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Launching UK100’s Countryside Climate Network

Climate change affects everyone, everywhere, and rural towns and villages can be more vulnerable to its impacts, such as extreme weather. UK100 has always been an inclusive organisation, but it is no secret that most of our 96 members have represented metropolitan places. This edition of our newsletter is focused on the launch of our Countryside Climate Network, spotlighting the role that more rural councils play in creating climate solutions. With the launch of the Countryside Climate Network we are making an activel decision to ensure that the rural voices are part of discussion about climate action.

Countryside councils are well placed to tackle climate change and meet the needs and ambitions of their communities for economic recovery and better health and wellbeing. They have to innovate, since many climate solutions have so far been designed for more urban settings, and they are elected, giving them democratic legitimacy to deliver lasting change. The network is here to enable our members to share their experiences of what works and to provide a platform from which they can highlight their successes, as well as the challenges they face.

This isn’t about a competition between rural areas and urban areas. The whole country needs to move swiftly towards a net zero future and so all our members, rural and urban, will want to collaborate and support each other in meeting that national priority.

I am delighted that we have 21 founding members of the Countryside Climate Network, brought together under the leadership of Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. I am incredibly grateful to him for the energy he has injected into this new network. Fifteen of the members are entirely new to UK100, which brings our total membership well over 100, a long-standing goal of mine. Given the horrendous impact of Covid-19 and the amount of focus councils have rightly devoted to it, the fact that we have achieved this milestone in the middle of a global pandemic highlights how seriously climate change is being taken by councils across the whole country.

There is a myth that the countryside is somehow peripheral to the economy and to climate change, but that is not the case. Devastating floods and droughts cause acute hardship for rural communities and threaten our food supply chain. Per capita carbon emissions are actually higher in rural areas compared to urban areas because of inefficient insulation and high-carbon fuel sources in the housing stock, a lack of options for lower carbon travel and land-use emissions. But the countryside is also home to a huge amount of innovation.

With COP26 being postponed to November next year, the network has time to build its profile and impact. But that doesn’t mean our members aren’t taking action right now. In this newsletter you will read about some wonderful examples of climate action in rural areas. In Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire, the whole village is undergoing a transition from oil-fired heating to ground-source heat pumps. Just outside Canterbury, planning permission has been granted for a green hydrogen plant, powered by offshore wind, the hydrogen will be used to power the next generation bus fleet. In Cornwall, every council decision is considered in relation to its impact on climate change as well as other so called ‘planetary boundaries’.
I hope you enjoy learning about these examples. If you want to find out more about the Countryside Climate Network, please visit our website or get in touch with David, our Countryside Climate Network Coordinator david.cope@uk100.org. You can see more information about the launch on our Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cornwall’s ambition – carbon neutral by 2030, by Cllr. Edwina Hannaford

Cornwall Council was privileged to become the one hundredth signatory of UK100 and a founder member of the Countryside Climate Network and see our membership, alongside other like-minded local authorities, as an opportunity to celebrate our climate action ambitions.

As the Cabinet Member for Climate Change I am honoured with leading our ambitious programme for Cornwall to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Building on the momentum of our nationally renowned Green Cornwall programme and our 2017 Energy Future Vision we have already embraced many of the principles that UK100 embody. We became one of the first local authorities to declare a climate emergency on 22 January 2019, calling for the development of an action plan that would set out the steps required for Cornwall to strive to become carbon neutral by 2030.

In developing our response to climate change, we undertook a greenhouse gas inventory that highlighted Cornwall’s key emitting sectors and engaged with key stakeholders including over 3,000 residents, schools, town and parish councils. Alongside the inventory we commissioned the University of Exeter to carry out 2030 and 2050 scenario modelling which identified solutions to high emitting sectors and the potential timescales for reaching carbon neutrality; this evidence- based approach set the focus and framework for our subsequent action plan development.

On 24 July 2019 the Council’s Cabinet unanimously agreed the emerging Climate Change Action Plan; this plan set out a regional leadership approach across multiple systems that is redefining our role as we realign significant resources and focus onto the battle against climate change. We supported the resourcing of a core Carbon Neutral Cornwall Team and priority projects including the Forest for Cornwall, a Whole House Retrofit Pilot and the development of a Climate Change Developing Planning Document (DPD). We supported these key projects by committing £16 million capital funding to enable the delivery of phase one of our action plan. Our action plan has been praised by Greenpeace which has led to approaches from a series of local authorities from across the UK asking for support in developing their own responses.

