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Leader’s Blog

13 October 2022

Cllr Sally Povolotsky, Cabinet member for Climate Emergency and Environment, has been representing Vale of White Horse as part of the UK:100 Climate Leadership Academy. I asked her about what it involves and how her involvement will support the Vale district and council to progress our work on climate action:

Climate Action – Guest post from Cllr Sally Povolotsky

This weekend I attended the Climate Leadership Academy, in Birmingham with a cohort of leaders and fellow cabinet members with an interest / responsibility for climate and the environment from across the UK. I applied to be a part of this academy to ensure the knowledge I have can be applied to the world of local government, to share best practice and advance the Vale of White Horses Climate Agenda through policy and place making. I was over the moon when we secured a place, on the first ever academy, and have so many notes already on ideas and programmes we can look at within the Vale, as well as formed some great contacts within a group of climate pioneers.

This weekend’s focus was on Net Zero, Clean Air, Working in Partnerships and Achieving our Goals, as well as our own Climate Action Plans being scored and focus on how we can all ‘do better’.

The next weekend is in November, in London,  where we will be looking at the future of mobility, energy and more!  I very much look forward to sitting down with our cabinet, members, officers and also CEAC and how we can shape and accelerate our visions and ambitions, which in this current environment is not easy.

One thing we all agreed on this weekend was that this government is not doing enough, we are going backwards, and as a further result, we are all delayed on rolling our programmes and policies as we have no government guidance (for example on Waste Strategy), and we cannot waste time or what little public funding we have on directions that may be cancelled by government. The Environment Bill needs to be this governments priority, especially in current times with energy and public health challenges as well as cost of living. These issues are all rooted in climate and environmental pressures, and as I mantra allot, Climate Justice is Social Justice. We need resilience in our services, from housing delivery to food production, whilst protecting our fragile earth and all it gives to us.

Our residents in the Vale of White Horse are strong advocates for change and our planet, and we, as elected members need to keep hammering home that message to central government. I am proud of what we have achieved so far but also excited for what we can achieve, and my ambition is to be No1 on the Climate Leaders Scorecard for our council and our residents, and the training and education from this course will help me shape the climate agenda on the ground.

Further information:

The Climate Leadership Academy, run by UK:100,  offers ambitious councillors a unique coaching opportunity to develop their political skills, knowledge and confidence, in order to become leading climate pioneers in local government. Participants will leave able to overcome the challenges in designing and delivering ambitious, local climate projects, to enable remarkable progress towards their organisation’s Net Zero goals. 

How does it work? The Climate Leadership Academy brings together a cohort of 20 councillors to attend tailored residential workshops and coaching from experts in the private, voluntary, and public sector. These will take place over three residential weekends between September – November 2022.  The course has been shaped and informed by an advisory board of local politicians who are well established climate pioneers within local government. 

11 April 2022

Food and Farming – Guest post from Cllr Bethia Thomas

I live in Faringdon. It is a market town, but very much a rural one, and one that is surrounded by farms. Farming is part of life here and I don’t think a day goes by where I am not reminded of that.

Tractors go past my house morning, noon and night; I walk into the countryside and I am on grazing pasture; I pick my milk and eggs up from the local farm shop. For generations farmers and farming have been part of our local community and I like to do as much as I can to support farmers in and around Faringdon and the Vale.

For many years I have supported our farms through our markets and food shops confident that they are champions of sustainability and best practice in local food production. I know Lydia and Richard from Pennyhooks Farm who produce organic beef and recently featured on the BBC’s We are England, Jane from Dews Meadow with what I think must be the best bacon in the county, and Tim whose trout farm gives us good day out fishing as well as freshly caught dinner.

But it is not all about meat. I also know Helen, with her award-winning range of rape seed oils, the wonderful pick your own at Q Gardens and Millets, and my mate Tony with his organically grown veg and honesty box. Ollie of Smart Greens, kept Faringdon going throughout the first lockdown with his veg boxes that were expanded to include cheese, eggs and flour when it was so scarce we would have done anything to get a few extra treats.

I have to admit at this point that I am quite the foodie, and as such embrace all aspects of food production wanting true sustainability throughout the lifecycle of the food that we eat – production, but also distribution and disposal – and have recently become a vocal advocate for our network of Community Larders enabled by organisations such as SOFEA, and run by town and parish councils and a network of volunteers.

