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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.

Lambeth’s response to COVID-19, By Cllr. Claire Holland

Lambeth’s response to COVID-19, By Cllr. Claire Holland

It’s already become somewhat of a cliché to talk about not going back to the pre-COVID-19 world and to harness what positive changes we can to address the inequalities that existed in our world before. Not least to address the causes and unequal impact of the climate crisis, and of one of the biggest emitters – the way we move around our streets.

Yet councils like ours in Lambeth, dealing on the ground with the scale of challenge and re-thinking required by this crisis, cannot wait for clarity or funding for active travel initiatives from government. As local authorities, we are stepping up and delivering for our communities.

Already in this crisis, councils have picked up the slack – keeping essential services going, delivering food parcels for vulnerable people, filling the PPE gap left by government and supporting communities to get each other through these difficult times. In Lambeth, this has meant setting up and delivering by cargo bike food and care packages to over 8,000 people in weeks.

Reshaping our neighbourhoods

Once we had got the initial food and care response off the ground and our business support package up and running, the imperative switched to looking at designing our neighbourhoods so people can move around safely, reducing road danger and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We know that without bold intervention, as restrictions ease, we will be seeing a catastrophic rush to motor vehicles as people stay away from public transport.

People in Lambeth are using their neighbourhoods differently in response to government regulations and health advice. Whilst we might have seen fewer cars on our streets, they were much more dangerous due to rampant speeding. The Met Police have published statistics showing compared with the same week last year, speeding offences are up by 300% this year.

In Lambeth, over 70% of our households live in flats and the majority do not own a car. What this means is that most of our residents have no outside space and are increasingly are  trying to enjoy the public space available in their local neighbourhood on roads that are totally dominated by non-local, rat-running traffic, that is going dangerously fast. This is manifestly unfair and impacts our more deprived communities disproportionately.

Our Emergency Transport Strategy

That’s why last week we were the first council in the country to launch an emergency transport plan in response to COVID-19. It aims to tackle the crisis in stages by temporarily widening pavements to enable social distancing and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; build safe routes for our key workers to cycle to Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital for example; make interventions in our local neighbourhoods so that we filter miles of rat-running traffic and allow local residents to use and enjoy their streets free from increased risk of danger; and construct safe routes to and from our town centres, connecting them with our residential areas so that as social distancing stays with us into the future, we are able safely to access employment and support our fantastic local businesses.

Our plan is informed by, and builds on, the ambitions we set out in our Transport Strategy last year – to create Healthy Routes (safe routes for walking and cycling) and cover Lambeth in low traffic neighbourhoods. Through the strategy, and with the projects we had been working on with TfL, such as the Brixton Liveable Neighbourhood, we are building a borough where walking and cycling becomes the mode of choice for everyone.  It is rooted in what we already know and had planned to deliver in Lambeth, but we are now doing so as an emergency because we urgently need to protect people from an explosion in motor vehicle use and the multitude of negative effects that will come along with that.

But what about the finances?

It is true local authorities face massive financial challenges, following a decade of austerity where in Lambeth, for example, we have had 56% cut in our budget from central government. The government said that we must do whatever it takes to protect residents and businesses and not to put off decisions because of money. However, the government has committed to funding less than half of the tens of millions Covid-19 is costing Lambeth. And we are yet to be guaranteed funding by government to act to protect our residents on transport. We will continue to lobby to ensure they stat true to their word. Because we agree, the approach should be whatever it takes.

But we can’t wait for that conversation with central government to play out – we must take action now. The risk of doing nothing is too great. If we don’t act, we could be left with gridlocked main roads and residential streets clogged up by rat-running traffic- creating an environment where people – particularly children and older citizens – are unable to move around their local area safely,  breathing in that toxic air.

Looking to the future 

In Lambeth, we are working with our residents and fantastic campaign groups who are sick of their roads not being safe when walking or cycling and of pollution marring their children’s walk to school. But whilst they have shown huge support for action we have taken, they rightly want us to go much further and to create significant and long-lasting changes to our environment.

And our ambition is to meet this challenge.  For us in Lambeth, we do not consider it is an option to replace one health crisis with another. The climate crisis has not gone away just because the air waves have been full of talk of the Covid-19 crisis.  We pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and a safe and clean transport system is key to delivering that. Whilst these problems may be national and international, the solutions are indeed local.

