Blog : blog

Why cities and city regions need a resilient recovery

Why cities and city regions need a resilient recovery

As we publish our Resilient Recovery Declaration and research on the retrofit army needed to reach Net Zero, Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees talks about the need to build resilience into our cities. 

The last decade has seen extreme weather events causing disruption to our economy and loss of life. Last year saw four UK records broken – the highest recorded temperature of 38.7C, the warmest ever winter’s day, the highest December temperature and the mildest February night. We now face dealing with climate related events taking place at the same time as managing the ongoing pandemic. I am writing this at the end of a summer which has seen heatwaves, flooding and continuing outbreaks of Covid-19 across the UK. As we rebuild and reconceptualise our cities and their economies, we need reliable and dependable support from government for the green infrastructure which will help us meet these interlinked challenges.

Local leaders and mayors are used to dealing with and resolving multiple, interdependent challenges balancing prevention and crisis. This has been the case with the response to the generation defining issue of Covid-19, and the pressure it puts on our systems and services. We have been on the frontline of the response to the pandemic, working with public health professionals, business and community sector to shield and heal. We’ve demonstrated our role in responding quickly to the crisis through our strong communities and networks. Operating in the complex urban environment, we see up close and personal the consequences of decisions and policies.  

But we’ve also needed to protect the space needed to think not just about survival, but about the recovery and reinvention of our cities and towns. To plan and build the centres we need for an economy that has changed considerably. Changing the systems so that they are more resilient and behave in a way that doesn’t contribute to the likelihood of shocks. In Core Cities UK and the other city networks that Bristol is part of, clear demands and plans of action are forming.

We want more from the government’s economic planning so that in recovering from the primary risk in the National Risk Register – a pandemic – we also need a commitment to tackle the three climate related risks of the other top five at the same time. It is short-sighted not to, but will also bringing billions of pounds into the economy, harvesting the benefits of low carbon and making resilient places attractive to inward investment. 

A key aspect of infrastructure for future cities to resolve is the delivery of low carbon heat to its residents and businesses, which represents 45% of final UK energy demand. In Bristol we have been installing new heat networks for several years, with a particular focus on the city centre. Bristol’s heat network currently supplies over 1000 properties with low-carbon heat from a variety of sources across the city and continues to expand to new areas across the city. Heat networks can be integrated into wider city urban growth and regeneration plans, helping to address fuel poverty and environmental issues such as air quality.

Across the Core Cities network, we are playing our part to build climate-resilient cities. Each city’s approach is unique, but there are consistent threads running throughout:

  • building an evidence base to understand the risks of climate change
  • a leadership role in setting out the future path for a city, working with local and national partners
  • thematic work tackling specific climate-related risks such as flood risk management or urban heat risks
  • cross-cutting work addressing common aims like protecting vulnerable people, using nature to tackle climate threats or retrofitting buildings

 The UK100 Resilient Recovery Taskforce was established by a group of 24 mayors and local leaders, representing 24 million people across the country. We are calling on the government to commit to a ‘New Deal for Green Skills and Growth’, alongside a major push on infrastructure investment, public transport and retrofitting homes.

We know that cities, and their economies, must become more sustainable and inclusive.

Now is the time for government to lend backing and offer real partnership and investment to support what cities are already doing in response to Covid-19. By front loading the investment in the green infrastructure cities and towns across the country already have lined up, we can secure billions of pounds of investment in quality jobs and invaluable confidence to local partners and their supply chains.

This is what will help us deliver the vital green infrastructure we need to meet carbon neutrality targets and rebuild the economy in a way that avoids future climate shocks and includes people to give them hope and social justice.

Putting the rural voice into climate action

Putting the rural voice into climate action

David Cope, UK100’s Countryside Climate Network Coordinator, spoke at the Rural Service Network’s annual conference Revitalising Rural on Thursday. In this adaption of David’s talk, he spells out why we need to include the rural voice in climate action and highlights some informative examples of councils engaging residents. 