I am a complete convert and use our local larder like many others do, to top up my weekly shop, but also with the idea in mind that by taking the ugly veg or the overstocked items from supermarkets I am reducing the amount of waste food going to landfill – and to be honest, get that little ready steady cook moment each week as the doors open.

Recently Oxfordshire County Council passed a motion about food. It caused a lot of controversy and led many to think that councils were turning their back on our local farming community. I honestly believe that this was not the intention of the council, but I have been left wondering what more we can do to support our local farms and sustainability in food production and distribution.

As a district council we don’t have the opportunity to serve many meals, and have no real influence over school meals, but I think there are many good ways we can still get involved and promote the best of food and farming in the Vale in accordance with guidance from the National Food Strategy and the Oxfordshire wide food strategy led by Good Food Oxford.

Cllr Bethia Thomas at Faringdon community larder

As a district council we have significant influence in planning policy, environmental health, and business development all of which can be tailored towards helping support farming and food businesses within the Vale. By promoting local sustainable farming as councillors, we are helping to make a positive impact on our rural economy, and by supporting food redistribution through local community larders, we are reducing our impact on the planet.

We know that farmers are facing a tough time at the moment. The high cost of production, and the continuing uncertainty around trade deals after Brexit have left them in a vulnerable position. In addition to this, we will all be facing a massive increase in the cost of living this year and we should be doing as much as we can to ensure we encourage a positive attitude towards healthy eating, reducing food poverty in our communities and decreasing food waste throughout the district.

I feel there is a role for a food and farming champion here in the district, pledging to support our farming communities, listening and learning from them, to promote innovation in food production and distribution, and to encourage us all to take a second look at what makes it onto our fork.

By promoting what is local and sustainable in the Vale we will be playing our part in supporting all our communities be they rural or more urban, and creating a healthy attitude towards food and farming.

9 June 2021

Oxfordshire Growth Board – a reflection over the past year

Today I cease to be chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

Below is I what i said at the Growth Board meeting before proposing Cllr Mead from West Oxfordshire steps into the role of chair: 

As is customary, the chair of the Growth Board rotates around our constituent councils each year. Having had a year in the hot seat I will be stepping down today and passing on the baton to one of my colleagues. I thank all members of this board – local authority and others – for their input and support over the past year. 

It’s been a challenging year, but I am really pleased with how the Growth Board members have worked together on Oxfordshire wide agendas – such as the response to Covid, the potential threats and opportunities the Arc may bring, and advancing the climate agenda. It’s really exciting that our new Environment Subgroup will start to meet from next month and that work to support the establishment of a Local Nature Partnership is progressing at speed.  

There has definitely been a gear change over the past two years since the Growth Board Review towards a more open approach to engaging with the public and helping people to understand what this board does and doesn’t do. More work on this is still required, but there is one outstanding action from the review that feels like unfinished business for me…and that is the name ‘Growth Board’.  

This is a partnership, technically we are a Joint Committee. Using the word ‘board’ implies decision making – of which we do very little, as most of what we discuss is decided by constituent councils. It is important to be transparent about where decisions are being made so that those decisions can be properly scrutinised.  

And the word ‘growth’ seems to suggest we are all about concreting over the county. This is misleading and doesn’t reflect the huge range of issues we discuss together for the benefit of local people – from community led housing to skills, from public transport to health.  

The most common request I have had over the year from stakeholders it that we change our name to better reflect what we actually do. I think this is vital in relation to public engagement. I would like us to switch to use one of the alternative names suggested during the review as soon as possible and hope that the new Chair and other leaders will support me in this.  

When I took over as Chair it was our first ever virtual meeting, and to be honest it was a bit nerve wracking as we learnt how to operate in a new way. I want to say a huge thank you to all the Growth Board officers who manage Growth Board activities and ensure that these meetings go smoothly – both in terms of technology and support for the Chair. Today marks another change in how the meeting is being run, and perhaps we will move back to fully in person meetings soon – but I am certain the next chair will be in very safe hands.”

At the same meeting I was confirmed as the Chair of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 Sub-Group, and I am really excited about getting more involved in the detail of our Spatial Plan for Oxfordshire.

Guest Blog – by Cllr Bethia Thomas

In memory of Roger Cox

Like many of my colleagues I was saddened by the news this weekend of the sudden passing of Roger Cox, former Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council and Ward Councillor for Faringdon.

I had known Roger for many years, he was integral into my introduction into local politics and despite differences in political affiliation, he was a significant figure and role model for my life as a councillor, serving the community and residents of my ward with diligence and commitment.

