Whilst grandiose climate change plans announced by the UK Government are welcomed by many, local councils at the coalface will be critical in ensuring the goals become a reality. The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), representing place directors in councils across the UK, will be at the forefront of this drive: and has some clear messages to national government. Quadrant Smart sits down with David Dale, policy officer, ADEPT, to find out where councils matter most
The UK needs to harness a “bottom-up” approach as well as top-down climate change directives to achieve ambitious net-zero ambitions, an ADEPT policy officer tells Quadrant Smart in a recent interview.
The UK Government’s landmark announcement in November of a 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution was welcomed by David Dale and the ADEPT team – but David reinforced the message of a need for synergy between all levels of governance in meeting climate action goals.
ADEPT co-authored a blueprint for accelerating a green recovery at the local level, updated this month.
The blueprint, in collaboration with Ashden, Friends of the Earth, and SOLACE, amongst other climate and local government stakeholders, highlighted how local government is “indispensable” in the UK reaching its world-leading target of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 and in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow next year.
“National targets and our international obligations around decarbonising and meeting the high level targets from Paris, and ultimately from Glasgow, require a bottom-up approach as well as a top-down approach,” explained David.
“One of our big arguments is always around policy coherence. We need the government to work across its departments and encourage the joining up.” The blueprint identified retrofitting homes, upskilling staff, and a long-term funding pipeline as key areas of priority where local government could most make an impact from these improvements.
The blueprint has identified five priorities from local government’s perspective in accelerating a green local recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, and set longer-term solutions to the climate crisis:
- Investment in low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure
- Support of reskilling, retraining, and research for a net-zero well-adapted economy
- Upgrades of homes to ensured they are fit for the future
- Ease of use of remote and flexible active travel
- Acceleration of tree planting, and other green infrastructure
In meeting these five priorities, the blueprint also outlined seven key themes, including retrofitting of homes, ensuring long-term local authority funding, and ensuring they have expert planning staff from an ecological perspective in local councils.
We want something with fewer rules around what funding could be used for, and a longer-term horizon
David noted how the Climate Change Committee’s separate report on Local Authorities and the Sixth Carbon Budget echoed the blueprint’s call for greater flexibility in funding on how local councils spend public funds to achieve climate goals.
“We want something with fewer rules around what funding could be used for, and a longer-term horizon,” says David, rather than one-year spending allocations. “We want to have clarity and certainty at least over the medium terms and going forward in the next three to five years – rather than be forever in a position of uncertainty, which makes it very difficult to develop projects and to work with partners to try to lever in private and other funding for projects that we might want to do over the long-term.”
The future-first impact
A constant theme throughout the blueprint was the call for greater medium and long-term certainty in local government funding and national government directives.
In retrofitting homes with low-emission features like greener boilers, long-termism is key for both private and public sectors, David said. Retrofitting council housing with energy-efficient boilers and away from gas boilers, for example, “requires a huge amount of investment,” David noted. “We need to see where that is in the pipeline over the coming years.”
In the commercial sector and for private homeowners, David highlighted the Green Homes Grant scheme, available for homeowners or residential landlords to apply for vouchers to make energy efficient improvements to your home. Though the scheme has now been extended, its initial length of the scheme of only a year is a “very good example” of how short-termism can impact local economies.
“We need 15 years of funding, and a clear pipeline as to how that works, but it also doesn’t help the market gear up to do the work,” David said.
“It won’t be the council themselves doing that work, it will be the private sector recruiting and training people in new building and retrofitting to install the likes of heat source pumps and so on.”
Councils also need “much clearer” practical advice and better resourcing in the coming years to ensure they have enough expert planning staff in local government, the blueprint notes.
The shortage of expert ecological staff in areas like local government departments, such as planning, is one of a result of dwindling local government finances from the Local Government Grant, for example.
David said the reduction in council spending budgets has led to the suffering of the “nice-to-haves” in statutory planning roles, such as staff with an ecological or climate focus.
“Planning within councils and its capacity for staff has been reduced significantly over the last 10 years. As councils have had severe budget pressures and have had to prioritise services to the vulnerable, so planning has generally reduced,” he explained.
“Yes, there’s a shortage. We’re working with colleagues in other organisations and with government partners to try and put a figure on as to what that might mean.”
Innovation in sustainable fundraising
David echoed that local government innovation in sustainability can also be a future revenue source for councils. In looking forward, the policy officer repeated the Climate Change Committee’s argument to leverage local investment and make use of their estate.
There’s a big opportunity there for new forms of finance, for levering in small local investment, and large private investment as well, making use of all of our estate to the best effect
“Some are taking quite an innovative approach to how [sustainable investment] is financed,” he said, highlighting West Berkshire Councils use of Community Municipal Investment (CMI) bonds.
“It’s a commercial investment, investors can put in anything from £5 and upwards, and they raised a bond of £1m within a couple of months, and they’re now applying that to renewables installations across their estates. Investors get a small return,” he said.
“It’s a new way of raising finance quite quickly, when other more traditional public work loans or whatever for whatever reasons can’t do it.
“So there’s a big opportunity there for new forms of finance, for levering in small local investment, and large private investment as well, making use of all of our estate to the best effect.”