THE government response to the coronavirus pandemic can be used as a model for tackling climate change on a local level, according to a pressure group.

A group called Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably (POETS) has sent a letter to all of the county's MPs and councils, asking them to put the climate at the heart of all their future plans.

Alongside the letter is a paper setting out the group's ambitions for how the 'special county' of Oxfordshire can tackle 'the climate emergency, and focus on addressing health and other inequalities.'

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Spokesman Chris Cousins said: “One lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is that early action in response to the scientific evidence provides the best basis for bringing the crisis under control."

He added: "There are parallels here with the climate emergency.

"Now is the time to be doing such things as preparing for a massive programme to insulate our existing housing stock, something that would not only cut carbon dioxide emissions dramatically but also reduce household fuel bills and improve health."

POETS is made up of academics from Oxford University and Brookes, as well as former staff members of several of Oxfordshire's district councils and the county council.

The full report sent out to leading local politicians sets out a 'vision' for the future of Oxfordshire.

The vision said that anyone involved in planning for new homes, offices, shops, road and other projects in the county should 'embrace a series of principles'.

As well as the central aim of tackling climate change, these included making sure that employers pay the Oxford Living Wage, encouraging healthy lifestyles, avoiding urban sprawl, and making sure all new buildings meet strict zero-carbon targets.

Also among the principles is that major road building schemes should be abandoned.

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Chris Cousins

Mr Cousins described the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway as the impetus for founding the POETS group in June last year.

He said the expressway, which is currently postponed indefinitely, was 'a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem'.

POETS instead encouraged Oxfordshire's councils and MPs to support new walking and cycling routes across the county.

It also said there should be an emphasis on 'access over mobility'.

This distinction means that people should not need to travel long distances to go to the shops or work.

Instead, their area would include a mix of homes, shops and workplaces all near to one another.

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The POETS paper also raised concern about the agenda to build 100,000 new homes in Oxfordshire by 2031.

That target is part of the Oxfordshire Growth Deal, which currently has £215m of government cash set aside for infrastructure and housing projects.

The group said Oxfordshire should instead 'demand a radically better future' not based on economic growth as the only model of progress.

POETS defended its plans by saying that funding for current road projects was not fully funded.

The groups said building new cycling and walking paths in particular would be cheaper than new roads.

Mr Cousins said the group now hoped to 'start a discussion' about future plans across the county.

He said: "We are hoping they will take this into consideration in their deliberations and their decisions as to how to plan the future of the county."

Who are the members of POETS?

The POETS website describes the 11-member group as 'individuals with a wide range of experience of working in Oxfordshire in local authorities and universities.'

The members are:

  • Katie Barrett, former planning policy manager at Vale of White Horse District Council, local plans officer at South Oxfordshire District Council and transport policy manager at Oxfordshire County Council
  • Chris Cousins, former head of sustainable development at Oxfordshire County Council
  • Nick Eyre, professor of energy and climate policy, University of Oxford
  • Noel Newson, former chief assistant engineer at Oxford City Council and group manager for sustainable transport at Oxfordshire County Council
  • Gill Oliver, former planning policy manager, South Oxfordshire District Council
  • Gordon Stokes, honorary visiting research associate at Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford, formerly with Countryside Agency, Steer Davies Gleave, Transport and Road Research Laboratory and University of Oxford
  • Riki Therivel, visiting professor in environmental assessment, Oxford Brookes University and director, Levett-Therivel sustainability consultants
  • Ian Walker, former spatial planning manager at Oxfordshire County Council
  • Roger Williams, former head of transport at Oxfordshire County Council
  • Elizabeth Wilson, principal lecturer in environmental planning, Oxford Brookes University
  • David Young, former director of environmental services at Oxfordshire County Council