 

WANDSWORTH CHARGES UP THE BOROUGH, by Cllr Jonathan Cook

WANDSWORTH CHARGES UP THE BOROUGH, by Cllr Jonathan Cook

In 2018, I took charge of the electric vehicle (EV) charging points strategy to promote EV ownership in a bid to reduce our carbon emissions in the borough and prepare for the approaching future of an electrically charged Wandsworth. Fast forward to 2020 and Wandsworth Council has not only announced a climate emergency, but it has a Climate Change Action Plan to back it up with plenty more EV charging points in tow.

Improving air quality was a major theme of the action plan. A key action from the council to meet this challenge is to build on our extensive EV charging network and increase our charging points to nearly 700.

The commitment is a huge step forward in our roadmap to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and zero carbon by 2050 and EV ownership is one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions from traffic and as a bonus, its effect is immediate.

Already, many of our residents have embraced this new technology.  Up to December 2019 we received more than 1,000 requests from residents for more EV charging points. This level of requests proves that there is a high demand for EVs. According to TFL, EV ownership in London is set to increase seven-fold over the next ten years and Wandsworth is keen to get behind this transition and support the community going green.

Electric cars will be critical to the future of our nation if we want to reach our carbon emissions goals committed to in the Paris agreement. One of the major challenges of switching to an EV is the up-front costs of purchasing. While the costs of EVs are falling as the market responds to consumer demands, governments at all levels still need to find ways to make EVs accessible to residents. One of the ways we can do this is car clubs.

Car clubs are an initiative that the council has invested in heavily, to the tune of £3 million, and as a result Wandsworth has a thriving car club membership of nearly 30,000 – the largest in the country. Car clubs allow owners to hire an EV by the hour, day or week and reduces 13 private cars per club. The popularity of the car clubs is largely because they help people avoid the heavy costs around car ownership and the prevalent issue of space for parking in London. The response from the car clubs has been immensely positive and we’re looking at ways to build on the initiative.

Our Climate Change Action Plan emphasised the need for community engagement and involvement. While the council is dedicated to making changes and future-proofing our borough we acknowledge there needs to be significant collaboration and buy-in from the community to see a real impact.

Among the noteworthy actions from the plan was a pledge to spend £5 million on climate change initiatives that support the council environment and sustainability strategy, significantly increasing our tree planting program, supporting cycling infrastructure and availability of e-bikes as well, of course, increasing the borough’s EV charging network. I’m also delighted to say that council recently announced that it will be committing £20 million overall to the climate change agenda. This will continue to remain a top priority for us.

Guest Blog: The Big Clean Switch Switching with Salford

Guest Blog: The Big Clean Switch Switching with Salford

A simple way to help residents take action on climate – and save money

Has your local authority declared a climate emergency and you’re wondering what to do next? Helping your residents make decisions to decarbonise their own lives can be a big challenge. Where do you start?

Here’s where we can help you.

What’s the big idea?

We’ve developed a simple piece of code that allows residents to switch to verified green electricity tariffs directly through your council website. With average household savings of over £230 a year, it’s a great way to cut energy bills and help the environment (switching to a green energy tariff is the carbon equivalent of taking a car off the road for 8 months of the year!)

Better still, every switch will generate around £25 to help fund local environmental projects in your area.

See it action

Try the platform out for yourself on Salford City Council’s website, here: https://www.salford.gov.uk/switchandsave. You can embed the switch service anywhere on your site, but it’s particularly well suited to pages linked to utility payments – from council tax to parking vouchers – where residents may be particularly open to ways to save money.

Why Salford is doing it

Salford’s Mayor Paul Dennett says it is an important way to show leadership and help residents:  “In Salford we are absolutely committed to providing clean energy. We have more than 100 photo-voltaic solar panels on the town hall roof to help cut our bills and carbon footprint. Over 20 years the panels will save £286,000 and avoid CO2 emissions of 296 tonnes.

“We want to make it easy for residents to switch to green energy and save money so we have teamed up with the Big Clean Switch. By incorporating switching into things residents are doing anyway on the council website, we can maximise the number of people we support.”

Who is Big Clean Switch?

We’re a B Corp that works with a range of organisations, including businesses, local authorities and NGOs, to take the worry out of switching to low-cost, low-carbon energy.

We vet all the suppliers on our site to ensure that they uphold strict environmental credentials and good customer service. We also offer support over the phone and through our live chat function to help people with any questions that they have during the switching process.

Why it works

Most people think switching supplier is a hassle. Our platform allows you to take switching to them, incorporating it into interactions that are happening anyway on your website. What better time to save £230 on your energy bills than when you’ve just paid your council tax?

So if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to help your residents start to tack action on your climate emergency pledge (as well as saving them a bit of money too), contact Jon Fletcher at jon@bigcleanswitch.org.

