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Highland Council climate change committee chairman pleased with council progress

By Niall Harkiss

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The chair and vice chair of Highland Council’s Climate Change Committee met with climate protestors yesterday (Thursday, September 22) to discuss a wide range of issues in relation to the council’s approach to the climate change and ecological emergency, responding to a number of concerns raised by the group in a bid to offer assurance of progress being made across a range of approaches.

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Karl Rosie. Picture: DGS
Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Karl Rosie. Picture: DGS

Councillor Karl Rosie said: “As chair of the newly formed Climate Change Committee, I am very pleased that the council has reinforced its commitment to climate change by raising the profile of the previous Climate Change Working Group to a formally constituted committee. I can also provide assurance that no decisions have been made about reducing the council’s commitments to net zero. Quite the opposite.”

Responding to several factors raised by the group; on the matter of green infrastructure development councillor Rosie said: “Regarding Active travel infrastructure, the council has committed £600,000 for the next five years, rising to £850,000 for the following five years across Highland and we are currently developing a new sustainable transport strategy for the region. A £10.6 million scheme, Inverness City Active Travel Network is being delivered by the Council and Sustrans on active travel infrastructure at Raigmore, Millburn, Academy Street and the riverside.

“Through the city and region deal, the Scottish Government has awarded Highland Council initial funding of £2.7 million to unlock up to £50 million for public transport; £1.6 million for cycling, walking and safer routes for 2022/23, and £109 million for transport through the city and region deal.”

The council is working hard to realise its green commitments, he added: “Five additional posts are being recruited to the council’s climate and energy team to drive forward the net zero strategy at pace; and two new ecological posts will provide additional benefits to major applications and developments across the Highland enabling the council (in discussion with UHI) to explore carbon sequestration across the region.

“Over the last two years the council has secured in excess of £500,000 to deliver the Nature Restoration Fund – a key partner in the proposed World Heritage Site at Forsinard Flows; and the council has commissioned UHI and Strathclyde University to explore improving the local benefit from renewable energy generation.

Councillor Kate Willis said: “We had a really good discussion with the representatives of the group about green energy opportunities and the unparalleled prospects offered by Highland’s abundant natural resources. Like them, we are very ambitious about maximising this potential for the benefit of Highland communities, particularly in the context of the current fuel crisis. The case for moving away from fossil fuels has never been greater.

“With NatureScot, the Council also co-funds a new biodiversity partnership officer post to further the need for biodiversity and climate change improvements, and the council is working with the hydrogen sector to establish a sustainable green hydrogen economy within the region.”

Cllr Rosie explained the EV charging provision currently in Highland, he said: “While Highland Council serves the largest local authority geographical area in the UK there are currently 288 charge points in the region of which 37 per cent are owned and operated by Highland Council. Five gaps within the council’s owned and operated infrastructure are filled by private operators. However, we also acknowledge the need to improve both the extent of the network and the reliability of EV provision and this is a priority for us.”

On the matter of the carbon neutral target by 2025 Cllr Rosie said: “In May 2019, in declaring a climate and ecological emergency the council committed to revisit the Carbon Clever declaration made by the council in 2012 with a view to updating and working towards a carbon neutral Inverness and low carbon Highlands by 2025. Since 2019 under the remit of the climate change working group, the council has consistently seen a reduction in reported carbon emissions.”

He added: “As we developed a greater understanding of the issues faced as a region it became clear simply achieving carbon neutrality as a region was not ambitious enough. In 2021, Highland Council made the commitment to develop a net zero strategy and action plan. 2022 has seen a £2 million commitment by the council to resource the climate change team to deliver a council-wide strategy and deliver an accelerated action plan.”

Councillor Rosie concluded “It has been extremely interesting to meet with representatives from Extinction Rebellion this morning – we share the same goals and desire to see faster fundamental improvements and we look forward to working with them as we go forward.”

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