Whilst the adoption of the Carbon Neutral Action Plan and priority actions was unanimous, we have acknowledged the need to consider social justice, and ensure that no Cornish residents are worse off when we are developing our response to the climate emergency. As a key part of our approach to accelerating the operational and facilitation programme, one of our first steps was to introduce a new decision-making tool based on the economist Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model, which has been utilised in all Cabinet decisions since September 2019 and has attracted interest from across the UK. The tool aims to show the environmental and social implications of proposed decisions to ensure that neither our climate nor residents are negatively impacted by the decisions the Council makes. The tool will be rolled out across all of our decision-making processes challenging our strategies, procurement and investment decisions with the purpose of placing people and the planet at the heart of our policies and decisions.

Utilising the principles of the wheel the Council has committed to halting the installation of fossil fuel heating in new Council-built properties; approved funding for a 2.3MW wind turbine that will generate enough electricity for 1,200 homes and has co-invested £1.4 million in deep geothermal energy at the Eden Project alongside European funding and institutional investors. My Cabinet colleagues and I also approved a £2 million investment into the £17 million Saints Trail development which once completed will provide a 30Km network of trails that will connect coastal communities, link housing and employment growth areas, helping to reduce transport emissions and improve air quality. This focus on modal shift is aligned to £23.5 million of Government funding secured for a pilot that has reduced bus fares across Cornwall to encourage people out of private vehicles.

Cornwall has a proud history of partnership working and we look forward to sharing learning as part of the UK:100 and developing stronger and more powerful associations with like-minded authorities.

Through our research we discovered a ‘policy corridor’ running across the centre of England in which Government has concentrated its infrastructure and innovation investment. With this in mind Cornwall Council initiated Britain’s Leading Edge – a collaboration of upper tier local authority areas that are mainly or largely rural with no major cities echoing the sentiment of the Countryside Climate Network. We know Cornwall and England’s other rural regions are keeping the lights on for the nation producing 37% of England’s renewable energy. Rich in natural and social capital – we collectively offer the secure supplies of clean renewable energy essential to today’s challenged national grid and tomorrow’s decarbonised economy.

Cornwall is already playing a leading role in producing clean energy with around 40% of our power coming from renewables, with an ambition to produce much more. In joining the UK100 and the Countryside Climate Network we are reinforcing this ambition with our pledge to achieve 100% clean energy from fully renewable sources and helping to accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero.

It will be a privilege to join forces with other leading rural local authorities to influence and drive forward the crucial change needed for the UK to bring about environmental, health and economic benefits for our communities.

We are looking forward to making a better future for us all. We have recently pledged to speed up our own climate emergency plan, as part of our Covid-19 recovery work, and will be expanding the use our pioneering decision-making tool to help shape a better future for us all. Prioritising environmental and social benefits to ensure our decision making helps our people and planet to thrive, will be a key pillar of our work to help our residents, businesses and communities to become more resilient in a period of unprecedented change.

Cllr. Edwina Hannaford is the portfolio holder for Climate Change and Neighbourhoods at Cornwall County Council.

Herne Bay’s groundbreaking green hydrogen plant, by Cllr. Dan Watkins

Earlier this month planning permission was given by Canterbury City Council for the construction of the UK’s first green hydrogen plant in the UK. I was heavily involved with this process as the plant will be located in my own ward, and perhaps inevitably with such a new technology, local residents had a number of safety concerns about it.

Operated by Ryse Hydrogen, and located on Council land on the edge of Herne Bay, the hydrogen produced will be 100% ‘green’, having been created using renewable energy from the nearby Kentish Flats offshore wind farm. The first customer for the fuel will be a new fleet of hydrogen-powered London buses, which will be emission-free since the gas produces no carbon emissions when burnt.

As such, this project plant will support the Council’s ambitious targets to reach carbon net-zero, with capacity to produce enough hydrogen fuel to power 300 buses (in place of highly polluting diesel). Only a small fraction of the full capacity of the proposed plant is committed to support Transport for London, with the developer intending to supply hydrogen to bus operators in Kent in future, reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality in the county. This is a major issue locally as locations in Herne and Canterbury regularly see pollution from petrol and diesel vehicles running at a dangerous level and contributing to respiratory illnesses and deaths. Hydrogen fuel offers a solution to this public health risk.