Camden’s Clean Air Action Plan

Author: Adam Harrison, Cabinet Member for Improving Camden’s Environment, London Borough of Camden

 

Last week I was pleased to launch Camden’s new Clean Air Action Plan, which will run from 2019 to 2022 and is our most ambitious to date.

 

When I took on the environment role two years ago and began to grapple with the issue of air quality, it became clear that we should turn the longstanding advice about Particulate Matter — that there is no ‘safe’ level of it for our air — into policy. This would require pledging to aim for the more stringent World Health Organization levels, which mandate lower levels of PM than current standards do.

 

This is no easy goal anywhere, least not in Camden’s highly urban London setting in north-central London. As if to underscore the challenge, our choice of location for launching our new Plan was Friends House on the Euston Road — effectively a six-law motorway cutting right through the city. But the public deserve nothing less. How to get to these tougher levels though? It made simple sense to do the following: identify the sources of pollution, what impact current and future actions would make on them, and find out if these actions are enough to get us there.

 

It also made sense to make a special call out to the community in Camden — if we were to sit on our own devising actions as a council alone, no doubt we would make some impact. But air pollution is by nature a shared problem. For that reason, we set up the Camden Clean Air Partnership, drawing on the citizens’ assembly model to ensure Camden residents have their say, alongside a combination of those who produce air pollution and those who have to put up with it: and, really, we all fall into both categories. Chaired by Professor Muki Haklay, residents were joined by businesses such as logistics firm UPS, institutions like UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and community groups like the Older People’s Advisory Group and dedicated environment groups like Camden Air Action. Together they devised and agreed the actions that now form part of the new Camden Clean Air Action Plan.

 

Meanwhile, King’s College London analysed the ‘input actions’ and found that we could get close to WHO levels by our target date of 2030 — but not quite. While the study is likely fairly conservative in its assessment — we could well end up doing better, especially once the effect of measures like Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ are fully known — we now know what we always suspected: that we need a partnership approach like in Camden but extended nationally and internationally.

 

As a first step, we need stronger action from the government. Defra’s recently published Air Quality Strategy has committed to halving the population living in areas with concentrations of fine PM above the WHO guideline levels, but fails to formally adopt the WHO values. This is something that it should commit to within the new environment bill where stricter pollutant levels can be set. (Camden asked government to do this within our response to Defra on their Air Quality Strategy.) And should the government do this, it ought to follow a similar approach by analysing pollution sources and creating a plan that identifies what needs to be done to meet the WHO values. This is especially important at government level, as the Camden-King’s analysis identified that a large source of particulates were coming from outside of London and some even from continental Europe. This approach would also help to create targeted measures which would achieve the greatest reductions — rather than just having a spread-bet approach that fails to guarantee results.

 

Meanwhile, the actions the Camden Clean Air Partners have committed to are wide-ranging and exciting. UPS is electrifying its fleet operating out of Kentish Town. Great Ormond Street has released its Clean Air Hospital Framework and is looking into consolidating patient transport. John Lewis Partnership has pledged to run Waitrose lorries entirely on biomethane gas generated from food waste. And Camden Council itself is taking new steps to reduce air pollution from building sites, including construction vehicles. Our new Transport Strategy also aims to cut motor traffic on the borough’s roads up by to 25 percent and to help people transition to walking and cycling for short journeys.

 

Our new plan runs for the next three years — but we have a 2030 goal for WHO limits. How can we check up on our own progress, and how can others see what we’re doing? To ensure we have a standard to work to throughout the coming decade, Camden has set specific pollutant interim targets between 2022, 2026, and 2030. These targets have been set to align with our future action plans so that if we are short of meeting a target, there will be justification for implementing more stringent actions. We are also looking forward to continuing to work with our Camden Clean Air Partnership members to support the delivery of the actions they have committed to, and to agreeing additional actions and welcoming new members to the Partnership.

 

Public opinion has lately — rightly — begun to refocus on climate change. That too is a colossal challenge, and in Camden we will be drawing on the lessons of our partnership approach to instate a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency this summer to advise us on a new carbon plan for the 2020s. Averting climate catastrophe is even harder than bringing the air we breathe up to acceptable levels. The latter is hard and also relies greatly on the actions of others. But it is achievable, if we all set out our roadmaps to get there.

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

From passing a climate emergency motion to a meaningful programme of action

Simon Roberts OBE, Centre for Sustainable Energy, 18 March 2019

The roll-call of local authorities which have passed motions declaring a climate emergency grows day by day. What started in Bristol in November last year has been spreading like a benign virus through council chambers across the land and encouraging councillors of all parties to commit to taking urgent action to cut carbon emissions rapidly to virtually zero.

