Councils 'shocked' by Wakefield's decision to work with Extinction Rebellion, but leader says it's 'the right thing to do'
Wakefield Council's new leader has admitted other local authorities are "a bit shocked" by her decision to court climate protest group Extinction Rebellion.
But Denise Jeffery says that working with the controversial campaigners is the right thing to do.
Extinction Rebellion drew praise and criticism for its protests across the UK last year, which caused widespread disruption.
Coun Jeffery met with the group's Pontefract co-ordinator, Dr Andrew Rollinson, shortly before she took charge of Wakefield Council in December and regular talks have taken place since.
The authority's deputy leader Jack Hemingway, who is Cabinet member for climate change, said that the meetings had been "productive", as the council tries to become carbon neutral.
"We are hoping to build that relationship going forward," Coun Hemingway said.
"We won’t agree on everything. They do have some demands we might not be able to meet, but it’s good to have that dialogue.
"I think it shows we’re taking the climate change agenda seriously."
Coun Jeffery said she'd attended a talk by Dr Rollinson on climate change before Christmas, which she said had "opened her eyes" on some of the action that needs to be taken.
She said: "We're looking at Extinction Rebellion as a critical friend.
"Other councils are a bit shocked that we're engaged with them, but we think it's the right thing to do."
Senior leaders have also played down a perceived lack of support for the council's carbon neutral plans, after just 25 per cent of residents said it should be a spending priority.
The issue ranked 17th in a league table of 20 areas of public spending in a survey about where resources should be focused.
Coun Jeffery said that schoolchildren and young people unable to vote in the survey value the issue deeply.
And Coun Hemingway said: "There’s still a lot of education to be done in raising awareness on the importance of it.
"We've all got to start taking action as individuals, as a council and as a government to address what is an emergency.
"We believe if we don’t significantly reduce our own emissions to net zero and the government don't adopt a similar approach, there may well be uncontrollable rapid global warming. That's what scientists say, that's what the United Nations say.
"I understand there may not be that level of awareness yet among the wider public, but that’s part of our job, to educate them on that and raise awareness of the issue."
Extinction Rebellion were branded "unco-operative crusties" by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as protests took place late last summer, but other high-profile supporters praised the group for pushing the climate agenda forward.
Local Democracy Reporting Service