Rother’s “greenwash”

14
2904
Are RDC committed to installing EV charging points in Rye?

In a shock move, Laura Coppin, who was in charge of communications on environmental issues for Rother District Council (RDC), resigned and accused the council of a “greenwash”.

Laura accuses RDC of “climate inaction” and in a stinging attack said, “It has become abundantly clear to me at my time working for RDC that the climate emergency declaration in 2019 was made to garner public favour without the intention to pursue the systemic changes required to reach the council’s own 2030 targets.”

Laura accuses the council of awarding contracts that “actively degrade the environment” and her most damning criticism is that Rother’s declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ was a cynical ploy saying, “The council is a not even doing the bare minimum of measuring it’s consumption or emissions, let alone taking steps to reduce and mitigate them. Individual departments have no reporting or measurement requirements, and no roadmaps for how they will ensure the council achieves its climate commitments.”

Laura’s resignation letter (full transcript below) throws into question RDC’s earlier commitment to installing electric vehicle (EV) charging points in its car parks. The roll out of EV charging points was meant to be a priority for the council, with the possibility that some would be operational by the end of 2021.

At a stakeholder meeting in February 2020, RDC’s environment and policy manager, Dr Kristina Sodomkova, was upbeat about the plan to install EV charging points, having identified the locations, potential commercial partners, and funding streams. All that was missing, it would seem, was backing from RDC via their regular cabinet meetings. Rye News understands that it was finally discussed at RDC’s Cabinet in May 2021 as part of their environmental strategy update though it seems highly unlikely that EV charging points will be installed by the end of 2021.

Hugh Kermode from RyEV Experiment, a group set up earlier in the year to assist and advice businesses and individuals in Rye who are looking to install EV charging points said, “Obviously RDC have lots of important things on their plate, but providing EV charging points is one of them – and they have made a commitment.”

Laura Coppin’s resignation letter has exposed a deep rift at the heart of RDC’s climate crisis declaration. Rye News approached RDC to comment on Laura’s accusations and we have included their response after the resignation letter below.

Laura’s resignation letter:

I have resigned from my role with RDC due to climate inaction and greenwashing. My full resignation letter is below as I believe it’s the public’s right to know that their futures are being pushed aside in favour of short term profit.

To whom it may concern,

I write to you to announce my immediate resignation from my role with Rother District Council, as I feel my work is being used to aid in greenwashing and to help distract from the meaningful changes required to address the climate emergency – changes which both East Sussex County Council and Rother District Council are refusing to make even in the face of irrefusable science.

It has become abundantly clear to me in my time working for RDC that the climate emergency declaration in 2019 was made to garner public favour without the intention to pursue the systemic changes required to reach the Council’s own 2030 targets.

Whilst evidence of this has been mounting throughout my time in the role, being forwarded a FOI request for the Council’s carbon emissions showed that the Council is not even doing the bare minimum of measuring its consumption or emissions, let alone taking steps to reduce and mitigate them. Individual departments have no reporting or measurement requirements, and no roadmaps for how they will ensure the Council achieves its climate commitments.

Contracts which are actively degrading the environment have not been reviewed, with the Council having no intention to do so, and commitments (such as building electric vehicle infrastructure and buying electric Council vehicles) are already being backtracked on with vague mentions as to the cost involved.

The cost of not making these changes is quite literally the future of our planet.

Developers are still being given permission to fell ancient, irreplaceable trees and changes to the planning system are being presented both internally and externally as solutions to the crisis despite containing the same loopholes that have enabled wanton destruction of our green spaces and biodiversity. Profit is still being prioritised, no matter the cost or the Council’s public proclamations.

Despite Kristina’s role being specifically outlined as facilitatory (ie specifically NOT being responsible for delivering the Environment Strategy), I have watched as she works exhaustively without the Council’s full support to be one of the only people within the Council trying to deliver the projects needed to fulfil it.

To not only fail to provide proper internal support for what few projects are being pursued to protect the environment, but to censor reports of the very real barriers to meaningfully delivering both the requirements of mine and Kristina’s roles and the Environment Strategy itself and then push for a press release to celebrate the Council’s environmental achievements has appalled me, and I cannot in good conscience deliver any more work to help deceive the public into believing that meaningful climate action is taking place.

Fossil fuel companies and other organisations and governments guilty of ecocide have spent decades carefully constructing narratives putting fault and responsibility at the feet of individual consumers, not the 100 companies who are responsible for 70% of all emissions. Both ESCC and RDC support this narrative, and have made encouraging individual recycling a priority without informing residents that most plastic never gets recycled, and is simply shipped abroad to be dumped or burnt.

The Council also has persisted in spraying known carcinogen, pesticide, herbicide, and poison Glyphosate on our streets and green spaces, poisoning the soil and killing plants and wildlife, even when residents have requested they stop and offered to manage weeds themselves.

