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President update: 1st September

1 September 2020

Managing the reopening of schools to all students has provided many challenges, not only for the Government and schools themselves, but also for place directors. We have been working out how we can ensure pupils can travel to and from schools safely using public transport, which has been a massive issue for ADEPT members, and most keenly felt by those outside more urban areas. I think it’s fair to say that everything that can be put in place at this stage has been – we all know it is now a case of wait and see – but I think I should thank all of our teams for their patience, perseverance and place passion and for making sure that as far as possible local transport enables as smooth a return to school as possible.  

The Sustainable Growth Board met last week and welcomed Simon Gallagher, Director of Planning at MHCLG, to discuss the Planning White Paper. The Government welcomes submissions from individual authorities, as well as professional bodies like ADEPT, and Simon set out how submissions could be structured in terms of areas of disagreement, amendment, agreement and identifying gaps. The next meeting of the SG Board will consider ADEPT’s developing response. I can’t help but think that we also need to see the Devolution and Recovery White Paper to help shape our thinking – and to confirm the Government’s overall direction of travel for local democracy. We need to understand the whole, including how the Climate Change Act and environmental standards will fit into this brave new world.

We will also be responding to other consultations the Government has started running this summer and of course, we are still waiting for the Devolution and Recovery White Paper to appear. As well as Planning for the Future, there are consultations running on the revised Waste Management Plan for England and the England Tree Strategy. We also recently responded to the Defra consultation on the Environmental Land Management scheme and the EAC inquiry into Greening the post-COVID recovery.

The recent storms have been a stark reminder, if any were needed, of our changing climate. Unfortunately, for local authorities they have also brought to the fore problems associated with Ash Dieback. The ash is one of our most common and loved trees, but, much as with Dutch Elm disease, it is being ravaged by this chronic fungal disease. In so many storms, it is ash trees that have been coming down or shedding branches, posing risks right across urban and rural places. ADEPT will be raising the issue of funding and urging for removal and replacement to be defined as a capital expenditure. We cannot choose between maintenance of grey and green infrastructure - we need the appropriate funding to do both. We will argue, as part of our submission to the England Tree Strategy consultation, that to meet the obligations of the Climate Change Act and to ensure we create resilient communities able to adapt to the challenges of flooding, excess heat etc, tree planting must include the replacement of trees lost to disease in order to maintain and expand national canopy cover. 

The partners have decided to run one final waste survey for the week beginning 8th September. With most services running close to normal now, it’s been agreed that it’s a good time to put this work on hold. We will keep an eye on the situation and run future surveys if they are needed. Obviously, we all hope that won’t be the case.

As always, keep watching our COVID-19 updates page for the latest ADEPT news.