ambitious schemes, such as planting 10,000 trees across the Southwark, by 2022.
“Our climate change strategy is currently with the people of Southwark, in its final stage of resident consultation, we invite everyone to share their ideas now and work with us to help tackle the climate emergency, here in Southwark.”
Take part in the consultation here: https://consultations.southwark.gov.uk/environment-leisure/climate-change-consultation/