UK100 is the only network for local authority leaders with a focus on net zero. But until recently, our network was predominantly urban. We recognised that we needed to be more inclusive, to support rural authorities that had distinctive challenges and opportunities around climate action, and to ensure that the rural voice was incorporated into our national advocacy campaigns.

That was why we created the Countryside Climate Network. We currently have 23 members from across England, together covering over 40% of the country and making up 20% of UK100’s membership. 

So far, more than 280 local authorities have declared climate emergencies. The ones that are generally finding it easier to act are those that have more devolved power or funding. But others, including many counties, unitarities and districts, are also acting positively. 

This second group is able to do so because they have the political will, public support and determination. We think that building consent and support among local residents is crucial for the success of climate action – it is a key aspect of building the power to act.

Climate concern is high

National polling tells us that concern about climate change is high. Before the pandemic, YouGov polling showed us that a quarter of the public felt that the environment was one of the most important topics facing the country – behind Brexit and health – with 74% concerned about climate change.

The pandemic hasn’t changed this. YouGov reported in July that ‘COVID-19 has not kicked environmental issues into the long grass’, with a quarter of Brits still viewing the environment as one of the most important issues facing the UK.

In spite of these general statements, it is evident that this doesn’t make the implementation of climate friendly policies smooth or simple. The introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods and pop up cycle lanes as a policy response to the need for travel adaptations to Covid-19 have demonstrated that even with a groundswell of enthusiasm for action, this doesn’t mean that everyone has provided their consent and support.

And even though the UK government is changing its position on support for onshore windfarms, there is still nervousness about whether communities will support their development locally.

That’s why we advocate for a high degree of engagement between local politicians and a broad cross-section of the residents and businesses in their areas. Last month we held a webinar on ‘mini publics’ – citizen assemblies and citizen juries – to discuss the pros and cons about their use in building consent and support in local communities around climate action. 

On 10 September, Climate Assembly UK – more than 100 ordinary people representing the diversity of the British public, commissioned by the UK Parliament – presented its report. The Assembly members supported the swift implementation of a variety of policies that the BBC referred to as ‘radical’, including banning gas boilers, frequent flier taxes, swift transition to electric vehicles and reductions in meat and dairy in diets.

But vitally, Assembly members also identified that the policy changes could only happen if there was better education for all on climate action. They highlighted that fairness needed to be an underpinning principle of the transition, and individuals and local areas needed to have freedom of choice. 

To me this highlights that the public are potentially very ready for radical changes, as long as they are part of those changes and they are not imposed on them. The importance of local choice and local solutions stood out for me too. 

The importance of engaging residents in action

Local authorities are well versed in engaging their residents in decision-making. As ambitions around climate action increase, it is ever-more important to involve residents in a discussion about what is acceptable and desirable to them. Here are a few examples from members of our Countryside Climate Network.

In Herne Bay, on the Kent coast, part of Canterbury City Council, planning permission has recently been given for the UK’s first green hydrogen plant. Powered by electricity generated by an offshore windfarm, this plant will produce hydrogen for use by buses, initially in London, but once production increases and new bus fleets are fitted out, it will be used by hydrogen-powered buses in Canterbury too. 

Some local residents had objected to the development on safety grounds – hydrogen being potentially explosive. The Councillor for the ward, Dan Watkins, one of our Countryside Climate Network members, had many conversations with local residents to discuss safety concerns, explain the risk profile and the project’s benefits. This type of engagement is crucial in achieving climate action.

In Cornwall, another one of our members, they recognise that some climate actions could be detrimental to some residents. So they have committed to ensuring no Cornish resident is worse off as a result of climate action. They developed a decision-making ‘wheel’ that balances environmental ambitions with social needs. 

With use of this framework, they have decided to not install fossil fuel heating in any new council-developed housing, have invested in a bike and walking network of trails to link together housing and economic growth areas, and are using central government funding to reduce bus fares across Cornwall. 

