The Covid lockdowns have been good for Cornwall’s environment, says new County Hall report, as politicians ponder what “normal” should really mean

Posted By on 17th February 2021

By Julia Penhaligon

Climate change poses a greater risk to Cornwall than the Covid-19 crisis, according to a new County Hall report.

The Cornwall Council document warns that “the impending climate change emergency has the potential to dwarf the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Although the high-profile climate protests of 2019 might have disappeared from the headlines, a political battle is looming between those who want life to return to pre-Covid “normal” and those who want to hold on to the environmental gains seen over the past 12 months.

This battle appears to be heading for something of a showdown at the Cornwall Council elections due on 6th May.  Government ministers are furiously leaking details of how the latest lockdown might be lifted, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson due to announce his “roadmap” on Monday (22nd February.)

According to the leaks, most retail may have to wait until early April before town centre shops can reopen.  Sports such as golf and tennis could then resume.  Pubs and restaurants look as if they will have to wait until early May.  There would be further relaxation during June, with the holiday industry allowed to once again invite a tourist invasion into Cornwall in July.

Ministers are due to meet this weekend to consider the latest data, but all the signs are that the lifting of the lockdown will be far slower than many Conservative MPs are demanding.  There could be a particular battle over whether employees can, or should, continue to work from home – relying on their internet connections, rather than a daily commute.

The Right-wing group of Tory Covid-sceptics led by Conservative MPs Mark Harper and Steve Baker want all restrictions lifted by the end of April.

The way in which the Covid debate is framed over the next two months could become very helpful to Cornwall’s Green Party, as it looks set to field a record number of candidates in the May election.  The Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are struggling to distinguish themselves from the government’s approach, with only marginal adjustments to various sectors.

Labour is divided over whether to push for a tourism tax.  The senior Lib Dem councillor Rob Nolan told reporters last week that he thought Covid “should not be political.”

But a report to be considered by Cornwall Council’s neighbourhoods scrutiny committee next week advises that many of the changes to society caused by the three Covid lockdowns are worth keeping.

“The process of re-building should take into consideration the environmental impacts of the rebuilding process and societal acceptance that life should not just return to pre-pandemic norms,” it says.  “A return to business as usual from an operational perspective would be a missed opportunity, and the economic recovery approach should also focus on more regenerative approaches to economic wellbeing that do not foster carbon intensive practices without a strong rationale.”

The report reminds councillors that more than 4,000 council staff have been working from home since the height of the first lockdown.  This has seen “a significant impact” on carbon emissions.

  • A 70% reduction in council business travel reducing emissions by 633 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) (April – September 2020);
  • Significant reductions in council staff commute travel with an average reduction of 80,000 miles a day, cutting emissions by approximately 1300 tCO2e over the first lockdown period (April – June 2020);
  • With 12 of 35 core council office buildings closed or partially closed as a result of Covid-19, this resulted in an energy saving of approximately 270 mega-watt hours (MWh) (or 60 tonnes of carbon) over the first 3 months of lockdown;
  • And council printing reduced from 2 million pages a month printed before lockdown to 200,000 a month during the lockdown.

For many workers, internet connections have replaced a daily commute

Could Covid-19 finally turn the costs of mass tourism into a political issue before the May local council elections?

Climate change protestors in Truro in 2019

The report continues: “Adopting this approach is of fundamental importance, as the impending climate change emergency has the potential to dwarf the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Scientists think it will be at least another 2-3 years before enough people are vaccinated, globally, for any prospect of a pre-Covid “normality.”

A YouGov poll last April found that only 9% of Britons wanted life to return to normal anyway: 42% of participants said they now valued food and other essentials more since the pandemic, with 38% now cooking meals from scratch.

The survey found that 61% of people are spending less money and 51% noticed cleaner air outdoors, while 27% thought there was more wildlife.

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