A Westminster City Council meeting of the full council descended into a shouting match and jeers after a motion declaring an “ecological emergency” was passed.
Rival councillors booed and taunted each other after the Labour administration passed a declaration to shore up ecosystems.
Bringing the motion forward, councillor Ryan Jude, deputy cabinet member for climate action and biodiversity, said the declaration went one step further than current commitments put in place by the previous administration in 2019.
In a council meeting on Wednesday 20 September, he said: “As you know, local action to protect the environment is a top priority for this administration.
“Similar declarations across the country have meant that discussing the climate emergency is now fairly mainstream, and rightly so. But the other side of the coin isn’t put on an equal footing, well, at least not yet.
“The declaration made in this room four years ago unfortunately did not go far enough. Unlike other councils, it did not address the second of twin, intertwined crises that we currently face: the ecological emergency.
“Tonight, I’m pleased that with this motion, we’ll begin to set this right.”
The motion laid out plans to “benchmark” and improve the state of Westminster’s ecology by commissioning more green projects, increasing recycling rates, and ensuring council buildings are equipped with renewable energy technology.
The Conservative opposition claimed the plans were “waffle” and that initiatives like planting trees was not down to political will but having enough space underground to ensure infrastructure is not damaged.
They accused Labour of not including experts like local universities in the consultation process.
Tory councillor Jim Glen said: “This strategy proposed has an awful lot of audits, work groups, discussions, bureaucracy, and cost without actually delivering on anything or proposing anything new.
“There seems to be a theme developing for this administration: there is an awful lot of talk and very little action except for the hollow virtue signalling and that is why, unless the following speakers are remarkably persuasive, we will be abstaining from this matter.”
Cllr Jude said the council was working with local stakeholders across the borough and accused the Tories of failing to meeting its manifesto pledge to plant 2,000 trees when they were in power.
He said: “Issues such as this should be above party politics. I am really, really disappointed and really, really angry, actually.
“I’m sure for councillor Glen to speak so passionately about what happens in Westminster that he’s read all the many ecological emergency action plans that councils across the country have, including many of our neighbouring boroughs.
“I have read them. I know the relative lack of actions that’s being committed to previously in this council and in the previous administration.
“I didn’t want to criticise you for that. I wanted us to take a step together and now you don’t want to go down that path with us.”
The motion passed during a rowdy session of voting that saw Labour councillors tease opposition members to have a “brave sole” and back the measure.
The declaration will see council resources poured into preserving the borough’s diverse wildlife and 1,000 species of tree following recommendations by a citizens panel on climate change.
Some 25 percent of the borough is made up of parks and green spaces and has 33 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs), according to the council. Around 39 percent of these sites were ranked as having “average to rich” or “rich” species diversity.
Westminster Council will also consider the Citizens Climate Assembly recommendations to new green projects, increase recycling rates, and equipping council buildings with renewable energy technology.
According to the council, Westminster’s parks are home to various species of bird and wildfowl including tawny owls and geese. They claim the borough is also known to be home to species of bat, hedgehogs, foxes, insects, and invertebrates.
Four years ago this week Westminster Council declared a “Climate Emergency”, and committed itself to ambitious targets including becoming a Net Zero council by 2030 and a Net Zero city by 2040.
Earlier this year, the council announced £350k of funding for new green infrastructure projects as part of the Greening Westminster programme.