Row after councillor accuses Conservatives of "climate denial"

Wind turbines could be used by mobile providers to boost 4G coverage in Norfolk. View of the Kessi

Norwich Conservative Federation chairman Simon Jones said that parts of Norfolk's coastline boasted “a veritable forest of wind turbines, as far as the eye can see”.  - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

Norfolk's Conservative councils have been accused of being "climate change deniers" susceptible to "lies, vested interest and fake news", triggering an intense political row.

Steffan Aquarone, a Liberal Democrat councillor, made the comments at a recent cross-party event organised by the Norwich Society to discuss local ways of tackling the environmental crisis.

Mr Aquarone - who has been chosen by his party to stand against Duncan Baker in north Norfolk at the next general election - said: "The vast majority of local Conservative-controlled authorities in Norfolk continue to pursue the mindset and behaviour of climate change deniers, buying into the lies, the vested interests and the fake news that circulates online, but suits only the current polluters.”

He urged voters across the county to support “whoever in your local area is best placed to defeat the Conservatives”.

Steffan Aquarone

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Melton Constable - Credit: Alex Broadway

His 'climate denial' comments have attracted criticism from Conservatives. Simon Jones, chairman of the party's Norwich Federation - who was also on the Norwich Society panel - said: "We [the national, Conservative government] have put in place the Environment Act just before Christmas, which sets legally binding targets to reach net zero by 2050.”

He said that the UK had reduced carbon emissions by 40pc since 1990, which he said was “far more than any other developed nation, and something that we can be incredibly proud of. [With] everything that we’re doing, we need to be proud of ourselves.”

Simon Jones, Norwich Conservative Federation chairman.

Simon Jones, chairman of the Norwich Conservative Federation - Credit: Simon Jones

Locally, Mr Jones said parts of the county’s coastline boasted “a veritable forest of wind turbines, as far as the eye can see”. Also on the panel were Norwich City Council’s Labour cabinet member for the climate, Emma Hampton, and former Green MEP Prof Catherine Rowett. 

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Mr Aquarone made similar remarks at a meeting of Norfolk County Council on Tuesday, when he unsuccessfully tried to get a motion passed for County Hall to commit to make all of Norfolk carbon neutral by 2030 and to create a local climate action plan.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the council would work towards carbon neutrality for Norfolk as a whole, as well as getting the council's own estate to net zero by 2030. He said: "I would call that ambition, I call that leadership and I'd also call that action."

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council's Conservative leader, Andrew Proctor - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Earlier in the meeting, a motion by Liberal Democrat Saul Penfold to get the council to declare a climate emergency was lost, with 39 votes against, 24 for and three abstentions.

Eric Vardy, the Conservative's recently-appointed cabinet member for environment and waste, had dismissed the idea as "tokenism".

Eric Vardy is the new North Norfolk district councillor for Holt ward. 

Eric Vardy, the Conservative's recently-appointed cabinet member for environment and waste - Credit: Supplied by the Conservatives

He said: "Declaring a climate emergency are merely words and a soundbite, when we firstly want to deliver action and outcomes for the people of Norfolk."

Graham Plant, the council's deputy leader, agreed there was a climate crisis, but said: "I will not be lectured to by people on the other side who say we are ignorant and we don't know what we're doing."

Graham Plant, Councillor, at the grand reopening of the Venetian Waterways and Boating Lake, Great Y

Norfolk County Council's Conservative deputy leader Graham Plant - Credit: Archant