Wards from Brent Mutual Aid put forward questions to Cllr. Krupa Sheth, Lead Member of Environment at Brent Council, asking her a range of questions on how Brent is tackling climate change from businesses, households, schools and various areas in our community.
What are the key priorities to tackle climate change in Brent? We have just published our draft Climate Emergency Strategy, which proposed five main priorities: consumption, resources & waste, transport, homes and buildings, nature & green spaces, and supporting communities. You can read more about the strategy and comment on it at www.brent. gov.uk/climateemergency
How can we partner as a community to make our climate initiatives inclusive? I’m really grateful to the 50 members of the Brent Climate Assembly for their thoughtful recommendations, which all fed into the draft strategy. The Assembly was such a helpful process to go through, as we got to hear from residents representing the diversity of our borough. As they learnt more about the scale of the challenge, Assembly members stressed that tackling the climate emergency is everyone’s responsibility and we must work together. Under the final theme, Supporting Communities, we’re actually going to be setting up a Brent Environmental Network for residents, businesses, schools and community groups so that we can work together to tackle this emergency, share information and resources.
Might there be opportunities to divert funds from BBOC, which were not utilised due to the pandemic, for environmental schemes? The London Borough of Culture programme adapted to take account of the COVID-19 restrictions. The funds were redirected towards things like the Brent Biennial and the popular VENT podcasts, which was a collaboration between Vice and young people in the borough. VENT did have a couple of episodes on environmental issues though, so do check it out!
ECO Champions: Could volunteers be trained so they can go into the communities and teach people how to reduce their carbon footprint? Thank you for the suggestion, that is definitely something we could explore as part of a new environmental network we’re looking to create. As part of the ‘community’ theme, we do want to look to create more training opportunities for residents and businesses.
Now people use public transport less, how can we reduce emissions without incurring extra costs? We are committed to working with Transport for London to boost cycling and walking infrastructure.
When can we have safe cycle paths to ride all over Brent? We’ve been busy installing lots of new cycle parking over the past year and we got rid of an old byelaw to allow cycling through Brent’s parks.
Can we encourage cycling e.g. safer cycling routes etc? As part of our Active Travel programme, we recently introduced a temporary cycle lane on Harrow Road. If you support new active travel measures like the Harrow Road cycle lane, I would really encourage you to tell us so via the open consultation. Your feedback will factor into the decision as to whether or not to make the change permanent after the six-month trial.
How can we stop cars idling at school drop offs/pick-ups? I’m really passionate about this too. Air pollution is a serious health problem for children all around London and it’s something we need to tackle in Brent. Last year, we commissioned air quality audits at two thirds of Brent’s primary schools, which was really helpful because it allowed us to collect data about the problem and raise awareness about some of the solutions among teachers and pupils. We’ve also got an ongoing anti-idling campaign, which is focused on educating motorists about the dangers of idling through action days around schools.
How to incentivise more people to walk/ cycle to school & work? As of September 2020, we have introduced over 30 ‘School Streets’, which bans cars and other vehicles from the roads around schools at pick-up and drop-off times. Brent actually comes third in London for the most School Streets. The idea is that it incentivises parents and kids to walk or bike to school, and it also helps make the roads around the school safer with less traffic and less air pollution.
Subsidise and/or incentivise electric car ownership? The first part of incentivising people to switch to electric cars is getting the infrastructure in place.
Can we have more information on electric car charging scheme? We’ve installed 115 charging points for e-vehicles across the borough and we have more in the pipeline for the next year. We know that this information hasn’t always been readily available on our website so will be working to improve this and provide clear links for people to find their nearest charger.
Could Brent pilot a one car max per household scheme? We’re also using parking permits to crack down on the most polluting vehicles and encourage motorists to switch to greener forms of transport. We’ve re-banded our parking permits and introduced a £50 annual diesel surcharge which will be going up to £75 and then £100. Since introducing these measures, we’ve seen a 16% drop in the most polluting cars. At a local level we’re not able to tell people how many cars they can or cannot have, but what we can do is make walking and cycling easier and safer to do in Brent to encourage more people to make healthier choices!
What happens to our recycled rubbish in Brent? This is a great question! I felt very lucky to go on a tour of Veolia’s recycling facility at Southwark a couple of years ago. In normal times, they open it up to the public for London’s Open House weekend – it’s well worth doing if you can as they show you how they separate materials using all sorts of clever machinery.
How is it recycled? Basically, after the recycling is collected from your house it is taken to this Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Southwark. The materials are separated into plastics, different types of metals, paper, and so on. After that, the separated materials are sent to different companies to create new products. Your food and garden waste goes through a different recycling process in a site at Harefield. It’s shredded and put in a controlled environment to break down. Eventually, it breaks down enough that it can be sold on as compost.
Can we have workshops for recycling ideas? I think workshops are a great idea. West London Waste often runs repair workshops for things like clothes and bikes. It’s something we can consider doing as part of the new Brent Environmental Network.