I had a moment of hope following the Carbon Literacy Training, as it seemed as though being presented with the very real science of the threat we face would be a wakeup call. Instead, despite almost two years of inaction it was defended as ‘a start’ and attendees have been handheld through the accreditation process, giving them a badge of credibility that will enable them to further deceive the public into believing that appropriate action is being taken.

I will not be delivering the strategy document I have created, and I will not be charging for the days I have spent creating it. I do not believe it would be put to proper use. I do not believe that the public should trust any organisation that does not have their best interests at heart.

I came into this role (after initial resistance) with high hopes, having been assured by local environmental groups that despite the Council’s history Kristina was trying to create real change. I am saddened and disappointed that the council hasn’t seen fit to support her in this.

I hope the Council will rethink its direction for all our sakes, though I fear they will only do so if the public leaves them no other choice.

Yours disappointedly,

Laura Coppin

Rother District Council comment

A Rother District Council spokesman said: “We do not discuss staffing issues.

“Rother District Council takes its responsibilities extremely seriously, which is why councillors set the ambitious target of becoming a carbon neutral authority by 2030 – 20 years ahead of the national target. We have already started to make changes that will contribute to this including changes to buildings, such as the addition of solar panels, new energy efficient windows and roofs, the use of a 100% renewable energy supplier for our electricity and a gas supplier with offset certificates.  As we come out of the pandemic, we are also seeking to carry on having staff work from their homes for at least part of the week to cut down on travel, and have initiated schemes to encourage greener travel.

“Whilst we still have a long way to go, it’s important to recognise that the significant changes to working practise and contracts that will help us reach our target take time to implement and need to be made in line with legislation, particularly relating to contracts.  The targets set out in our environmental strategy are regularly monitored to ensure that we are taking every possible step to become a carbon neutral authority.

“Our climate change steering group meets regularly to review the council’s progress and identify policies and strategies that require amendment.  These meetings are open to the public and the group is keen to identify residents across Rother who can become climate champions for their communities and help implement initiatives locally.”

Image Credits: Kevin McCarthy .

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your story, Kevin. This astonishing criticism of RDC’s environmental credentials is all the more worrying given that it’s an insider pointing out the problems. In fact, Laura’s letter represents an indictment of the Council’s failure to do anything meaningful on climate — with nothing being done to measure or reduce carbon emissions, although the Council disputes this in its reply. It’s scandalous that action to remedy global heating, which is an existential threat to humans, is not being taken with the same speed to which we have reacted to the pandemic. It is especially concerning that Council contracts are apparently still being awarded to contractors whose work degrades the environment, according to Laura. Saying that, if central government had not drastically cut the amount of money available to local councils, we could perhaps be seeing more local action being taken to fight climate change.
    Another issue mentioned in Laura’s letter that is of serious concern to local people is that of development. Many residents in Playden and north Rye, including myself, have been fighting a four-year battle to save just one green space from inappropriate development. In recent months there has been much-criticised tree destruction in another part of Playden in association with a separate planning application, where some have suggested that development appears to be being sought for profit rather than for true need. Why, for example, should properties housing three or four residents require six or seven bedrooms? In my view, the government’s proposed changes to the planning regime will prove disastrous as they will lead to greedy developers and landowners proposing even more large houses in the south-east (with virtually no affordable housing), further concreting over of our green spaces and destruction of our biodiversity. What is urgently needed is a coherent demographic policy for the UK to stabilise its population numbers. I urge anyone who’s worried by the planning changes, which some argue will herald a ‘deregulated dark age of development’, to write to our MP, Sally-Ann Hart. The pursuit of profit is part and parcel of the capitalist system; however, this pursuit must not come at the expense of our environment, or increase global heating, as it’s doing right now. I firmly believe that we can enjoy a society with high standards of living while protecting our environment, if we demand the political will and if we make the effort to change our priorities. Laura should be praised for her courage in revealing her information, albeit in a resignation letter, and I wish her all the best for the future.

  2. Thank you for this important article.

    The Sussex Wildlife Trust CEO discusses how Nature is our economy with Prof Dasgupta –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni8CWoQLC70

    Ref: The Economics of Biodiversity – The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury and published Feb 2021 – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review

    “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Maya Angelou.

  3. Ms Coppins sounds like a protege of Domminic Cummings, achieving change is hard work, moaning from the outside will not improve things. I wish her well in her new ventures, but who will now progress change in the council in the future.

    • Neil, really not helpful or accurate at all to compare Laura to Dominic Cummings. She has done all of us a tremendous service by calling out the sham environmental policies and inaction of Rother Council. It is now up to us, including you, to approach your local council member to find out why more isn’t being done. Please let us know how your council member responds.

  4. Well said David. This is such a bombshell. Particularly those 2 examples of plastic dumping and glyophosate use.
    How do we deal with this revelation?