I first encountered Roger at Faringdon Town Council. It was the first time I had ever attended a meeting of the council, covering it for the local paper. I was bowled away by the spectacle of Roger and the late Labour Councillor Alan Hickmore going to head to head across what would have been the dispatch box should we have been in Westminster. It was a greater drama than anyone would have expected from a sleepy town council meeting, and reflective of the passion he held for the office and process even at that level.

My next encounter with Roger was in a very different setting. Before becoming a councillor myself, I had worked for the council as part of the Faringdon’s Town Team, and as such he became my “boss”. My first interview with him was nerve racking, and while I did get the job, I was dreading having to work with him after the grilling he gave me. I soon released however that the interview had been a test, and I believe I had passed it. I soon felt that as I got to know Roger, he was rather like me in a lot of ways – while I am pretty confident in saying that he was not the type of person suffer fools gladly, if you were on his team he had your back and wouldn’t let you down. Over the years I was incredibly grateful for that support.

Time passed and I became more interested in local politics and was co-opted onto Faringdon Town Council in 2018. I had been thinking of going further with this and when I heard that Roger was retiring and would not stand again for re-election, I decided to stand myself. Although I wanted a change for Faringdon, I held the utmost respect for Roger, and I doubt very much whether I would have ever been able to stand against him in an election.

Throughout the period of the campaign even though we would have been political rivals, he gave me advice along the way. I remember at a public reception once that he told me off for turning up with a town council lanyard around my neck. “Why are you wearing that?” he admonished. I explained that the last time I had been to something similar I had been mistaken for the tea lady. He instructed me to take it off, and instead, gave me tips about owning the room, and carrying myself in such a way that I would never again be mistaken for tea lady.

After his retirement, I had seen him on an almost daily basis each morning as he took his granddaughter to the local school around the corner. He was always accompanied by his wife Jess, and we always stopped to pass the time of day, he would ask after affairs at council and he would always do so with a glint in his eye that I will never forget. I was very happy to see him only a few weeks ago after a long period of absence during lockdown, and was glad to be able to have chat and catch up like we always had done.

I will always hold very fond memories of Roger, and I would like to join councillors and officers alike in sending my sincere condolences to Roger’s family. He was a true gentleman, committed councillor and he gave so much to our community. In doing so, he inspired a loyalty that spanned the political divide, and will be sorely missed by all who knew him in Faringdon.

Covid Vaccination: Jab #1

8 March – Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:
I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from my GP inviting me for a Covid vaccination. I qualify for priority group 6 because of a health condition but the text came sooner than expected. 

Huge thanks to the staff and volunteers at Kennington Health Centre. The process was quick, almost pain free, and very well organised. I felt incredibly safe and had a lovely chat with the volunteer stewards while I waited for 15mins after my jab. I had a bit of a sore arm the next day, but no other side effects. 

Council officers are working incredibly hard behind the scenes to help our local Primary Care Networks organise and run the vaccination roll out across the Vale of White Horse and it was wonderful to be able to see the output from all their efforts over the past few months. 

Take up of the vaccination in our area has been very high, but there are still some people in the top four priority groups who haven’t gone to get their first jab yet. If you are one of those people, you may get a call from a council officer about how we can help you arrange your jab as soon as possible. 

Please do go and get the vaccine when you are called up. You will be helping to protect yourself and those around you safe. 

Of course, the vaccination programme is only one piece in the ‘roadmap puzzle’ so we all need to keep following the distancing guidelines. I am very conscious that while the vaccine protects me from serious illness, it doesn’t stop me from catching covid completely or from passing it to others. We all have a long way to go before the restrictions can be relaxed, but there is finally a plan to guide us through the coming months. 

photo Cllr Emily Smith after her covid vaccination
Cllr Emily Smith after her Covid vaccination

Calling for clarity on the May elections

11 January 2021 – Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes: I have written a letter to has written to the he Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick MP Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government asking for clarity about the proposed elections in May and whether they will go ahead or not.

Community action to tackle the climate emergency

7 December – Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes: At the end of National Tree Week, I took my son along to plant a range of native trees in Botley. North Hinksey Parish Council organised this brilliant community activity which brought people of all ages from around the parish together. 