Going forward, the hydrogen from the Ryse plant could also be used to replace diesel in other heavy vehicles, such as trucks and refuse collection vehicles. Longer-term it could also replace the burning of natural gas for the heating of homes and offices, with such trials now underway in the UK. Hydrogen is a very flexible fuel and replaces carbon emissions from the sectors where fossil fuels are most ingrained.

Some local residents had expressed concerns in the planning consultation relating to the safety of the plant. Ryse had assured local residents that their plant will use modern equipment with industry-leading safety standards, but nonetheless, I was involved in many conversations with local residents talking about the project, its benefits and the degree of risk it represented. Ultimately I was reassured by the fact that the global hydrogen industry is already huge, valued at $125 billion, and the company supplying the equipment for this plant has over 3,000 sites across the world.

Once constructed, the manufacturing plant will be the first of its kind in Britain and position Herne Bay at the forefront of the green economy, bringing employment and environmental benefits to our community. I hope that by having championed this first factory, it will be easier for other developers and councils to bring forward their own plans for similar hydrogen projects in their areas.

Dan Watkins is the Climate Change Champion for Canterbury City Council and the Councillor for Greenhill Ward. Canterbury City Council is a founder member of the UK100 Countryside Climate Network.

Open letter from the founders of the Countryside Climate Network

Our rural communities are at the frontline of feeling the effects of climate change. The driest of springs follows a winter of floods. Damaging our food production, bringing hardship to our villages and towns. But we can also be at the forefront of climate action too.

The countryside offers far more than a place to plant millions of trees to offset carbon emissions from elsewhere. Rural communities have always been a great source of national progress and innovation. This is why we have joined forces with UK100 to launch the Countryside Climate Network.

We are a new group of ambitious Council Leaders from predominantly rural parts of the country, collectively representing 40% of England’s land area.

Our goal is to ensure that the voice of rural knowledge and experience on climate action is listened to in Westminster. We need to be an active participant in transforming our national economy into one that saves, rather than harms, our environment. We stand ready to do our bit in the national interest of securing a net zero future for the UK.

Signatories

– Cambridgeshire County Council

Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council

– Adur District Council

Cllr Neil Parkin, Leader of Adur District Council

– Canterbury District Council

Cllr Dan Watkins, Climate Change and Cycling Champion, Canterbury District Council

Cllr Barbara Flack, Chairman of the Rural Forum and Equality and Diversity Champion, Canterbury District Council

– Central Bedfordshire Council

Cllr Steven Dixon, Executive Member for Transformation and External Bodies, Central Bedfordshire Council

– Cornwall Council

Cllr Edwina Hannaford, Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Neighbourhoods, Cornwall Council

– Cotswold District Council

Cllr Joe Harris, Leader of Cotswold District Council

Cllr Rachel Coxcoon, Cabinet Member for Climate Change & Forward Planning, Cotswold District Council

– Durham County Council

Cllr Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council

Cllr Carl Marshall, Cabinet member, Economic Regeneration, Durham County Council

Cllr John D Clare, Climate Change Champion, Durham County Council

– Derbyshire County Council

Cllr Tony King, Cabinet Member for Clean Growth & Regeneration, Derbyshire County Council

– Essex County Council

Cllr Simon Walsh, Cabinet Member for Climate Change Action, Essex County Council

– Gloucestershire County Council

Cllr Nigel Moor, Cabinet Member Environment & Planning, Gloucestershire County Council

– Hampshire County Council

Cllr Keith Mans, Leader of Hampshire County Council

– Herefordshire Unitary Authority

Cllr Ellie Chowns, Cabinet Member for Environment, Economy and Skills, Herefordshire Council

– Leicestershire County Council

Cllr Blake Pain, Lead Member for Environment and Action on Climate Change, Leicestershire County Council

– North Yorkshire County Council

Cllr Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council

– Shropshire Unitary Authority

Cllr Dean Carroll, Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care, Public Health and Climate Change, Shropshire Council

