Climate change and flooding in Watford

This month of May 2021 has been unusually wet, while April has been exceptionally dry. Last year (2020) saw the wettest ever October, and one of the driest ever for May. A predicted feature of climate change is more extremes of both dry and wet weather, and that is just what we are experiencing now. Flooding, severe storms and droughts are becoming more common.

If you are a gardener like me, you have probably noticed some months which need lots of watering cans, while other months the soil is waterlogged! It is something that we will need to get used to, as the impacts of climate change continue to increase. Over the past 12 months, we have seen flooding in Watford several times: in November at Lower High Street, and in January in Water Lane. Flooding events are only going to become more frequent. Better flood defences can help, but we also need to take action against climate change. That means avoiding fossil fuels, and generally living a sustainable lifestyle.

I took these photos of the flooding in February 2021.

Flooding in Water Lane – 1 February 2021

River Colne in flood – 1 February 2021

The Watford Observer reported the recent flooding events at these links.

Parts of Water Lane remain flooded and closed. 2nd February 2021

Watford flooding: Water Lane floods after heavy rain. 31st January 2021

Flooding across Watford as Environment Agency issues warning. 30th January 2021

Climate change ‘real reason’ for flooding in Watford. 25th November 2020

Where do your local candidates stand on saving the planet?

Watford and Three Rivers Friends of the Earth (also covering Hertsmere) asked candidates across the three areas for their views. We asked them how their role as a future councillor will play a part in tackling climate change locally.

Questions covered:

  • Climate Action Plans
  • Reducing pollution
  • Home energy efficiency
  • Local biodiversity and
  • How they will work for a climate ready and resilient local area 

Click here to find out what they had to say.

We look forward to working with the our local authority going forwards as a third of emissions are dependent on sectors directly shaped or influenced by local authority practice, policy or partnerships. Local councillors will therefore be key in delivering the regional and local place-based solutions to make the changes needed.

The Hertfordshire Environment Hustings

Organised by Friends of the Earth Groups from around Hertfordshire, The Herts Environment Hustings took place on 19th April. Chairman Nick Hazell put questions on issues of sustainability and the environment from the online audience to a panel consisting of:

  • Conservatives – Theresa Heritage, Derrick Ashley
  • Greens – Anni Sander, Nick Cox
  • Labour – Tina Bhartwas, Simon Speller
  • Liberal Democrats – Helen Campbell, Nigel Quinton

The whole hustings are covered in two podcasts:

Part 1 – The questions covered were (in this order, to make it easier if you’d like to find a particular response) https://radioverulam.com/podcast/listen-now-to-the-herts-environment-hustings-part-1/

  1. 2 minutes on the parties environmental policies for Hertfordshire
  2. We know that spending time in nature has significant benefits for our health and wellbeing, and that a diverse natural environment is essential to a sustainable economy. What steps will your party advocate to reverse the recent alarming decline in biodiversity in Hertfordshire, and ensure that everyone in the county has access to quality green spaces where wildlife and people can flourish?
  3. What would you do about public transport and how to get car owners out of their cars
  4. Lots of county council land will be released for house building. Would you ensure that all such houses will be carbon zero
  5. What measures would you take to reduce the amount of Hertfordshire’s waste which is incinerated or landfill

End of Part 1

Part 2 – https://radioverulam.com/podcast/listen-now-to-the-herts-environment-hustings-part-2/

  1. Do you feel that wide area 20mph limits have an important role to play
  2. Do you have any plans to communicate the importance and urgency of the climate crisis to the general public
  3. What are your views on the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill
  4. Is banning the use of herbicides and pesticides a priority to benefit the environment and the health of local people
  5. Do you believe in a halt in new road building
  6. The Herts Sustainability Strategy has no target for reducing the GHG emissions from the county other than the national target of net zero by 2050. Should there be a target and what should it be?
  7. What are you doing in your personal life to be more environmentally friendly?

The doorbell sound is the timer used to ensure that each party had the same amount of time.

Please excuse noise distortions dues to internet fluctuations.

FoE response to the HCC SHS

Local Friends of the Earth and Climate Action Groups in Hertfordshire response to the Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy

Friends of the Earth and Climate Action Groups across Hertfordshire have submitted the following response to the current consultation on Hertfordshire County Council Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/14djjCqFKCsK7vExrdNxZ0WdLzcNBJeK6/view?usp=sharing

Our response welcomes the SHS, and we are pleased to see the commitment to making the council’s own operations net zero by 2030, and the recognition of the importance of tackling the decline in biodiversity as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, as currently drafted, we feel that there are areas of the SHS (and the associated action plan) that need to be significantly strengthened to meet the level of ambition that the current climate and ecological emergency demands, some key points being:

  • The SHS should include not only long term goals for 2030 and 2050, but also short to medium term goals against which progress can be monitored.
  • The current target in the SHS to achieve net zero carbon emissions for the county ‘before 2050’ is too weak and vague and should be replaced by a commitment to a 90% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2040.
  • Targets for improving wildlife and biodiversity should be aligned with recommendations from the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust to manage 30% of land area for the benefit of wildlife. This applies to both HCC’s own land and the county as a whole.
  • Targets for waste and recycling should aim to make the county a zero-waste area, where all “waste” material is minimised, reused or recycled (following a circular economy approach). Targets relating to landfill alone are not adequate.
  • The SHS recognises the importance of monitoring and scrutiny (page 4) but needs to set out more clearly how this will be done in a way that is robust and transparent.
  • A communication strategy needs to be developed as part of the SHS – not only to involve others in the development and delivery of action plans but to engage Hertfordshire residents and businesses with the climate and ecological emergency.