Photo of Councillor Emily Smith leader of Vale District Council planting trees with her son
Above: Photo of Cllr Emily Smith planting trees with her son

The Vale is keen to increase tree cover and biodiversity across the district, but we can’t do it alone. Our new Corporate Plan includes three programmes under our Tackling the Climate Emergency Theme, including one on ‘encouraging the wider district community to reduce its carbon footprint’. Community events like this one in Botley are just the sort of thing we had in mind and it is great to see local people getting involved. 

It was a beautiful day, I learnt a lot about trees and my eight-year-old “had even more fun that he was expecting!” We are looking forward to seeing these trees grow. 

Guest blog

18 November – Cllr Emily Smith writes: I am passionate about encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved in local politics. The decisions we make are better when the councillors making policy reflect the district we represent.   

I asked Cabinet Member Bethia Thomas (pictured above) about how she ended up being elected a District Councillor last year and how she is finding it:

The last couple of weeks have seen the October half term holidays leading straight into a national lockdown. Even without lock down, this time of year can be challenging for a number of reasons, the weather is never that good and everyone is cooped up together, but for me it also marks a significant point in my life, reminding me of the time when I was suddenly and unexpectedly made a single parent – last week made it eight years.

Back then I was a very different person. I had two very small children to look after, I had no job, my confidence was very low, and with no family around to support me, the idea of getting back into the job market terrified me – how was I going to cope?

Fortunately a friend of mine was running a course at the time which was designed to help women who had stepped out of the job market to start a family regain their professional confidence and identify what really interested them, what they were good at, and what would allow them to juggle some sort of work life balance.

I am not sure if I was really ready for it at the time, but I signed up anyway, and soon realised that my underlying passion was for the community around me – without family nearby, my local community became the next best thing and I wanted to do my bit to support them as much as they had supported me. I also realised that I wanted to help people like me as much I could – not that I knew how I could ever be an advocate for single parents, but that I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Several years went by and I managed to cobble together something that resembled a career. I started writing for the local paper and got to know more about my community because of it. I realised how many wonderful people there were doing the things they were passionate about, and that passion rubbed off on me too.

I also started to work for the town, in a role promoting the town centre in a joint initiative to increase foot fall and support local business. I worked my socks off for that, but through it all, I knew that my main priority was my children, and that they came first, so I never felt able to push my career any further, there were just not enough hours in the day when they were younger.

Last year though, I did have an opportunity to do something I thought I would be good at. With my children’s okay, I stood for council in the district elections. At the time I didn’t know that I would win, but knew if I did, I could make a real change, and bring a different perspective to the role. With the remarkable shift in local politics that we saw locally, not only did I win my ward, but I soon decided that I ought to stand for cabinet – with my local business experience I though I might be able to offer something more.

Within a few months, I had gone from a resident to district councillor and cabinet member– it was a whirlwind, but a step that I am so happy to have taken. Finally, I could achieve my goals, representing and supporting my community and speaking up for people like me. My proudest moment came earlier this year when I spoke to council about the decision to give single parents with children under five a one hundred percent council tax reduction – after all I too had been one of those parents, and think that this decision showed our support for the most vulnerable residents in our area.

In a time where so many people are suffering because of the pandemic, I would like to think I bring a different perspective to the council, broadening our vision, and representing a sector that may not be usual in these settings. I can’t say for certain, but I have a strong suspicion that I may be the only cabinet member who claims tax credits alongside the single person’s council tax reduction, and I am proud of that – it makes me who I am, it allows me to recognise and speak up for others in my situation, and it brings real change.

Remembrance Day

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes – 9 November:

The Remembrance Day service at the Commonwealth War Graves in Botley usually attracts 600+ people, young and old, and from all over the world. This year’s event was a little different as just 30 of us marked the occasion and paid our respects to those who lost their lives during international conflicts.  

I was pleased to be able to lay a wreath here on behalf of the council and our district alongside members of the armed forces from Britain, Europe, and the Commonwealth as well as local leaders such as the Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford, Altaf Khan (pictured below)

We will remember them.

What’s wrong with the Planning for the Future White paper?

Guest blog by Cllr Debby Hallet:

We all agree — the country needs more houses that people can afford.

Government thinks that the solution is to build more houses faster. They think the main impediment to this is the slow speed of the current planning system. So they are proposing changes to take away some of the local decision making.

One of their previous ideas was to allow disused office space to be turned into housing without need for planning permission. That led to greedy developers across the country producing tiny box-like flats where people are crammed into spaces with no windows. Govt recently changed its mind and now requires habitable space to have natural light.