– Somerset County Council

Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council

– South Gloucestershire Unitary Authority

Cllr Toby Savage, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council

– South Lakeland District Council

Cllr Giles Archibald, Leader of South Lakeland District Council

Cllr Dyan Jones, Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency and Localism, South Lakeland District Council

– Suffolk County Council

Cllr Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council

Cllr Richard Rout, Cabinet Member for Environment & Public Protection, Suffolk County Council

– Wiltshire Unitary Authority

Cllr Philip Whitehead, Leader of Wiltshire Council

– Worthing Borough Council

Cllr Daniel Humphreys, Leader of Worthing Borough Council

 

Climate change is a rural issue, by Cllr Steve Count

I was intrigued to discover that over 60 years ago the first ever low-emissions tractor was built. A working prototype was built by manufacturer Allis-Chalmers, but never made it to commercial sales.

Today, many farmers are looking to switch from red diesel to hydrogen power to save money and our planet. Reducing the impact of agriculture on pollution and global warming is just one example of how rural people play our part in tackling climate change.

It’s no surprise after the devastating floods of last winter. Extreme weather events have doubled in the last three decades as torrential rainfall left meteorological records and communities in tatters.

This is a historic moment – public opinion is shifting rapidly with a resurgence of appreciation for the natural environment where we’ve walked, cycled and exercised during lockdown.

A moment to rebuild our economy, and reshape our country to meet the ambition of ‘Net Zero’ carbon emissions by 2050 and to level up all parts of the country. A green recovery that works for the two thirds that live outside the most urban cities and towns.

As the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, I am keenly aware of the need to balance economic recovery against environmental catastrophe. We are low-lying and vulnerable to sea level rise, yet far from a rural backwater, Cambridgeshire has the highest number of entrepreneurs per capita nationally, many focussed on advanced cleantech.

From Cornwall to County Durham we have decided to take a stand. We’re frustrated that climate solutions and green recovery packages to date have largely missed the rural voice. The Government’s £100bn infrastructure fund needs to support the ambitions of rural areas and the opportunities our countryside and green infrastructure can provide.

It can be hard to meet our ambitions when urban transport services don’t receive funding to reach out to remote communities or because investing in broadband for isolated areas isn’t economically viable. These examples of typical rural disadvantage combined with a funding gap in rural areas twice that of our urban counterparts, diminishing our stretched resources further.

Learning from and working with others is central to the scale and pace of change we need. That’s why 21 rural councils have joined forces with UK100 to create and launch the Countryside Climate Network for ambitious local leaders who want to do more, find solutions and achieve Net Zero goals.

Our rural communities can do more than just plant trees, we know first-hand how climate change impacts our land, food crop productivity, rainfall runoff, abundance of wildlife and rhythm of nature. From the Silicon Fen to the Scottish Highlands, we must harness our collective ingenuity.

However, rural communities face unfair barriers in trying to decarbonise. It is harder to attract funding for projects which don’t fit traditional cost benefit analyses, which favour urban concentrations yet may have less overall carbon reduction impact.

Yet there are great examples of work being done around the UK by councils in the newly established Countryside Climate Network.

Cornwall Council is developing a comprehensive Climate Change Development Plan. With support from Highways England, they are creating the Saints Trail: 30km of cycle and walking tracks to tackle traffic congestion, improve healthy travel options and dispel the myth that cars are the only option for travel in rural areas.

County Durham’s Business Energy Efficiency Project provides advice, free energy audits and grants to rural businesses, to reduce energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions.

Canterbury District Council’s support for a ‘green hydrogen’ plant, will draw electricity from offshore wind farms to create hydrogen to power clean buses.

North Yorkshire has reduced its street lighting energy consumption by investing in LED technology, reducing 4,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and saving the taxpayer £1.4m a year.

And closer to home, the Cambridgeshire village of Swaffham Prior demonstrates how a whole community can shift from oil to a renewable energy source. Thanks to a partnership between the community, my council and the Government, a planned district heating solution incorporating both a ground and air source heating solution will save costs for householders and 47,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over 40 years.

Imagine the impact if this were replicated in every village in the UK or in the 1 million households that still use oil fired central heating?

For the nation to tackle climate change and achieve Net Zero, the countryside must be at the heart of the conversation about a green recovery – before it’s too late.

Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and Chair of the Countryside Climate Network

An abridged version of this comment piece appeared on the Daily Telegraph website.