I think we all recognise the critical role that local authorities have in meeting our net zero targets. Place, in particular, is essential to any carbon reduction strategy.
Our places influence how we live, work, and travel. These are key carbon emitters and the place based decisions and actions we take now must be part of the carbon reduction solution.
Place directors, with their responsibility for transport, highways, planning and environment can make a fundamental difference. The parameters we set for new developments can prevent, or at least mitigate, the need for expensive retrofitting in the future.
Given the economic and cost of living crises, the war in Ukraine and its impacts on energy security, as well as already rising fuel prices, some are saying we can’t afford net zero, it is a siren call from an old way of thinking. To take that approach is only to store up even more problems for the future, and we have enough of those already.
Not making the greener decision now is a false economy. Reducing the need to address climate change to a nice to have, or to reframe it in terms of either/or, is to fail to see the true picture.
We need to embed climate thinking along with protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. Economically, our current systems are not working for far too many – new models such as Professor Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics are needed to enable us to extend the value of what we do beyond the financial, important though that is.
We can and must implement net zero action in all our decision-making. The benefits, in terms of improved health and wellbeing, better air quality, low-carbon journeys and social inclusion, as well as overall carbon reduction, are overwhelming. And, that is before we come to growing the green economy and developing a highly skilled workforce that will make our communities fit for the future. Make no mistake, we have a skills and recruitment crisis right across the public sector that needs to be addressed.
Our places need to enable people to make greener decisions. Ironically, although permitted development legislation is in need of an overhaul, making town centres residential automatically enables greener choices with people living closer to services and transport hubs.
Pulling all these disparate elements together can only truly be achieved through a comprehensive place-based approach, where the carbon agenda runs through every strategy and policy. And, where Government is supportive.
Designing-in policy interventions at the right time is a preventative measure – meaning that costly remedial adaptation works that would inevitably be needed at a later date would not be necessary. This appears to be missing from the recent energy security strategy. The problems we need to address are here, now.
At least 90% of the infrastructure we will use in 2050 already exists. That means we must have a clear focus on adaptation. Reviewing and reworking our existing environments to make them greener is far harder than creating shiny new developments, but it needs to be a focus.
We need to think more boldly and take more risks – to innovate and change. The Energy Strategy has no mention of communal heat networks, for example – but that is how we help people living in blocks of urban flats, where a groundsource heat pump is not viable, even if you can afford it.
Local authorities are already leading on community solar projects, investing in renewables and using local plans to identify suitable sites for local energy generation.
To be successful, we need to take our communities with us. The fast implementation of emergency active travel schemes during COVID gave no chance for meaningful consultation. We need to enable our communities to visualise a different future to gain greater acceptance. It is hard to imagine, but not impossible to do.
From the Government we need a rethink on funding. Submitting quality bids takes time and resources, but as with the recent Bus Service Improvement Plans announcements, when only 31 of more than 120 bids were successful, or when you are encouraged to be ambitious but only get a third of what you are asking for, what then for levelling up?
Which brings me to this week’s Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport Spring Conference – Levelling Up Locally. So much of our net zero and energy decisions are tied in with levelling up and reframing the basis for our decision-making.
Many of the discussions will be covering this in more detail, and with Professor Raworth as our keynote speaker, I think this year’s conference will see us all challenged into new ways of thinking.
Mark Kemp is the new president of ADEPT (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport)