The new leader of Barnet Council has formally declared a climate emergency after the Labour administration took charge at Hendon Town Hall.

Barry Rawlings made the declaration in his first speech as leader and pledged to establish a citizens’ assembly to “make sure all residents benefit from green growth”.

Until recently, Barnet remained one of the few London boroughs not to have declared a climate emergency, as the previous Conservative administration repeatedly resisted calls to do so.

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After declaring a climate emergency following local elections earlier this month, when Labour won outright control of the borough for the first time, Cllr Rawlings made a formal announcement at the authority’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Tuesday.

He said: “I formally declare a local climate and biodiversity emergency here and now. The climate emergency is a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity, and we are being ambitious, setting tough targets in our manifesto.”

Cllr Rawlings said a citizens’ assembly would be set up to monitor the council’s climate action plan and “make sure all residents benefit from green growth and nobody is held back”.

“We are saying clearly and loudly that there is a climate emergency, and we cannot ignore it,” he added. “From joining the London anti-idling campaign and developing a clean air for Barnet pledge, to working with Barnet Green Spaces Network, protecting green spaces […] and with businesses to develop the skills needed in the green economy, we will focus on improving the life chances of future generations in Barnet.”

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Before the elections, Labour outlined plans to give residents more of a say in council decision-making. Cllr Rawlings pledged to deliver on that promise and “work in partnership with residents” by setting up initiatives such as community-led commissions and safer streets audits.

The new Labour administration agreed a shake-up of the council’s committee system, scrapping separate residents’ forums and a finance committee. The forums will be merged with area committees, while the financial performance and contracts committee will be merged with the policy and resources committee.

This drew criticism from the opposition Conservatives. Cllr Dan Thomas, who remains the party’s group leader, said the shake-up of committees would “diminish the ability to scrutinise the administration”. He urged Labour to withdraw the changes and bring them to the constitution and general purposes committee for debate.

Labour’s deputy leader, Cllr Ross Houston, said the function of the residents’ forums would be retained, adding that his group planned to “completely revolutionise our interaction with residents”, including through the citizens’ assembly.