The planning system adds value; it makes spaces liveable for human beings.

Let’s look at the problem in a systematic way. In any system, when you don’t get the outcome you expect, you can assess three things:

  1. Make sure you are doing things right. Govt says local planning authorities aren’t giving permissions fast enough. This assumes faster movement through the planning system will bring more houses that people can afford.
  2. Make sure you are doing the right things. Govt says there should be more schemes allowed under permitted development, assuming that if developers have a free hand in what they build, unencumbered by the local planning authorities’ processes, there will be more houses that people can afford.
  3. How do we decide what is right? Make sure you are aiming at the right thing. Govt thinks that developers are the answer to the problem of not enough houses that people can afford.

I think Govt is aiming at the wrong target.

Developers are in the business of making as much profit as possible though the houses they sell. That’s OK; it’s what they do.

  • Our objective in Vale is to provide more houses that people can afford. We have a policy that requires a percentage of each major development to be ‘affordable’. (The Govt definition of ‘affordable’ is a house available at 80% or less of market price. In Vale, that still isn’t affordable to a person on a median income, so even the best intentioned policy is ineffective. Today we must think in terms of ‘houses that people can afford’.) But developers claim the policy lessens their profits. They’re right; it does.
  • So developers sit on permitted plans, because they know land values and therefore house prices will continue to rise, and they will build their houses when the profits are high.

I’m not distracted by the harm that is forecast to come from the various proposals in Govt’s Planning for the Future. (But there is a lot of harm.) I’m focussed on how the overall proposed solution doesn’t solve the problem.

Government thinks that the reason we don’t have enough affordable houses is that developers don’t get planning permission fast enough to build the number of houses we need for prices to come down to an affordable level.

However, I think that expecting profit-hungry developers to solve our problem of a shortage of affordable housing on ever increasing land value is doomed to fail because it’s the wrong solution.  

It’s the wrong solution. It makes no sense to say that the way to provide more houses that people can afford is to rely on for-profit developers to provide them for us.

Pride month

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

As Pride month draws to a close we look back to last year when Vale members celebrated diversity and humanity at the first ever Abingdon Pride. It was such a positive community event and we look forward to taking part in Pride events next year.

The Post-Covid Renewal   

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

Before Covid-19, Vale councillors had nearly finished our new Corporate Plan, setting out the council’s priorities for the coming four years. After nine weeks of lockdown the world is looking quite different and the work of the council has been transformed.

The government has tasked the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership with producing an economic ‘Recovery Plan’ for the county. With high unemployment predicted it is essential that our local businesses get all the support they need, but we should not stop at the local economy; we have a once in a generation opportunity to do all sorts of things better.

While this has been a challenging time for many, especially those who have been ill or lost loved ones, it has been fascinating to see lockdown has highlighted what is important. We have all made adjustments, and many of them positive for community, public health, and the planet.

We have been spending more time with family, working from home, cycling and walking more, buying local produce, breathing cleaner air, having more contact with wildlife, buying fewer clothes and toys, supporting our neighbours, housing our rough sleepers, fixing and reusing things, using technology to connect more with others… I do not want to lose these positives, and I believe there is public appetite for a fresh approach – where health and well-being are valued more that GDP.

So, Vale councillors are working on our own ‘Recovery Plan’. A plan in lieu of a Corporate Plan during this post-Covid period as we establish what the new normal is. A plan with our core values of community engagement, climate action and supporting the most vulnerable at its heart. A plan setting out how the council will do things differently.

I am not keen on the term ‘Recovery Plan’ as it implies going back to how things were before. Even if we were able to return to business as usual, I do not think we should.

Daily exercise during lockdown

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

With the lock down continuing I have started a thread of pictures on twitter of where people are taking their daily exercise all around the Vale. Please do add to it.

International Women’s Day: Some positive reflections, some work still to do…

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect and remind ourselves to keep working for gender equality.  

Some of Vale’s female councillors

Across the UK the gender pay gap among full-time employees stands at 8.9% and has only improved by 0.6% since 2012. The number of women elected as councillors in England is still only 35%. So, I am proud to lead a council which is bucking the trend: Vale of White Horse District Council does not have a gender pay gap at all! (see the data at

It is also fantastic that Vale residents have elected 38 councillors who are 47% women AND 78% of our cabinet are women.

This is important because a councillor’s job is literally representing our residents. We make better decisions when we understand all their implications and consider the views of every section of our community.

