Wigan green activists demand council does more on climate change

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Wigan held vigils in the town centre to mark a year since the declaration of a climate emergency.
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Protestors gathered outside the town hall and in Market Place to mark the anniversary and call on the council to take faster and more far-reaching green actions.

Wigan Council insists it is bringing forward an ambitious slate of proposals to make the borough a more environmentally-friendly place.

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But XR Wigan says the local authority’s words in the last 12 months have not yet been backed up and are calling for urgent measures such as pressuring the Greater Manchester Pension Fund into divesting from fossil fuels.

XR Wigan activists hold a vigil outside the town hallXR Wigan activists hold a vigil outside the town hall
XR Wigan activists hold a vigil outside the town hall

Neil Hancox, from XR Wigan, said: “The climate emergency needs action, not just talk. When you look at what the council says on climate change it all seems very thin on real actions.

“We want to see that the council has a real understanding of the emergency, with things like a commitment not to buying ny more petrol vehicles or at least making sure they are hybrids.

“Greater Manchester is being very laggardly on divestment from fossil fuels. Environmentalists are calling on councils to at least pressure the pension fund into getting out of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

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"We just need to see more action. What we’re promised at the moment is talk and a conference.”

Action in the year since the climate emergency was declared has been slowed somewhat by the need for a widespread local authority response to the Covid-19 pandemic, something acknowledged by both the town hall and the green activists.

However, Mr Hancox said the environmental situation was equally urgent.

XR Wigan members taking part in the vigils had to maintain social distancing and also wore masks.

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XR’s three demands are for the authorities to tell the truth about the scale of the climate change problem, to set up citizens’ assemblies and for the UK to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

Mr Hancox said he believed putting the borough's future to Wigan's people would reveal support for ambitious green thinking.

He said: "A citizens' assembly would mean you wouldn't have to-ing and fro-ing over what the people of Wigan and Leigh want to see done. I suspect that given what has been said in a few opinion polls there's an appetite for more radical action than our local politician give people credit for."

Wigan Council said it is pressing on with its green policies and the current situation had highlighted some of the advantages of living in a more environmentally-friendly manner.

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Paul Barton, director for environment at the town hall, said: “Despite Covid-19 forcing us to postpone our Climate Change Conference in June, the next year will see the council accelerating ahead to add to the progress we have made.

“Not only are we are set to reveal our new environmental campaign later this year, but an ambitious climate strategy will be unveiled and a virtual eco-schools conference will be launched which will ensure we keep young people engaged and a central voice in helping to shape the future.

“The last 18 months has already seen the council pledge to plant one million trees, multi-million pound investments in the walking and cycling network, expanding our renewable energy network, the introduction of a new ultra-low emission big wagon fleet and announce a £250k annual climate change fund.

“The pandemic has identified how beneficial a more sustainable way of living can be for us all and Wigan Council remains as committed as ever to making sure the borough becomes a cleaner, greener and safer place.”