Parents encouraged to switch off car engines when waiting near school gates

Car exhaust
Car exhaust

Action to encourage parents and carers in the Lewes district to switch off their car engines while waiting near school gates to pick up their children is set to be taken by the district council.

Lewes councillors passed a number of motions which aim to strengthen the authority’s approach to climate change at a full council meeting on Monday (November 26).

Through the motions councillors agreed to: improve air quality around schools, introduce stronger planning conditions around sustainability and include environmental measures within the council’s quarterly performance reports.

Councillors also passed a motion asking the council to introduce a broad range of measures, including plans the appointment of a ‘director-level’ officer who would have the responsibility of reducing carbon emissions within the district.

Introducing the motion, Green Party councillor Johnny Denis (Ouse Valley and Ringmer) said: “The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change has really made this a top tier priority. I think we could use the term climate emergency.

“We clearly need to take this on board and put this focus in place so we can see how we can achieve this.”

While other motions received cross-party support, the majority Conservative group raised objections to Cllr Denis’ motion, which also called for the establishment of  a cross-party task and finish group and the setting-up of a national climate change taskforce.

‘Council already taking action’

Voicing these objections, cabinet member for environmental impact Isabelle Linington argued that the council is already working to address climate change concerns and that strategic work is already being carried out both on a regional and national level.

She said: “Summarising all of that, we are already doing a lot of the things that Cllr Denis would like to be done in order to reduce carbon emissions and we work in partnership with others to that end as well.

“The reason I’m not supporting this proposal is that, as I say, we are already doing a lot of it and that the specific things Cllr Denis is asking for are very technical and would be very resource intensive.

“We would need to take on extra staff and take advice from experts, which will have to be paid for. It would take a lot of money where we are already doing a lot of these things anyway.”

Despite the Conservative group’s objections, Cllr Denis’s motion was passed with 33 votes for and just two votes against.

Measures to improve air quality around schools

The other motions however received greater cross-party support, including a motion put forward by Cllr Linington to improve air quality around schools.

To do this, the council will work with school leaders to encourage parents and carers to switch off their engines while waiting to pick up their children.

Signage will also be installed outside every school within the district to reinforce the point. This signage is expected to be permanent following a request by Newhaven Valley councillor Steve Saunders (Liberal Democrat), who seconded the motion.

The remaining climate change motions had been put forward by Cllr Vic Ient, the Liberal Democrat group’s spokesman on environmental matters.  

His first motion called on the council to introduce a new planning test, requiring developers to explain how their application meets council policies on; air quality, sustainable travel and renewable/low carbon energy.

His second motion called on the council to include a range of new environmental measures within its quarterly progress and performance reports.

These measures included: data from the district’s two air quality monitoring stations and a count of the number of planning permissions which include either an electric car charging point or some form of renewable energy.

‘Nothing seems to have been done’

The successful motions follow a series of other motions put forward by Cllr Ient in July, which called on the council to purchase new air quality monitoring stations around the district.

However, speaking after the meeting on Monday, Cllr Ient criticised the controlling Conservative group for not having implemented the July motion.

He said: “I checked on the progress to implement the motions passed over four-and-a-half months ago and sadly nothing seems to have been done.

“If the Conservatives are serious about tackling air pollution, then they should have been ordering new air monitoring stations and the ‘cut engine pollution’ signs already.”