What can residents do to increase recycling? The best thing all of us can do is to encourage the people around us – friends and family – to recycle. That sort of thing can create a ripple effect. It might be having a chat about how easy it is, or gently reminding them when you see them about to put a milk carton in the wrong bin.
How can we encourage use of green bins? We did a big campaign earlier this year around food waste recycling but lots of people still chuck food scraps in their grey bin rather than the green caddy. It’s really a really easy step to take but it makes a big difference. Please click on the following link for further information for households using bins in Brent www.brent.gov.uk/services- for-residents/recycling-and-waste/ household-recycling/from-a-house-or- converted-flat/blue-top-recycling-bin/
Could we reward companies who use bikes as opposed to cars to do their delivery? Another good question! We would really like to do more to support businesses to transition to cargo bikes and other more sustainable means of transport if they can.
How can we encourage local shops to reduce carbon footprint? We recently submitted a bid for DEFRA funding with the Cross River Partnership to do some work in this area. Austerity and the pandemic has stretched the council’s finances, so we do need to make sure new initiatives are sustainable for us financially. Working with communities to bid for funding is one thing we’re keen to do with members of the new Brent Environmental Network once it’s up and running.
Can supermarkets give us a choice of buying items without packaging? Plastic in supermarkets is a difficult one at a local level. What we really need is coordinated action from the national government on lots of these issues because supermarkets and other big retailers organise their operations nationally. But as consumers, you can make your voices heard by buying local or buying the loose fruit and vegetable
Can we run a pilot removing plastic packaging from a range of shops? In 2019, we ran a very successful initiative called Plastic Free Wembley where we worked with local businesses to help them swap to biodegradable packaging, cutlery and other items usually made from plastic. It saved 150 tonnes of plastic! Before the pandemic, we were looking at how we could work with other areas on similar schemes but that had to be put on hold. At the moment, what we’re hearing is that businesses are really struggling and they are focused on surviving this difficult period, but when the time comes we are looking at ways we can support them with a greener recovery.
Can grants be given for insulation & solar panels? I’m really pleased to say that both these things already exist. The government is currently running a Green Homes Grant where they’ll cover two-thirds of the cost of energy improvements like insulation and low carbon heating, up to £5,000. People who are receiving certain benefits can get even more. You can check if you’re eligible at www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the- green-homes-grant-scheme
Is there a solar panel programme /grant in place for households in Brent? If you are interested in solar panels for your home, we’ve worked with the Mayor of London on an initiative called Solar Together for a couple of years. It’s not open all of the time because they get expressions of interest and then go through an auction process to buy the solar panels in bulk. The idea is to get them for the best possible price. You can sign up for updates at www. solartogether.co.uk/brent/home. Since we started working with them, we’ve helped install 766 solar panels, saving 49 tonnes of carbon each year!
Can we restore River Brent? We work very closely with organisations such as Thames 21 to undertake projects along the River Brent. We also engage with neighbouring boroughs as there are issues caused by the flow of the river further upstream that also need to be resolved.
Can we deal with the parakeets in the parks as they are destroying the habitats of local birds? Parakeets are a part of our new ecosystem, but we do seek to identify and monitor the range of biodiversity across all our parks.
Why is Brent council spraying weed killer on our streets? It is believed to be Glyphosate, which tends to drift onto other plants and is known to be carcinogenic. As a Council, we seek to use non-chemical products where possible and appropriate, where this is not possible we will use chemical products.
Can areas, e.g. Gladstone Park, be given to volunteers on gardening projects? Also can other green spaces be created for the community, e.g. playgrounds, etc? We’re really proud of our work with volunteer ‘Friends-of’ park groups in Brent. You mention Gladstone in your question. If you do have an interest in that particular park, there is a gardening group already there through Friends of Gladstone Park and they welcome new members. If other groups want to manage an area of a park, we are also open to discussion
How can we encourage people to grow vegetables, plants and trees to encourage bees? Any contribution that people can make makes a difference – whether that’s using spaces like balconies or a front driveway to grow vegetables or plants. Organisations like Grow Wild have some great practical tips on their website www.growwilduk.com. We also hope that by talking about initiatives like Brent’s Bee Corridor with residents helps engage people when it comes to biodiversity.
How can we partner to ensure we maximise opportunities for growing food for our communities? We welcome any discussions with groups who may wish to set up food growing areas for the benefit of the local community.
What are Brent’s initiatives in cleaning up green spaces? It’s frustrating that a minority’s lack of care fortheirenvironmentcanspoilotherpeople’s enjoyment of our green spaces. As well as running our own cleaning programme, we also support Community Clean-Ups with litter pickers, bags, and hoops – we’ll even pick-up the bags of rubbish afterwards. We have some incredible volunteers and we’re very grateful to them. If you are interested in arranging a (socially-distanced!) clean-up, email email@example.com