Three separate notices without motion were discussed, about what would be included in a report that goes to the next executive meeting and an attempt to discuss declaring a climate emergency on the day was ruled invalid as it had already been discussed in the last six months.
The outgoing chairman of the council accused and then withdrew comments made towards a councillor of orchestrating Extinction Rebellion campaigners in the public gallery and a councillor was jeered for admitting she didn’t know enough about climate change.
A Green party councillor was accused of being a hypocrite for in the past opposing plans for a renewable energy battery storage facility on the grounds it would impact on bat populations, before hitting back and saying she was not a hypocrite.
A councillor admitted they were told before the meeting that the report was coming to the executive anyway, and senior council officers said that everything that was discussed was already going to be in the report
All of this happened prior to item one on the agenda of the annual council meeting being discussed, while the council officially had no leader, and with 15 of the 31 councillors having been elected for the first time.
Campaigner Ella Dangerfield started the meeting by handing in a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for the council to declare a climate emergency at the start of Thursday’s full council meeting.
She said: “The recent climate action and youth strikes have said it loud and clear that what is being done is not enough to secure the future of our children and our planet. As a mother of two small children, I am deeply humbled by the youth strikes and there is a greater recognition of the need for urgent action.
“Parliament declared a national climate emergency. Teignbridge, Devon, Plymouth, and Totnes have all declared climate emergencies in their area, but a there is a gaping hole where the South Hams is. I urge you for your children and their children to take action, declare a climate emergency and improve the wellbeing of the people of the South Hams.”
Cllr Jacqi Hodgson had called for the council to discuss on the day as a motion without notice whether they would declare a climate emergency, but it was ruled ineligible on the grounds that it had been discussed in the last six months. In December, councillors rejected her motion to declare a climate emergency.
Cllr John Birch then proposed another notice without motion to change the order of business on the agenda out of respect to the packed public gallery of Extinction Rebellion campaigners. He said: “I want this up the agenda as the good people have come to the meeting and they have presented the petition and they should hear what we have to say about it earlier rather than later.”
Any urgent business, including a response to the petition, would have been item 19 on the agenda, with Cllr Birch saying: “My request to change the order of the agenda is in respect to the people as otherwise they will have to listen to lots of boring business about the council’s appointment to committees system.”
Councillors agreed by 17 to 14 to change the order of the agenda and discuss the response at the start of the meeting, with Cllr Birch then submitting his ‘non contentious motion’.
He said: “There is a need for emergency action in respect of the climate emergency. In the last couple of days, this council has received an email from Teignbridge District Council which says they want to work with the South Hams on the action necessary to be carbon neutral by 2025 and calling for us to join them by declaring an emergency.
“We have received an invitation from a neighbouring district council on this important issue. All I asking for is for the emergency declaration and the working with Teignbridge to be put to the next executive meeting on June 6 to be considered, and I understand a report on that day to deal with climate change is already coming forward.”
But Cllr Judy Pearce amended the motion, replacing Teignbridge with Devon County Council, saying it was far more relevant to work with them.
Cllr Nicky Hopwood added: “It is unrealistic to think it can be sorted out by 2025 and no matter how hard we work and it will have implications on officer and budgets. Realistically if we said to change as the amendment to Devon County, we will be somewhere between the two. Carbon neutral by 2025 is unrealistic, 2050 is too far in the future. Somewhere in between the two periods is realistic.”
Cllr Birch though said he was just asking the request from Teignbridge to be referred to executive and not for them to necessarily agree to it. He added: “The amendment kills off what comes from Teignbridge. It is incredibly ignorant as they have come to us to ask for help. If you want to tear it to shreds, do it then, not here. I am just asking the executive to consider what Teignbridge has said, not decide on anything, and it is the height of rudeness to cut off at the knees the proposal from Teignbridge.”
Councillors had voted by 16 votes to 15 for Cllr Pearce’s amendment, only for Cllr Joanna Sweett to propose a third amendment, calling for co-operation and the adoption of both Devon County Council, with a 2050 carbon neutral date, and Teignbridge District Council, with a 2025 date, to be referred to the executive. She said: “We should work with both of the councils and it ridiculous to be choosing between the two.”
Cllr Guy Pannell, who seconded the motion, said that the rationale to include Teignbridge and not parish councils as well was that they have made an approach to South Hams so it was only courteous to include them. He added: “If 2025 if too close and 2050 too far away then we can find somewhere in the middle.”
Cllr Matthew Chown, who was the only Conservative to vote against Cllr Pearce’s proposal, added: “It is commendable that Teignbridge have been so ambitious so this council should consider what they have to say.”
In the end, 17 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Sweett’s motion, with seven against and seven abstentions.
A report, that was due to come to the June 6 executive meeting regardless, will now have to consider both Devon and Teignbridge’s agreed position and target carbon neutral dates and how to co-operate with them.
The executive will then consider the report that officers bring forward and bring a recommendation back to the next full council meeting, which is currently scheduled for September 26.