Kirklees Climate Commission aims to be a “critical friend” – non-political and independent from Kirklees Council – as the district sets off on an ambitious journey to combat climate change.
Kirklees Council declared a “climate emergency” in 2019 and wants to be carbon neutral by 2038.
Kirklees Climate Commission, chaired by renowned environmental expert Prof Peter Roberts, has been set up to advise on the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.
The commission aims to be open, inclusive and accessible to all and will focus on energy, houses, commercial buildings, transport, land use and nature.
It will also consider climate risks from within and beyond Kirklees, such as those related to flooding.
Kirklees-based Prof Roberts, Emeritus Professor of Sustainable Spatial Development at the School of Earth & Environment at the University of Leeds and chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, has a wealth of experience and has particular expertise in strategic planning, regeneration, housing and community development.
The commission, which has 17 commissioners, has met twice and is in the process of setting up seven sub-groups.
Speaking at a meeting of Kirklees Council’s overview and scrutiny management committee, Prof Roberts said he had a “desire to work with everyone in Kirklees to bring about a better climate-change proofed future.”
He added: “Some climate commissions are very technical and technocratic, some very analytic in nature and some are essentially campaigning organisations. Ours will be different and will take a more supportive and more pro-active approach.
“We have seven sub-groups with a range of expertise, skills and experience which can help public bodies, companies, local community groups, the voluntary sector to deal with the many and varied challenges associated with combatting climate change.
“That will include reviewing things like plans, strategies and proposals so that we don’t add to the burden of dealing with the existing climate challenge.
“The aspiration is for us to be a source of independent advice and guidance that could help, for example, landowners, landlords and homeowners in upgrading thermal performance in domestic buildings.
“We do need to deal with new proposals as they come forward and we can work with developers, council officers, utility providers, transport providers and others to ensure that all new housing developments are planned and constructed to higher climate change proofed standards.
“This is not theoretical, this is practical. This is what works and I am already in discussions with one major developer about a prospective site in Kirklees and that developer has indicated that they would welcome the opportunity to have that debate and discussions with our sub group prior to making that planning application.
“Hopefully what we can do is climate change proof any future new housing development because what we won’t want to do is add to the burden of climate change. We want to try to minimise the future climate change challenge.
“This partnership, supportive and independent style will allow the commission to become the go-to source of evidence, advice and guidance in Kirklees. It’s an honest, open, evidence-based and future-focused style which I hope will make our commission distinctive and it will certainly be different to other commissions I am familiar with.
“Our sub groups are composed of commissioners and additional expert co-opted members and this gives us access to a very wide range of skills, experience and case studies.
“Each sub-group will develop guidance and advice based on best practice and this will provide Kirklees with an authoritative voice on climate change matters.
“Kirklees isn’t an island, we are not cut off from other places therefore it’s really important that we work with adjacent authorities, not just in West Yorkshire but Greater Manchester and Derbyshire and that we work together to try to deal with some of these issues so we are not importing or exporting climate change associated problems.
“I think the linkages that we are talking about and interchanges of understanding and experience will be to the benefit of Kirklees.”
The council’s Green group leader Clr Andrew Cooper said he wanted the commission to be successful and influential.
He added: “Its independence is going to be the really key factor here and I am really keen the commission is respected and we listen carefully to what it says. What can the council do to ensure your independence?”
Prof Roberts said not relying on the council for administrative support would be preferable.
He added: “If we could create an independent secretariat and maybe have the secretarial based in some neutral premises, even if that neutral premises probably means the ether, the virtual space that we all seem to have to live in.
“Actions speak louder than words and the independence of the commission will be really important but that will be established by the commission demonstrating it’s got a basis for saying things and then not being afraid to say it.
“It’s the old point about being a critical friend. The critical friend role is really important. We ought to be as open and transparent and listening as we can and if anybody – a member of the public, a councillor, a council officer, a senior person or a junior person in a company, a transport operator or a developer comes to us and says ‘please can you help and support and advise in relation to a specific issue’ I think the commission should say yes.
“We should be in listening mode and we should be in dialogue, partnership mode with them.”