Residents take up Transition town challenge

Written by Pete Davison.

How will we cope when the oil runs out? It's a question being asked in communities up and down the country... and around the world.

At a meeting on Monday (September 12) 55 members of the public – at the behest of Climate Pledge and the Town Council – discussed ways in which Marlborough could become a Transition Town.

The Transition Town movement is described as 'a social experiment on a massive scale' and 'the first viable viral movement in decades'.

In transition towns, like-minded individuals find community solutions to their reliance on oil, and how their communities will respond as oil becomes more and more expensive, and eventually diminishes.

They believe in stronger communities with locally produced food, a strong local economy, good public transport links, green energy and a good local health service.

The solution to the problem of depleting oil reserves – and the inevitable consequence of rising energy prices – is straightforward: consume less and produce energy using alternatives.

Straightforward, the meeting heard, but far from simple to apply. How does a town like Marlborough – whose rural situation makes cars a 'necessity', and where many homes outside of the town centre rely on oil for heating – reduce its dependence on the resource?

And how can the solutions be applied in the historic market town, where the installation of double glazing – let alone the erection of small-scale solar panels and wind turbines – is rejected on the grounds of aesthetics.

The meeting was led by town councillor Richard Pitts, who said: “This is about looking at a sustainable future; looking at energy and recycling, and rethinking the way we do things.”

Vincent Albano, climate change projects officer at Wiltshire Council, helped the meeting explore the cost of heating and lighting our homes – reckoned to be £5 million per year in the Marlborough community area alone.

“That's £5m leaving your community every year,” said Vincent. “The questions are, could you meet some of this energy production yourselves, how would you fund the capital costs of energy production, and once you started making money from energy production, what would you spend it on?”

Attendees split into four break-out groups to mull over the issues surrounding Transport, Energy, Food and Recycling, and to come up with practical solutions.

Some of the solutions are fairly pain-free. While local supermarkets sell unwary shoppers apples shipped from New Zealand and South Africa, an estimated 95 percent of apples grown in Marlborough's residential gardens go to waste.

Suggestions for a food bank or fruit exchange were mooted, while one attendee – Richard Paget – unveiled his own solution, which is already a reality: deliver 10kg of ripe apples to his apple press in Little Bedwyn and he'll squeeze eight bottles of apple juice for £2.25 a bottle, complete with a bespoke label.

Other solutions may prove more controversial: after the meeting, Cllr Pitts said Marlborough Town Council had the authority to ask for the street lights in High Street to be switched off during the early hours, saving cash-strapped Wiltshire Council hundreds of pounds a year to spend on other services.

The idea is bound to attract opposition, although the High Street will not go without any source of light – a large number of the national chain stores opt to keep their windows illuminated throughout the night.