Agenda item

Public Question Time

a period of up to 15 minutes is available to deal with questions submitted to the Council in accordance with the Executive Procedure Rules;



The Leader informed that two questions had been received in accordance with the Executive Procedure Rules:


a) From Mr John Grocock


Further to my queries relating to Council owned properties in Sherford and St Anns Chapel:


‘Will those in Sherford be retro-fitted to align them with current standards, are those at St Anns Chapel ‘so-called’ or ‘actual’ affordable homes, what are the rents and will they be available exclusively to South Hams residents?’


In reply, the Lead Executive Member for Housing stated that:


‘The properties at St Anns had received an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Grade B, with estimated running costs of £782 a year which equated to £65 a month. As such, these were energy efficient with corresponding low running costs for our tenants. The properties purchased on the open market at Sherford were also EPC B, so both conformed to current standards.  However, as a Council we were dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint with an aim to get to net zero by 2030.   We kept all of our property portfolio under constant review with respect to this aim and upgrades required to meet it, which would now include these additional houses.


The properties at St Anns had all been allocated through the Council’s housing register - Devon Home Choice - to people with a local connection to St Anns or a neighbouring parish. They would be let with affordable rents, capped at Local Housing Allowance for the Plymouth Broad Market Area dependent on the property size. The open market homes could be purchased by anyone; however the Council had imposed a principal residency clause to ensure these could not be used for second homes.


The Chairman exercised his discretion to enable Mr Grocock to ask a supplementary question.  In so doing, he sought information on the criteria of the Local Connection Policy and queried the number of both vulnerable and other families on the Housing waiting list.


In responding, the Head of Housing advised that, in terms of the local connection policy, the criteria referenced: residency; and/or having close family members being resident; and/or being employed within the District.


It was confirmed that there were currently 42 households in temporary accommodation (8 of which were families).  For clarity, none of these were residing in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. An undertaking was also given to Mr Grocock that, when sending him the response to his original question following this meeting, reference would be given to details relating to the housing waiting list.


In closing, the Leader advised that the Council was committed to supporting vulnerable residents in their housing needs, particularly care leavers and ex-Service personnel and had just sent a robust response to a Central Government consultation on retro fitting properties.


b) From Ms Gillie Scherr


Plant-based diets result in 75% less Green House Gas (GHG) emissions than diets with more than 100g of meat daily. Brits eating meat-free lunches on weekdays could save the NHS £2.2 Billion annually.


“Could South Hams join 25 councils including Exmouth by endorsing the Plant Based Treaty and expanding access to plant-based food?"


In response, the Lead Executive Member for Climate Change and Biodiversity stated:


“I support many of the aims of The Plant Based Treaty and I accept that there is a need to reduce meat consumption, both from an environmental and a health perspective.


I also accept that the methane production from livestock farming globally is a huge and damaging issue and there is a lot of science to support that. But I am afraid that I disagree with the premise that eliminating livestock farming or even trying to is a reasonable and practical means of addressing the problem.


However, many of the clauses in the treaty the Council have addressed or are actively pursuing. For instance, a short list would include:


   The Council declared a climate emergency back in 2019;

   It is working with partners to deliver training on sustainable/regenerative farming methods to approximately 40 farms at the moment;

   Through its partner (Natural Landscapes) it is delivering a comprehensive programme called Farming in Protected Landscapes which is all about reducing emissions and improving biodiversity;

   The Council is involved in purchasing land for tree-planting and creating rich and diverse habitats; and

   It is working with the food and agriculture sector across the district and beyond to increase local food production and consumption, shorten supply chains, make local food more accessible and cheaper and to thereby increase health and well-being. A natural corollary of this will be a reduction in meat production and consumption… but it is not a primary ambition.


With regard to the central theme of the Treaty it suggests that we should all move to a vegan diet. I cannot go along with this. Firstly, and foremost, I think it is impractical and secondly because there are serious health questions.


The impracticality stems from the fact that the South Hams has many livestock farmers. I and many of the partners the Council is working with need to engage with these businesses. It is absolutely essential to be able to work collaboratively to help them transition to more sustainable methods of production. It is my view that being a signatory to the Treaty would not help that dialogue.


The health issues are also a concern as there are quite few.


The issue around B12 is an obvious one. An essential vitamin that mediates many neurological and blood related functions. It is stored in the liver so a deficiency can take a year or so to manifest itself and there is no good plant-based sources of B12 (yes, some algae, yeasts, shiitake mushrooms… but low levels). There are also emerging microbe-based products like ‘Natures Fynd’, but early days.


Iron - non-heme iron from plants is not bioavailable. Can be improved with Vitamin C. so citrus. (Remember Popeye. Olive Oyl should have told him he needed to add a squeezing a lemon on his can of spinach, to get any real benefit).


There are also bioavailability issues associated with plant-based sources of Zinc, Calcium and Vitamin D.


The consequences of these deficiencies can be a whole range of long term health issues. I would agree these can often be managed, but it is not a practical universal solution … in my view. 


George Monbiot believes we could all live on lab-grown meat. He is a good journalist with some very innovative and interesting ideas. I don’t think that this is one of his best.


Also, I have to say, I do think the credibility of the Treaty is seriously damaged by its website having links to a section on vegan cats and dogs. I think the idea of a vegan cat is fanciful and verging on cruel and the supporting references are not at all convincing. They are self-selecting and appear to be funded by those who have an interest in the outcome.


I do however support many of the aims of The Plant Based Treaty especially where they relate to animal welfare which is a huge issue for me. The UK is one of the leaders in the study of animal sentience. But despite our growth in our understand there remains farming practices that are utterly abhorrent.


I am a big supporter of Compassion in Word Farming and have worked with them in the past to confront the rise and rise of enormous 1000+ dairy herds held in a shed for the whole of their natural life (which is not that long). North Devon has become a hot spot in the UK for these dreadful operations.


Methane production of large indoor zero-grazing diary, pig, and poultry farms is enormous. Slurry lagoons uncovered the size of a football pitch, which is then spread on fields releasing methane. Sometimes 5 silage cuts a year with all the consequential pollution and soil absolutely devoid of life. Tacking this huge issue is where we should be concentrating our efforts… in my view. 


So finally, there are 318 first and second tier councils England. (164 District) Only 3 Councils at that level have signed: Norwich, Edinburgh and Lambeth. (Exmouth is a Town Council and one shouldn’t really count Edinburgh) But that amounts to less than 1% take up.


It is actually a great shame that the Treaty has gone too far and a more practical less full-on vegan approach would have received a lot more support.


So I could not recommend this Council signs the Treaty, but it may be that other Members might be persuaded to bring a motion to the Full Council for debate.”

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