The SHS should commit HCC to lobbying the UK government for the resources and enabling actions it needs to deliver its objectives.

Help shape the future of Hertfordshire

Help HCC shape how they spend your council tax money – supporting a Green and Fair recovery from COVID and linking environmental justice to social justice.  

Support Hertfordshire in being a Sustainable County – through commenting on the Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy (sustainable-hertfordshire-strategy-2020-2.7mb.pdf)

HCC is asking residents to respond to a survey about climate change and the council’s Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy.

Working with other FoE and climate action groups in Herts, we’ve produced model answers to most of the consultation questions, which you can use as a basis for your responses (obviously you can also add your own views and suggestions when completing the survey!). Using our template it shouldn’t take long to complete, and you don’t have to answer every question if you don’t want to.

Our document with model answers and links to the strategy and the survey is available here:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zXetuxxA1-QFQOhDis4uctFIFnh2aYS3/view


Unless the strategy enables people to choose affordable, low-carbon transport and recycling of all waste, and provides cheaper heating bills and space for nature, Hertfordshire will not be playing its part in combating the climate emergency. We don’t believe that this strategy yet demonstrates sufficient ambition or urgency, and its important (particularly in this election year) that as many of us as possible let the council know that we want it to go further.

Ensure Hertfordshire Waste Local Plan ensures no waste is sent to landfill or incineration across the county by 2030

HCC is preparing a new Waste Local Plan (the Plan), this new Plan sets the vision, objectives and spatial strategy for waste planning in Hertfordshire up to 2036. HCC is also preparing a new Waste Facilities Design Guide SPD, which will provide guidance on the design of waste management facilities and assist in meeting the requirements set out in the Plan.

Watford Tree Planting

Trees help to support life on Earth by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They are vital to combat climate change, while also improve the living space for both people and wildlife.

According to the Urban Tree Cover website, Watford has a tree cover of 18%. In March this year, Watford Council agreed a plan to increase this to 20%.

Friends of the Earth say that the UK as a whole has a tree cover of 13%, which is less than half the European average of 35%. Friends of the Earth are campaigning to double the UK tree cover. The increase of 2% in Watford is welcome, but much more than that is still needed.

If you want to see Watford’s tree cover in great detail, down to each tree in your street, take a look at the National Tree Map. Here is an example map centred on North Watford.

Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership – Inaugural Stakeholder Event

The inaugural Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership (HCCSP) stakeholder event took place on 3 December 2020. Councillor Graham McAndrew, chair of the HCCSP, introduced the speakers. He emphasised the need to take action as a result of the climate crisis.

Declining wildlife in Hertfordshire

Lesley Davies, CEO of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, gave the keynote speech. She said that Hertfordshire wildlife is in trouble. 50% of species have declined, 20% are threatened and 80 species have been lost. The climate crisis and biodiversity are linked. For example, last year 50 km of chalk rivers dried out. The green economy can create jobs in all areas. Covid created more desire to be out in open space. She would like to encourage people to make space in their gardens for wildlife. Volunteering outside is good for mental and physical health. In Hertfordshire, the Trust wants to double the wildlife area. But it is necessary to ensure the right habitat is in the right place.

Formation of the HCCSP

Matthew Partridge, CEO of Stevenage Borough Council, set up the formation of the HCCSP, and proposed it to the Hertfordshire Growth Board. The new group will identify and share best practice. It reports into Hertfordshire Leader Group. It will raise awareness of climate action in Hertfordshire and improve biodiversity. It will work with multidisciplinary organisations. The challenge is scaling up. Themes to be covered include water, transport and carbon reduction. Another challenge: how do we assess carbon footprints?

Chalk rivers drying up

Joanna Hewitson, Three Rivers District Council Climate Officer, said that water is critical, and we need to restore chalk rivers.

Decarbonising transport, the biggest energy user in Hertfordshire

David Thorogood said there will be accelerated decarbonisation. Transport is Hertfordshire’s biggest energy user. Work is being done on Hertfordshire sustainable travel. He would like to promote a modal shift away from using the car. Active travel (walking, cycling) is key. Covid caused a step change by moving to virtual meetings. Transport is mostly about the wider community. He mentioned that one third of the Hertfordshire workforce commute into London, but this changed during Covid. There will be a long-term impact, with perhaps more people living and working locally. London was hollowing out the Hertfordshire economy by commuters.

Pressure from community to act on energy efficiency and climate change

Dr Sarika Jain of Hertsmere Borough Council was asked: “Will they address home energy efficiency?”. She said a number of us have bid for energy grants as a consortium. They can’t act fast enough on climate issues. There is strong pressure from the community to act.

Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership

The HCCSP mentioned there are roles for the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to support local businesses. The LEP Recovery Plan includes some climate related initiatives, such as sustainable construction, environmental technologies and low carbon clean growth.

Hertfordshire Innovation Quarter

Between Hemel Hempstead and St Albans there is a cluster of innovative companies. To encourage further innovation, there is the new Hertfordshire Innovation Quarter, including companies such as Rothamsted Research, BRE, Ocado and RES (Renewable Energy Systems).

The Hertfordshire Climate Change and Sustainability Partnership is likely to be an important enabler of climate action in Hertfordshire. It is also clear that there is a long way to go to meet the 2050 net zero target. Hopefully the Partnership will help everyone in Hertfordshire on this journey.

There are copies of the event presentation and the HCCSP Terms of Reference below.