Campaigners who called for climate action exactly a year ago are today asking Dorset Council: 'Where's your plan?'

Today marks one year since the authority declared a climate and ecological emergency – it came after a moving protest outside the offices and a passionate debate inside at what was the new unitary council's first full meeting.

However, campaigners say 12 months on there is still no strategy and action plan.

Dorset councillors have also express disappointment at slow progress – and are concerned that meetings of a panel set up to look at the issue are not open to the public.

Declaring a climate emergency means recognising the threat posed by climate change and what it is doing to the planet, and to do something to tackle it at a local level.

Caz Dennett from the local Extinction Rebellion (XR) group said: “Over the last year Dorset Council has outwardly expressed a political desire to treat this emergency with the absolute urgency needed. But to date there has been no actual outcome shown in terms of their leadership to get things done.

“We appreciate that the last eight weeks have been very challenging. We are truly grateful to all those working to maintain essential services and keep us safe. However, a strategy and action plan to tackle the ongoing and increasingly concerning environmental crisis should have been ready some considerable time before the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Dorset councillor and Weymouth GP Dr Jon Orrell added: “I would say the council needs to take action on climate emergency with the same vigour as for coronavirus. We have proved that changes can be made fast and when there is a political will, there's a way. It is vital that we consolidate the welcome cuts to unnecessary travel for work or flying abroad. Any recovery package should favour a new green deal, not prop up old bad polluters. I call upon the cabinet to act with the energy and focus it found for COVID-19.”

The council has set up a cross-party Climate and Ecological Emergency Executive Advisory Panel to progress work on producing a strategy and action plan, led by Cllr Ray Bryan.

Campaigners said it showed considerable enthusiasm to 'gather the facts' about the science behind the emergency. However, the fact-finding mission continued for months, with no sign of an action plan. A Climate Inquiry was held in February.

It is feared that as full council meetings scheduled for May, July and October have been cancelled this means it could be at least another six months before any proposed plan will be made public, unless a virtual solution is set up.

Julie-Ann Booker from XR said: “It’s clearly possible to make decisions without face to face meetings. It’s concerning that the Advisory Panel have not met since January."

Despite the lack of progress to date, many people who have campaigned for action continue in hope.

Joe Burlington, 80, from Bridport spent nine days at XR’s Rebellion in London last October.

He said: “When we say Dorset Council ‘Where’s your plan?’ really we mean ‘Where is our plan?’. The declaration a year ago was itself a huge positive, but decisions made now will affect all of us, our planet and our future – especially that of our children. When elected members have done the right thing, it will be wonderful to celebrate. I look forward to the day when we can congratulate Dorset Council for doing what is necessary to lead us towards a safer future”

In response, Cllr Ray Bryan, chairman of Dorset Council’s Climate Change Executive Advisory Panel, said: “We will be discussing the draft strategy and action plan at our Executive Advisory Panel for Climate Change meeting next week. A lot of hard work has gone into this already and I want to thank councillors and officers for their efforts so far.

"Once agreed by the EAP, we hope to publish the draft for the public to see during the summer. In the meantime we continue to ask for patience and understanding at this difficult time, especially as we begin to consider the long-term challenges the council faces as a result of the pandemic.”

'We could have been bold and made a statement'

Dorset councillors have express disappointment at slow progress.

Cllr Nick Ireland said: “It seemed that the new unitary could really make a difference by leading by example. Therefore, I’m extremely disappointed by the lack of progress in producing tangible outcomes, especially when you look at our peers and see positive steps being taken. On those few occasions when we could have been bold and made a statement as to our intent by committing to something meaningful, the Executive ducked the issue and went with the ‘safe’ option.

Cllr Maria Roe is a member of the Climate & Ecological Emergency Executive Advisory Panel, and is keen to review the draft plan which has not yet been shared with panel members. The 'behind doors' nature of the Advisory Panel has been a concern for Cllr Roe.

She said: "From the beginning I felt that the meetings should have been opened up to the public and I never understood why this was not possible. I look forward to discovering how the wealth of innovative ideas from members of the public, at the two Inquiry Days, will be incorporated into the action plan."

Cllr Daryl Turner also sits on the Advisory Panel and has also expressed concerns about the length of time it’s taken to produce an action plan.

He said: “I’ve always advocated that we need a robust time line with milestones along the route, which to date we still haven’t produced. I would say that a lot of good work has been done but the “closed” meetings have not contributed to sharing that information."