And in Cambridgeshire, the county council is working on a project that will replace oil fired central heating with ground and air sourced heating in the entire village of Swaffham Prior. The scheme is being offered to the village, but whether or not residents buy into it is up to them. The project was inspired from community members and this local ownership has been instrumental in building the support for adoption. 

Upcoming research to better understand local views on climate action

For all these reasons, we are about to commission some research into the views of rural residents on specific climate actions – including around transport, heating, energy generation and land management to name a few. This research will dig into what it is about these specific actions that make them easy to commit to, or contentious.

By understanding these issues better, we will be better able to explore ways to engage a broad section of rural society. This will allow local politicians to frame discussions about specific climate actions, equipping them to build consent and support locally. Ultimately, by building this consent and support, their power to act will grow. 

David Cope, Countryside Climate Network Coordinator

If you’d like to join UK100’s Countryside Climate Network, please do get in touch with Coordinator David Cope.

A ‘One Nation’ approach to climate action

A ‘One Nation’ approach to climate action

Cllr Steve Count, Chairman of UK100’s Countryside Climate Network, responds to the One Nation Building Back Greener paper

As leader of Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC), and Chairman of UK100’s Countryside Climate Network, I welcome the ‘Building Back Greener’ policy recommendations published recently by One Nation Conservatives. Delivering net zero is a perfect example of a One Nation approach – it will benefit everyone today and in future generations. The recommendations their report included will address the challenge of delivering net zero carbon emissions through incentivising better low carbon choices and planning for nature-based solutions to capture and store carbon emissions.

My Council, similar to others, is signed up to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. We are working with businesses and our communities to deliver change. However, there is a delivery gap. For example, nationally we need to retrofit approximately one million homes a year for the next 30 years to take them off oil and gas for heating and hot water. But how can anyone believe that this can be achieved when other statistics highlight that only 172,000 new homes were built last year – do we have enough construction workers with the right skills to make change happen at this scale?

This low carbon construction skills and supply chain gap needs filling quickly, to address the need to scale up delivery of home retrofits. Additionally, and importantly, homeowners need to be incentivised to shift from oil and gas heating. In Cambridgeshire we are working with a rural community of 300 homes to move them off oil-fired central heating. However, there are currently few economic reasons why those householders should want to change to low carbon heating systems. Jerome Mayhew MP suggests a carbon tax will shift behaviour, drive demand from householders and encourage better environmental choice. I think it’s worth exploring whether a carbon tax could replace the VAT system over a period of time to achieve both behavioural change and keep costs neutral for the public.

Putting a value on carbon is important, whether real or just nominal. An initial nominal valuation will help improve environmental decision making within Cambridgeshire County Council. I am encouraging our business cases to include two prices – one which includes the costs of carbon emissions and one without. The test will be to review decisions to see if this results in us making better decisions towards achieving our ambition of net zero carbon emissions.

During 2019, researchers from Cambridge University quantified Cambridgeshire’s carbon footprint. Emission from homes, businesses, transport, waste, agriculture and land use change totalled 6.1 million tonnes CO2e in 2017, with a further 5.1 million tonnes CO2e estimated for agricultural peatland. As part of the research analysis, measures to deliver net zero carbon by 2050 were identified. Apart from all homes and buildings needing to be retrofitted with low carbon heat solutions, such as air source heat pumps, it was identified that a network of 3,500 EV chargers would be required, in addition to substantial increases to walking and cycling. A massive effort, but even this would not deliver zero carbon emissions. To reach net zero, carbon capture and storage will be required to remove the remaining 0.6 million tonnes CO2e every year for Cambridgeshire alone. For this reason, I welcome our South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne’s views on the publication of a Greenhouse Gas Removal Strategy that includes carbon capture and storage, tree planting and soil improvement.

The Countryside Climate Network (CCN100), comprises 23 rural authorities covering over 40% of land across England. Planting trees is something that local areas can plan and deliver with financial support (accepting some areas are more limited as to how and where trees can be planted). For example, CCC owns the largest county farms estate in England and works closely with its tenant farmers. I actively encourage our tenants to consider tree planting, use ploughing and other techniques to minimise emissions whilst also increasing soil quality and food productivity.

