RYEDALE councillors plan to give greater priority to the environment in their vast rural district.

But the council decided not to opt for a full-blown environment committee, although it agreed to set up a five-strong working party to explore how the authority can take on board the various issues.

Coun John Clark, one of the council's two new Liberal Democrat members, said Ryedale's environment had suffered as a result of increased night time pollution and sound in recent years. He wanted to see such issues as the use of pesticides, herbicides, and traffic, investigated by such a committee.

"We have an environmental forum, but it appears they don't go anywhere," he said.

Ryedale had already been affected by changes in the climate, said Coun Clark, which had resulted in increased rainfall and flooding.

Coun Helen Schroeder agreed that the environment had "slipped down" the council agenda in recent years, but she favoured the setting up of a working group rather than a committee to discuss the issues.

Coun Keith Knaggs successfully moved that environmental policies should be at the heart of all the council's decision-making, and that a working party should be set up to see how best it could be achieved.

Coun Elizabeth Shields said the group could also study such issues as waste management, and she believed the environment could be incorporated into the council's community services and licensing committee.

Coun Amy Trevelyan maintained that considerable emphasis was put on economic growth. But she said: "We have got to get the environment higher up the agenda."

Updated: 11:18 Monday, May 19, 2003