Eco activists calling for a greener future for Wigan
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Local activists are giving their support to the national XR campaign No Going Back, which aims to ensure the end of the coronavirus pandemic does not immediately mean a return to large-scale use of fossil fuels with high levels of pollution.
However, the organisation is also currently facing a restructure of its own as its high-profile, attention-grabbing visual demonstrations which have forced climate change up the agenda are not possible in an era of social distancing.
XR Wigan says there is far more that both the council and companies in the borough could be doing to cut their carbon footprint.
And it countered suggestions that such conversations could wait until the current economic situation is over by suggesting that a pause in commercial activity, with workplaces shut and staff furloughed, is actually the perfect opportunity for long-term planning.
Wigan Council has responded by saying it has noticed the lockdown has led to lower levels of air pollution and will be consulting the public on how to maintain the environmental benefits of the current situation while also getting the borough back to work.
Neil Hancox from XR Wigan said: “We’re calling for this to be an opportunity for the stimulus that will be needed to regenerate the economy to be used in a positive way for zero-carbon, sustainable business.
“For Wigan this could mean investment in local businesses, insulation, fitting solar panels, replacing gas boilers with sustainable heating systems, creating good-quality jobs.
“The council has started doing things but we feel there’s a lot more that could be done to make its operations carbon-neutral.
“They should be committing to not buying any more polluting vehicles, with everything electric or at least hybrid, generating more energy through solar panels on the buildings and switching to renewable providers.
“We think businesses could do more too with the right mindset and a bit of creativity. We’d like to see them creating eco champions who are clued up on this to educate the workforce, even if it’s just around simple things like recycling.
“This is an ideal opportunity for a change in emphasis. People are quite enjoying having fewer cars on the streets and I think would welcome more traffic calming and reducing measures.”
XR Wigan activists, like all of the movement’s supporters, are considering how they will continue getting eco messages across to the public as it will probably be some time before large street demonstrations and protests are allowed again.
Mr Hancox says the group’s activities will probably be largely online for some time and should be positive in outlook, although the organisation did target the local branches of some large businesses linked to high levels of investment in fossil fuels with stickers urging the government not to bail them out without guarantees of greener policies going forward.
He also called on Wigan Council to revive discussions of a citizens’ assembly on climate change, which is one of XR’s three key demands.
The local authority said it was aware there have been a few environmental upsides to the current unprecedented lockdown and will be inviting residents to have their say on the future of the borough.
A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “As part of our recovery plans we’ll be considering how we can ensure some of the benefits of the current situation remain after the social distancing rules are lifted to improve the health and wellbeing of our residents and workforce.
“We’ve already seen recycling rates increase, physical activity levels improve and air pollution reduce. Over the next few weeks we’ll be asking residents what matters to them in the post-Covid-19 world to set our new priorities for the borough.”