Initiatives for sharing best practice and nature-based solutions are also encouraged. Through our work with university researchers, I know there is an urgent need for a UK soil strategy – peatland emission calculations in Cambridgeshire are based on data that is over 40 years old and urgently need updating. This will allow us to plan how our peatland asset can be better utilised with regards to airborne carbon. Building investor confidence in nature-based solutions to carbon capture and storage must be supported as one of the overall solutions. I will be seeking environmental land management schemes, as set out in the Agriculture Bill, to invest in nature-based solutions to deliver results and proof of concept along with other local authorities in the CCN100.

The CCN100 is looking to work closely with government to support the UK to prepare as the host for the UN Climate Change conference, COP26, next year. This is our opportunity to showcase to the world progress and leadership.

If the key recommendations coming from the One Nation publication are taken up by the Government, my Council will be at the front of the queue to demonstrate how local climate action will make significant contributions to achieving our national net zero goal.

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and Chairman of UK100’s Countryside Climate Network.

If you’d like to join UK100’s Countryside Climate Network, please do get in touch with Coordinator David Cope.

Launching UK100’s Resilient Recovery Taskforce, by Jason Torrance, UK100 Policy Director

Launching UK100’s Resilient Recovery Taskforce, by Jason Torrance, UK100 Policy Director

Early in July, a cross-party coalition of Mayors and council leaders came together as a Resilient Recovery Taskforce, with secretariat provided by UK100, to call on the Chancellor to commit to a ‘New Deal for Green Skills and Growth’ in his forthcoming Spending Review, expected in the Autumn. The opportunity for an economic recovery package that creates resilience in our communities and reduces carbon emissions is more possible now than it has ever been. However, success lies in a renewed partnership between UK Government and Local Governments that looks to the future and commits to large scale investment that reduces our climate emissions and builds back better.    

 

The social distancing and resulting lockdowns put in place to tackle COVID-19 is likely to cause the biggest drop in climate emissions ever recorded. Analysts estimate worldwide carbon pollution will plunge by more this year than the combined reductions seen during the global financial crisis, World War II and the Spanish flu. However, it is the actions that are taken as social distancing restrictions ease that will define our ability to tackle wider global challenges such as climate change and the need to build socially-just economic prosperity. Put simply, the opportunity to accelerate our efforts into developing a low carbon economy is now.

 

The COVID-19 crisis may of course only temporarily cut emissions. As shuttered factories begin to reopen, commuters get back into their cars and flights once again take to the air, little may have changed in the structure of the global economy – and progress towards net-zero will likely be as slow as ever and air pollution may return to city streets. Unless there are concerted efforts by governments, nationally and locally, to ensure this does not happen, our current global tragedy could sow the seeds for the next one. 

 

As we have seen with the global spread of COVID-19, no problem exists in isolation. While the UK was brought to a near standstill at the height of the lockdown, with road travel plummeting by as much as 73%, activity is now returning to near pre COVID-19 levels with car use now at 79% compared with before the COVID-19 outbreak, with vans and lorries at 92% and 97% respectively. 

 

With a COVID-19 vaccine seemingly some way off in the distance, it’s likely that there will continue to be a sharp rise in car travel over time at the expense of public transport so as to maintain social distancing. Now, more than ever, the need for UK Government increased investment in public transport is vital to keep services running.

 

For our wider economy, the post-pandemic outlook remains extremely uncertain, due to the unknown duration and severity of COVID-19 measures and doubts over the shape of the recovery. Analysis by the International Monetary Fund has resulted in them slashing their forecasts for global growth in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and warning of a slump in output this year unparalleled since the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

 

Towns and cities around the world are taking the lead in post-coronavirus planning, with a raft of environmental initiatives being rolled out in places from Bristol to Bogotá to ensure public safety and bolster the actions to tackle the climate emergency. Launching the newly formed Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, as part of the C40 group of cities, the mayor of Milan, said: “Our immediate priority is to protect the health of our residents and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we must also look towards how we will keep our people safe in the future. How we structure our recovery efforts will define our cities for decades to come.”