So what needs to be done locally to turn this fresh political commitment into meaningful programmes of action and participation which genuinely accelerate local progress in cutting emissions?

Beyond a typical response

A typical response would be for a council to commission a swathe of analytical work detailing how the new emissions target embedded in the motion (typically carbon neutral by 2030) might be achieved locally – if at all. The analysts and consultants are called in and everyone waits to find out what the plan is.

This is not a useless exercise; it will tend to produce a list of technological choices (from building retrofit to EV take-up) which details the quantities in which they have to be adopted from now until 2030 to meet the target. But such an exercise misses the point.

The problem is not that we are unfamiliar with the actions which need to be taken to cut emissions such that we must have them spelled out to us (though perhaps some do still want this).

The problem is that the individuals, communities, businesses and organisations that together make up a local area are not yet doing these actions in sufficient quantities to cut emissions fast enough. There are reasons why this is currently the case and it is those ‘reasons’ which must be tackled to accelerate progress.  

So another approach is required if these motions are to generate the meaningful and above all effective programmes of local action which they seek.

Stimulating the great acceleration

This approach involves treating the climate emergency motion as principally a call to accelerate the pace at which we’re collectively making all the changes we already know are required to cut emissions: to scale up, speed up and start up the things we know need to happen and know how to do. And to give up doing things which are incompatible with the local area becoming carbon neutral.

Immediately the focus becomes how to recruit the initiative-takers, enrol the key institutions and businesses, and reach beyond the council to build a partnership of the willing to contribute to the great acceleration in action to cut emissions sought by the motion.

Local authorities differ in the extent to which such wide-ranging and inclusive partnerships are already in place or emerging in their localities. But nurturing one is undoubtedly a necessary condition for success for the society-wide transformation inherent in achieving carbon neutrality.

Within such partnerships and more widely, individual and organisational commitments to contribute need to be concentrated quite specifically on what each individual or organisation is going to do next. Their ‘first next steps’ start from where they find themselves and seek to change something so more can be achieved. The steps must be possible without someone else taking action first (typically ‘national government’). Of course, there’s a need to look at what others with power need to do to make action by everyone easier, cheaper, quicker, better, more inclusive – and lobbying for these changes could be one of the first next steps.

We can’t outsource change

But to leave it there – a list of recommendations for ‘someone else’ to deliver – would be to outsource change. It would be to ignore the role we each have through our own direct actions in our lives and in our work and through the influence we can bring to bear on others. And it would be to underestimate how that role played well can lead to more systemic changes which would re-shape everyone’s actions.

Achieving carbon neutrality needs people and organisations to make huge changes in their own practices and choices and in how they seek to influence others. By doing so they can set new norms of behaviour, drive new initiatives, and secure wider participation. And they help to create the conditions in which others will find it easier to take action themselves and join in – including national politicians and regulators who design market rules and set funding priorities.

That’s why at a recent Bristol Green Capital Partnership event on ‘accelerating progress towards a carbon neutral Bristol’, one of the asks of the 180 attendees from across the city was to make and share their own commitments to ‘next step’ actions ‘at home’, ‘at work’ and ‘in our communities’.

We were putting into action the aphorism ‘If not us then whom? If not now, then when?’, much quoted by proposers of the climate emergency motions in different councils as they closed their debates and moved to a vote. Aside from a resonant rhetorical flourish, the aphorism provides a useful starting point for building the meaningful programme of action and participation required in response to the climate emergency: start with the willing and focus first on what they will commit to do next to accelerate progress.

 

Simon Roberts OBE is Chief Executive of the charity the Centre for Sustainable Energy and a non-executive director of Bristol Green Capital Partnership CIC.

Investing in Local Energy: National conference

Investing in Local Energy: National conference

Every area of the UK has the potential to develop clean, local energy projects that deliver better homes, improved transport, high quality jobs, carbon reductions and long-term financial returns. Local authorities are key to making this happen. They have a long-term interest in the success of their communities, but many face

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Financing the transition report Harnessing UK cities’ ambition for clean energy

Financing the transition report Harnessing UK cities’ ambition for clean energy

The ambition of local leaders to facilitate the transition to clean energy is high. But that ambition is stymied by a lack of capacity and capability when it comes to turning that ambition into reality. UK100 teamed up with policy experts, local leaders, developers and financiers to explore ways to solve this problem. Our answer – develop Clean Energy Action Partnerships, so that national government can build an industrial strategy with local leaders, focussed on place.

 

You can read the full report here:

Financing the Transition