We kicked off this September at the seaside as the Liberal Democrats thronged to Bournemouth beach. After a year of historic by-election wins, optimism prevailed as activists and politicians mingled in the late summer sun-drenched streets. The housing crisis and house-building targets dominated the conference coverage, but it was the debate on the interrelated climate crisis that took UK100 down to the coast.
UK100’s Chief Executive, Christopher Hammond, was invited to take part in The Nature Conservancy Trust fringe event alongside councillors from South Cambridgeshire and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Green Alliance, Energy UK, Regen and many more. At the event, Christopher underscored the need for planning reforms to unlock community-led energy projects.
Hopping on a train up to the North West, next came Manchester and the more subdued atmosphere of the Conservative Party gathering. The grand Midland Hotel once again hosted the party of government, but after mixed by-election results in Selby and Ainsty and Uxbridge and Ruislip the mood was downbeat — but determined. The Uxbrige by-election set a narrative that coloured the entire event, with a narrow Conservative win being attributed to opposition to the expansion of London’s clean air zone (ULEZ).
However, despite the Prime Minister’s decision to delay a range of Net Zero reforms, our discussions focused on the overwhelming desire and commitment of Conservatives to ensure they deliver on their 2019 election commitment to Net Zero.
We were there with former Conservative Minister and Net Zero Tsar Chris Skidmore OBE MP to co-host an intimate dinner with MPs, local leaders and key stakeholders, including Selaine Saxby MP, Cllr Richard Clewer, Cllr Paul Haslam, and Lyndsey Jones and Max Austin of the Conservative Environment Network and Mission Zero Network respectively. We focused on how the government can deliver the reforms necessary to support local authority delivery.
Coverage of the conference was dominated by the Prime Minister’s decision to cancel the northern leg of HS2, meaning the high-speed train line won’t now extend to Manchester. Regardless of the merits of curtailing the vastly over-budget project and promising a series of alternative northern transport proposals, announcing the move in Manchester was a bold choice.
And with that, UK100 hopped on the — could definitely be higher speed — train from Manchester to Liverpool for the Labour Party conference. Supporters gathered to close out the conference season with a hopeful but cautious enthusiasm. While Labour had just failed to win the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election, they had secured a historic victory in Selby and Ainsty and were riding high in the polls.
Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, and Shadow Minister, Paula Baker, used their conference speeches to outline bold plans to devolve powers on skills, transport, and housing — key tools for delivering local climate action — as part of Labour’s proposed Take Back Control Bill. Between the speeches, UK100 convened our members along with Baroness Blake, Shadow Spokesperson for Net Zero, for a dinner with local Labour leaders from across the country.
Attendees came together to learn the lessons on implementing retrofit in Haringey, accessing finance from Westminster, and articulating climate policy in Milton Keynes. It was an evening full of hope and learning for our members.
The hope, however, is tempered by the fact Labour has not set out the contents of a Take Back Control Bill. Instead, the bill is being pitched as the starting gun, not the finish line for local powers and Net Zero, with the party perhaps burned by their bold commitment to invest £28bn in national climate action — a commitment Shadow Ministers have since attempted to redefine.
As the 2024 election looms, the party conferences exposed clear divides over Net Zero and how to empower local climate action. But, behind the breathless headlines, it also highlighted that a broad cross-party commitment to Net Zero remains, despite the increasing tendency to present the issue as a “culture war”.
By engaging key decision-makers and stakeholders across the political spectrum, UK100 is working to strengthen this consensus and demonstrate that a vision of a bottom-up transition with growth and fairness at its heart transcends party political bounds.