Extinction Rebellion and others activists come together for re-instation of Citizens’ Assembly

Dozens protested outside Chichester District Council’s building to protest for the Assembly to return.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 3:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 4:14 pm
Dozens protested outside Chichester District Council’s building to protest for the Assembly to return. Picture courtesy of George Hibberd

At 1.30pm Tuesday, November 23 a number of people from Extinction Rebellion and other environmental movements, including the University of Chichester Environmental Society and Eco Chi, protested outside East Pallant House to demand that they reinstate the Citizens’ Assembly that they promised as part of their Climate Action Plan.

The reason for the protest was due to the inaction by the council to implement a Citizens’ Assembly as part of their Climate Action Plan after two years of campaigning by Extinction Rebellion, other environmental groups and environmentally concerned residents.

The Citizens’ Assembly was originally established in January 2020 but was dropped by the Council due to ‘delays to the assembly and concerns about cost to benefit ratios.’

Dozens protested outside Chichester District Council’s building to protest for the Assembly to return. Picture courtesy of George Hibberd

Prostesters, including Chichester city councillors Deborah Carter (Green) and Pauline Gaskin (Green) were stationed outside the council building, holding up signs and flags, as councillors made their way to a meeting at 2pm.

George Hibberd, a member of Chichester Extinction Rebellion Group, said: “Members of Chi Progressives and Extinction Rebellion have stood outside the council every week for three months engaging with councillors and members of public about the inspirational benefits of Citizens’ Assemblies, how they’ve been used to tackle the big issues that our current democratic systems have failed to address and how they give voices back to all corners of our community.

“Almost every person we speak to is inspired by these assemblies and wants them to be introduced in our city to tackle the Climate and Ecological Crisis, social housing, healthcare, social care, air pollution and sewage pollution.

“It is clear now after the failure of COP26 that the systems that created the climate and ecological crisis will continue to fail to tackle it.

“We need to give the voice back to the people of this country in a truly representative way, get our community working together and be told the truth about this crisis and how to solve it.

“Citizens’ Assemblies will give a voice back to young people, black and brown communities, the unemployed, the working class – the people that will be most affected by the multiple crises that we face.”

Tom Broughton, a member of Eco Chi, said: “It’s great to see the young generation take up the mantle in the action to prevent this action from the council.

“It’s undemocratic in the way in which essentially the rug was pulled out from us by the council when they scrapped the (Citizens’) Assembly.

As of November 23, 265 people have already signed a petition to ‘Reinstate Chichester’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate’ which is larger than the Chichester District Council’s public consultation on their climate action plan.

A spokesperson for Chichester District Council, in an official statement, said: “The option to run a Citizens’ Assembly was carefully considered as a means for us to engage with people about the climate change emergency.

“A lot of research was done amongst organisations that have commissioned and delivered climate assemblies.

“From reviewing the data that these organisations provided, the council’s Environment Panel and Cabinet felt that this option was limited in its reach, as the proposed Citizens’ Assembly directly involved only around 25 to 30 people, with further work needed to use them to engage with the wider public. This one off activity would have cost Chichester District taxpayers around £55,000 and we are aware of another local assembly that cost £76,000.

“As a result, it was felt that there were more effective communication routes that would have a greater effect and reach a larger number of people to collect their views.

“Instead, we will be engaging and communicating with people through a variety of means in order to achieve greater engagement and a bigger impact.

“We will be doing this in a whole range of ways to ensure a wider reach, so that we can involve as many of our residents, community groups, businesses and organisations as possible.

“This includes the council’s existing Let’s Talk consultation panel and collecting more information from participants with the aim of making it more representative; using existing communication methods including the council’s email newsletter to collect views and feedback; and formalise the holding of twice-yearly public meetings to allow the council’s Environmental Strategy officers to give presentations to interested groups on the council’s climate change work.

“In a recent consultation, we asked people how they think we should best engage with people about climate change, and methods such as our Initiatives magazine and social media came out top, so we have been making sure to utilise these channels.

“We are also busy working on a campaign to let people know how they can make their homes more energy efficient, and we have been inviting people to attend a special public event on 29 November in Chichester to hear from experts about the different measures that can be taken to save energy and how to make the switch to more renewable energy in the home — this has proven very popular and spaces have now been booked up.

“As we’ve mentioned, responding to the climate change emergency is a top priority for the council and we’re keen to involve everyone in this process.

To visit or sign the application to reinstate Chichester’s Citizens’ Assembly visit change.org/ChiCitizensAssembly