  5. What you need to know about electric car public charging networks There are more than 30 different charging networks across the UK. Ubitricity, BP Pulse and Pod Point are among the biggest. Having such a large number of separate networks creates perhaps the biggest drawback to electric car charging:  In the majority of cases, you can’t just park up and charge  Only a minority of charging points in the UK allow you to pay directly by credit or debit card. No companies accept cash Depending on the network, you’ll either need to download an app, go to a website or have a pre-registered RFID card Those that like to roam should prepare to have a phone full of apps and a glovebox of RID cards. To get a charge going, you’ll typically need to download a network specific app and follow the instructions to initiate and pay for the charge.  Alternatively, you may need (or can choose) to go to the network’s website to put in your details and start the charge.  Some networks also allow you to register an RFID card (Radio Frequency Identify Card) which will allow you to start a charge by tapping the card against a card reader (not a bank card reader) – but you’ll still need to manage an account online in connection with your RFID card. In most cases you’ll need a different app, website or RFID card for each different network.  Millions of drivers will soon be dependent on the UK’s charging infrastructure. We think that to make it work, a form of universal access needs to be established across all networks.

  6. Two articles in this weeks Rye News, certainly highlights the disregard and incompetence of Rother district council,time we divorced this unfaithful marriage,and looked at ways of managing our town ourselves, for the future of all, that has seen it slowly destroyed by those at Bexhill.

  7. As a former HR adviser to local authorities, I consider this public attack on her employer undignified and highly unprofessional. In my experience of too many years that I care to remember, there are usually two sides to cases such as this. I do not know the circumstances behind her resignation and as it is a confidential staffing matter Rother DC are quite right not to make those public or to comment.

  8. Back in 2019, the then chancellor, Philip Hammond, advised Theresa May that reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 could cost the UK more than £1tn. If that figure is correct, that requires an annual investment of about £34bn per year – a figure comparable to the annual defence budget, currently £31.5bn. Rother District area has about 1/700th of the UK population, so roughly £50m should be being spent annually here to tackle the climate emergency. To put this into context, Rother District Council’s budget for all its services last year was £21m.
    Sure, the £50m is a whole-of-economy cost, needing to come from the private sector as well as public spending, but I doubt very much that anything close to this figure is being committed here or anywhere else in the country. Given the extent of deliberate underfunding of public services by the Tories, is it reasonable or fair to expect this or any other local authority to do the brunt of what needs doing? Realistically, the best they can do is to see sustainability as a bolt-on to the core services they need to provide, when in fact systemic change is needed, as Laura points out.
    Again, just for context, a recent ITV investigation found that online giant Amazon, value $315bn, throws away millions of unsold stock every week – why are we not holding them and other multi-national corporations to account? Again, because that suits those in power, and let’s face it, much of the population too.
    Ultimately the change needed will only happen if Central Government passes the necessary legislation: to ban felling of ancient woodland; to ban use of poisonous pesticides and herbicides; to decarbonise public and private transport; to ban waste from being exported; to curtail the activities of the 100 companies who are responsible for 70% of all emissions. And to meaningfully fund tackling the biodiversity and climate emergency, including properly supporting local authorities such as RDC and ESCC to deliver on this. If that amounts to £50m a year for us in Rother, then make it happen.
    Sure, RDC needs to provide more than the holding reply by the spokesperson at the end of the article. But let’s also look at the bigger picture as to why the Council appears to be falling short of its ambitions.

  9. Hello Tim Rothwell,
    HR be dammed I applaud someone who has had the strength to stand up and be counted. Not hide behind bureaucracy.
    I am frequently wondering on RDC’s worthiness all around.

    • It’s damned, not dammed. Like me, I am guessing you know nothing about the background to this issue other than the statement from the ex-employee which like some others here you have unquestioningly accepted. Rother are wise to refrain from commenting. It is not bureaucracy. It is valuing the importance of the confidentiality of relations between employee and employer which is quite a different thing.

    • “HR ticked boxes take priority over the ruination of the planet!

      Whilst it pains me to say so, existing rules will need to be challenged and maybe laws will need to be broken, until heads are removed from the sand.”

      • Who exactly are you quoting? I can rarely get a post printed and yet here you are suggesting laws need to be broken.

  10. I am not at all surprised by the criticism of Rother District Council. Another example is the industrialisation of the River Rother West bank between Rye and Rye Harbour. No river bank should be built up so close to the waters edge. An environmental buffer zone should have been preserved along the bank before any development was allowed.
    It seems that the council is almost totally commerce driven and this extends now to parking in Rye Town. It has been said in the past that Tenterden’s loss is Rye’s gain. Every scrap of parking space in Rye town is now metered, so Tenterden’s reasonable parking reality could well be Rye’s loss. We are very lucky to live halfway between the two and Rye is a particularly lovely town but we have now to consider whether we want to support Rother Council’s cash-grab mentality. Rye Town deserves better than this callous commercial outlook.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here