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Southwark Green: It’s time for the council to get imaginative if it is serious about being carbon neutral

Imagine if a council facing the climate emergency was run like a theatre company or workers’ co-op. In my dreams, the first gathering sounds a bit like this, writes Eleanor Margolies…

Welcome everyone, both old friends and people new to this project. This is the big idea –actually, two ideas in one: we’re going to stop burning fossil fuels, and we’re going to protect plant and animal life systems. We don’t know exactly what this will look like yet. We’ve brought you together – with your specific experience, skills and knowledge – to make it happen. We’ll look after each other and have some fun while we get there. There’s an initial deadline – but this is a long-term project. As ever, the budget is tight…

It’s been rather less energising to trawl through the Southwark Council ‘Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan’ published this month. It includes this vacuous line: ‘To be carbon neutral by 2030, Southwark must reduce car journeys to a minimum by 2030.’

In that imagined meeting of mine, everyone is immediately asking questions: What does ‘minimum’ mean, in numbers? How do I sell that idea to the public? How can we tell if we’ve done it?

What if all Southwark staff and citizens were invited to devise the action plan? Take a target like this, based on actual figures for Dutch cities: For journeys under 3 miles, more people cycle than drive. The conversation might go…

  • First, we’d need to ensure that all routes to school are safe.
  • What about heavy shopping?
  • Could we work with a local cargo bike delivery company? 
  • Set up a library of trailers and cargo bikes? Southwark Cyclists have contacts.
  • What about older or disabled people who want to cycle?
  • Let’s call Cycling Without Age and Wheels for Wellbeing and include trishaws, hand-cycles, tandems and side-by-side bikes …

And so on. Now imagine doing the same for food and housing. We get better ideas, with more public support, when they are developed by a diverse group of people. And, as Gabriella Gomez-Mont puts it, imagination is not a luxury.

Here are a couple of summer reading suggestions for action plans that can inspire: Rob Hopkins, From What Is to What If and Isabel Losada, The Joyful Environmentalist.



  1. It’s a thoughtful idea. Wish it was implemented 2 years ago. However we are where we are and my concern is that committees will take another 2 years to hatch a plan. I like how the council aggressively expanded the cycling network and implemented road closing under the pretext of corona. I hope they continue leading with action, and adjust with feedback.

    I hope that although plans for the big building projects have already passed council approval and spades in the ground, they can be forced to re-evaluate and improve plans to make the buildings greener (it’s an emergency after all so why not).

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