QUESTIONS have been raised over why Malvern Hills District Council bought 45 acres of land during the coronavirus crisis.

Councillors from the Conservative group on MHDC have questioned the decision to buy the land, in Hallow, earmarked as part of the council’s carbon reduction plan.

Cllr Jeremy Owenson, leader of the group, said the council should have spent the money, working out at £180,000, on restarting the district’s economy first.

He said: “Our group’s view is that this is something we should do (buy the land) but given what has been happening, and the need to protect the town centres, we felt this should have been pushed back to help us start rebuilding the economy.”

Cllr Owenson also questioned the location of the land bought, saying rather than fields in Hallow, the council should have bought land closer to the town of Malvern.

He added: “If green lungs are important to the district, we might want to locate them in and around Malvern because at the moment, it seems Worcester would benefit more than Malvern.”

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Cllr Sarah Rouse, leader of Malvern Hills District Council, said they had decided to purchase the land before the lockdown, and that the whole council had agreed to the carbon reduction plan in advance.

She said: “Our carbon reduction plan, Destination Zero, and our Five Year Plan were unanimously approved by councillors from all parties at the start of the year.

“This included actions to develop carbon storage and pollinator sites and a dedicated £250,000 fund to support projects in the plan.

“Following this we have bought almost 46 acres of land at Hallow. The process to buy the land started before the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The land has the potential to capture a significant amount of Co2 which will not only offset difficult-to-avoid emissions from the council’s own operations, but will also enhance biodiversity and link habitats.

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“Importantly, it will also provide a site for residents to enjoy and will link to other nature reserves.

More than 190 suggestions were put forward and these were then refined to create the current plan.

Ideas include working to identify land to plant more than 200,000 trees, the creation of a biofuel or low carbon oil buying club for homes not on the gas grid, increasing the number of EV charging points in council car parks and working with Transition Malvern Hills to expand their electric bike loan scheme.

Cllr Rouse added: “The Government remains committed to making the UK carbon neutral by 2050 at the latest and we are still determined to play our part in supporting that by meeting the commitments in our own plan.

“In this crisis we have all understood the importance of outdoor spaces and when life returns to normal we want to provide residents with a greater opportunity to enjoy nature.”

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The Destination Zero plan, agreed in January this year, sets an overall vision for the district to become carbon neutral as quickly as possible, but by 2050 at the latest, and with a minimum 50 per cent reduction by 2030.

It also commits the council to making its own operations carbon neutral – where the amount of carbon produced is offset by other measures – by 2030.

“This will in no way detract from the economic recovery we have planned. We have already paid out in the region of £18million in government support grants to help businesses through this crisis.

“We are working with employers, traders and organisations locally and across Worcestershire to build an economy that works for our businesses, residents and environment. I hope all councillors will work towards this goal.”