 

As the UK Government now begins to plot a course out of lockdown and towards a post COVID-19 new normal, the opportunity must be seized to protect jobs and safeguard the future while paying off debts created by emergency spending on the NHS and household incomes. This means re-evaluating infrastructure investments, such as the planned £28bn UK Government roads programme to ensure the country benefits from a jobs boom from initiatives such as: broadband, batteries, electric cars, home upgrades and infrastructure that enables walking and cycling.

 

Local leaders have played an essential role in tackling the COVID-19 crisis and they have an essential role in shaping what comes next. In fact, resilient recovery cannot be achieved without local leaders and the communities that they represent. Building back better requires a new dynamic partnership between the Government UK and local governments, a partnership that must be seized if we are to deliver Net Zero and renew our economy for the benefit of our environment, everyone and generations to come.  

 

Jason Torrance, Policy Director, UK100

Local Government: a breath of fresh air for public health and wealth, by Geraint Davies MP

Local Government: a breath of fresh air for public health and wealth, by Geraint Davies MP

Coronavirus has made people stop and think about public health like they have never done before, which has galvanised the campaign for Clean Air.

People have enjoyed cleaner air during lockdown. They have recognised the flourishing of nature, appreciated the reduced noise pollution and they have, in part, enjoyed the flexibility that remote working has brought to their lives.

These things should be safe-guarded and encouraged in a new normal and local authorities, with the right support, can use this time to deliver these changes as part of a localised response to coronavirus.

Evidence from universities around the world link air pollution with increased infection and deaths, which means it affects prevalence and should therefore be read alongside R value for avoiding a second peak.

A report published by a cross-party group of MPs that I chair, sets out a series of cross-department and multi-governmental proposals, supported by 90 parliamentarians, to keep air pollution low.

The proposals, based on evidence from scientists, businesses and local authorities include the continuation of home working, the phasing out of wood and coal burning in homes, a scrappage scheme for dirty vehicles, and changes to the Environment Bill which include Air Pollution targets and incorporates indoor air quality so harmful domestic chemicals are banned and planning regulation improved.

Most significantly for local authorities it calls for the roll-out of clean air zones, increased cycle lanes and more frequent public transport services – which will of course need the right central government support.

Having been the Leader of Croydon I oversaw the introduction of the UK’s busiest tram system – a public-private £200m 26km electrified orbital link between Wimbledon, Croydon and Beckenham. I believe similar schemes should be supported across the UK.

Greener planning and building regulations can bring in-built power generation, insulation and ventilation, less need to travel and more public transport with local government procurement boosting demand for electric vehicles on an upgraded charging grid.

These changes will revolutionise public spaces and give a much-needed boost to local economies by increasing footfall.

Further, it will encourage the UK to develop a greener and cleaner infrastructure, which can create jobs and establish a new industry and expertise that can boost our exports.

Polls shows that public support for cleaner air is at an all-time high and people are prepared and willing to change their lifestyles to achieve it. Some businesses, too, have been early to adopt flexible working and encourage public transport usage ahead of the coronavirus hitting, and many more have been forced to follow.

Likewise, local authorities have been proactive responding to air quality and have an opportunity to be more ambitious than ever before, if given the correct support.

Through a local approach people will be empowered to make the changes that will allow them to lead healthier lifestyles, during the next year or so where the threat of Coronavirus lingers and beyond.

Now, the government must embrace the opportunities of the next few months to ensure a green recovery that build Britain back cleaner and greener than ever before.

As ever, local approaches will be different and should be flexible– but they must be unified in their desire to improve air quality, and with-it public health.

 

Geraint Davies, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution

 

To feed into the APPG’s work, join the mailing list or to have the council become an associate member email Geraint.Davies.mp@parliament.uk

 

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.