Since getting involved in politics, I have been surrounded by brilliant women politicians who have shown me how to get involved and encouraged me to stand for election. But now as council leader I have more contact with other councils and national government where gender (and other forms of) inequality is more clearly apparent.

While it is depressing to be in so many regional meetings where men dominate, it does spur me on to speak up and volunteer for additional responsibilities: If I can use my position to show others that women in political leadership roles is ‘normal’ I hope the women around me feel more confident about getting involved themselves. I see encouraging individuals, of all under-represented groups but especially women, is part of my job.

For anyone thinking of being a local councillor do check out the information and advice from the Local Government Association.

Climate Action in Botley

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

Our Climate Emergency Advisory Committee Chair, Cllr David Grant, and I had a brilliant time at the Big Botley Green day this weekend.

The aim was to share information about the grassroots community action to improve our environment, get members of the public involved and build connections.

A series of short talks included one from David and I about the Vale’s work so far to address the climate emergency and a panel session to generate ideas for local community action.

It was great to have members of the Vale’s environmental enforcement and waste and recycling teams (above photo) there to speak to residents about all things waste and recycling. They had a stall alongside Cyclox, Oxford Food bank, Cosy Homes, Extinction Rebellion, Oxford Badger Group, OxAir and so many more.

Other attractions included a plant swap, bring and take, Morris dancing, air quality monitoring, vegetarian food available, mass litter picking session, face painting, cake…all sorts happening over two halls in West Way. 

It really was an inspiring day; so much will to act. So much already happening in Botley and beyond. And so much more we can do locally to improve our environment and tackle the climate emergency.

Thanks to North Hinksey Parish Council and the Associate of Botley Communities for getting this event of the ground – David and I are already looking forward to the next one.

Grove station 

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

At a recent Growth Board meeting I heard a presentation from Network Rail, the County Council and the Department for Transport on the Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Strategy.  This set out priorities for rail investment over the coming years to support housing and employment growth across the county.

I’m really pleased to see that that this includes plans for the new Grove station but concerned that this isn’t planned to happen until 2024, given that one of the most common complaints I and my fellow councillors receive is about transport infrastructure not keeping pace with house building.

I firmly believe that a new station will help traffic congestion around Didcot as people commuting by train often drive to Didcot and park there. A new station will also improve air quality and contribute to our desperate need to tackle the climate emergency, a subject I care deeply about.

Given the potential for additional housing and developer contributions from housing already coming in Grove, which could contribute to the £20 million bill, I would really like to see this happen sooner.  I am very keen to work with local and national partners, including local businesses, to identify funding and bring the Grove station forward as soon as possible.

Climate Change 

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, Cllr Emily Smith writes:

The new year is a great opportunity to make plans for the future – and this is the year I really hope we can take some meaningful actions in tackling the significant challenges presented by climate change

I’m really pleased that the Vale declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, and even more so that we then went on to set up the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee. In December we agreed new Carbon reduction targets; for the Council itself to become carbon neutral by 2030 and for the district as a whole to be carbon neutral by 2045.

Last year, many young people from the Vale took part in campaigns like the Youth Climate Strikes in Oxfords. Thanks to them and millions of others, the climate crisis really rose up the political agenda.

The increased awareness of our impact on the climate was evident to me over the Christmas period. I, and so many people around me, were talking about buying fewer gifts, using wrapping paper that can be recycled, and reducing the amount of meat consumed.

Then came the talk of New Year’s resolutions… my resolutions rarely last until the end of January, but when it comes to the climate, we cannot let that happen.

National planning policy currently prevents us from insisting on carbon neutral buildings and other standards we would like to have in our local plan and Neighbourhood plans. We need the government to allow us the freedom to insist on ‘greener’ building standards. To that end, we have responded to the government’s ‘Future Homes’ consultation making the case for tougher building regulations and for local councils to have more powers to insist on higher environmental standards than national legislation allows.

We ‘the council’ can take action to make our buildings more energy efficient, we can review our planning policies and we can take account of the environmental impact of all the decisions we take. But we cannot reach our goal to be a carbon neutral district alone.

There is a huge amount of will across our communities and amongst elected councillors to tackle the climate. The next step for the Vale is to work out how to have the greatest impact and communicate about initiatives that everyone living and working in the Vale can help with.

2019 was the year of awareness raising, 2020 needs to be the year we all take action.