Why councils should play a key role in clean growth

Carolyn McKenzie, Chair of ADEPT’s Energy Group, explains why local authority Place Directors need to lead the way in delivering a truly low carbon economy.

Clean growth, as Greg Clark has said, represents the ‘greatest industrial opportunity of our time’. If that seems unlikely to you, it’s really not. The UK’s low carbon and renewable energy (LCRE) economy increased by 6.8% from 2016 to 2017, with exports growing to £5bn in 2017.

Ensuring that our buildings, transport systems, energy and agriculture continue to create growth, but with lower carbon emissions, is not just important, it is imperative. The risks to our environment, health and biodiversity are becoming impossible to ignore. Poor air quality, rising energy prices and the impacts of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions are challenges that we have to tackle.

Increasingly, local authorities are at the forefront of action, with fifty-four councils and rising already declaring a climate emergency ahead of the UK parliament declaration on the 1st May. Nottingham City Council has resolved to become carbon neutral by 2028. Clean Air Zones, meanwhile, are starting to become a feature of city centres across the country.

As Directors of Place, ADEPT members are uniquely placed to drive change. We have access to the evidence and intelligence to identify opportunities and challenges; to take a helicopter view across sectors and geographical areas, fostering partnerships and brokering new relationships.

We are responsible for strategic planning, growth, economic development, highways, sustainable transport, active travel – all essential elements to get right if the clean growth agenda is to be successful.

Not only do we have an overarching perspective, but we also have access to a number of strategic levers at our disposal. We have immense buying power and can effect change in the type of products and technologies we use. We can define how services are delivered by introducing digital technology and AI, and push efficiency improvements in the supply chain through our commissioning and choosing to rent or lease products rather than buy.

As businesses, local authorities are a huge operation. For example, at Kent County Council, we have an annual turnover of £2.2bn (including schools), with an annual energy bill of £29m and rising. By reducing emissions and using cleaner technology, we can have a significant positive impact and can incentivise behaviour change through how we spend, use and save energy and control business miles.

Perhaps more fundamentally, by tackling and supporting clean growth, we can generate multiple positive outcomes across many competing, but interlinked agendas such as heath, productivity and employment. We can enable residents and businesses to make changes, providing support and incentivising new behaviours using the mechanisms open to us in economic development, trading standards, public health and adult social care.

The LCRE economy is the fastest growing sector for employment and apprenticeships. If we enable a move away from car dependency, we get less congestion, better air quality, and a modal shift towards cycling and walking, with resulting improvements in our physical and mental health. Healthier employees mean better productivity for UK businesses, which would also benefit from buildings being more energy efficient.

More energy efficient homes decrease fuel poverty as we reduce our consumption. The LERC sector could offer better protection for the environment through harnessing and utilising natural capital, again benefitting our biodiversity and access to green spaces.

However, local authorities cannot succeed in isolation. Our partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors as well as other public sector organisations are critical. We need to work closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to support delivery of the Clean Growth Grand Challenge within the emerging Local Industrial Strategies. Our LEP partners need to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Government and recognise that supporting natural capital and the environment are intrinsic to good growth.

As ADEPT, our relationships with private sector suppliers can encourage innovation and drive the adoption of new technologies. Our SMART Places Live Labs projects are currently examining new uses for data analytics with sensor and control technologies as well as the potential to harvest kinetic and solar energy from pavements. All these pilots have the potential to be adopted at scale and it will be fascinating to see the results after two years of development and testing.

In Kent, we are due to publish our draft Energy and Low Emissions Strategy for consultation, which pulls together, environment, health and economy and sets out how Kent can achieve zero net carbon emissions. At the ADEPT Spring Conference this year, our President’s Awards are recognising the importance of clean growth.

With the advantages of supporting clean growth benefitting us in so many fundamental ways, it really does beg the question, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’

Carolyn Mckenzie

Carolyn Mckenzie

Chair of ADEPT’s Energy Group.

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