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How county councils are developing Local Environmental Improvement Plans framework

New devolution deals for several authorities are now a reality, with Surrey, Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire’s increased autonomy set to create clear blueprints for nature-positive roadmaps. 

yellow flowers with green leaves near trees

In England, devolution is the transfer of powers and funding from national to local government; ensuring crucial decisions are made closer to the people they impact.

In the Government’s recent budget, three local authorities [LAs] – Surrey, Warwickshire, and Buckinghamshire – secured Level 2 devolution deals. Although this falls short of the seven originally proposed for a standard Level 2 deal, it is still a positive step forward for ongoing LA devolution, securing greater levels of control over local issues and budgets.

A Level 2 devolution deal is one agreed with a county council or combined authority not led by a directly elected mayor covering a functional economic area or the whole county geography. It offers control over the adult education budget, the UK shared prosperity fund and Local Enterprise Partnerships [LEPs] i.e. non-statutory bodies responsible for local economic development.

Part of our ambition at ADEPT has been exploring how to integrate environment and climate change into devolution deals, including the concept of a Local Environmental Improvement Plan [LEIP] in the devolution deal wording for Surrey, Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire.

Is there a need for an additional plan? We believe there is.

Currently there are numerous environmental proposals and strategies alongside many separate funding streams (over thirty at the last count), the majority of which are short term and competitive with quick turnaround times.

A LEIP will seek to bring together the local environmental priorities under one framework which can then act as a basis for galvanising support and attracting investment, ultimately simplifying the process and improving outcomes.

Regular strategic meetings with DEFRA, Natural England and the Environment Agency have shown a willingness from all sides to work on developing frameworks that are easy to replicate for all LAs wishing to use them.

It has been agreed that Surrey County Council will be a ‘standard bearer’ for this process, meaning  it will develop what a LEIP could look like and explore the potential it could offer LAs across the country.

The formal devolution deal wording states that the government will work with the LA to ensure relevant local environmental, climate mitigation and adaptation policies, including Local Nature Recovery Strategies [LNRS] and existing and potential plans for protected landscapes, support the delivery of England’s EIP.

the sun shines through the trees in a forest

Government will also work with the LA on opportunities for strategic leadership in planning, advising and coordinating action on climate and environment matters for the county. The longer-term aim is to bring together objectives and requirements for environmental and other relevant environment or climate related local strategies and statutory duties under one framework – the LEIP.

The purpose of the LEIP is to support joined up delivery of local objectives and delivery of the government’s EIP, net zero and climate adaptation ambitions. Ultimately leading to LAs:

• Working more closely with other local authorities and public sector bodies, utility companies, business and communities as well as key and government agencies.

• Identifying relevant public plans and strategies in the area that impact the environment and aligning and linking up implementation under a consistent framework that supports the planning system, good growth and integrated delivery that is locally focused.

• Working with key partners, public, private and community, to identify, map and access relevant public and/or private investment to support the scale of change that is needed.

• Establishing governance to help prioritise action, support implementation, avoid duplication and monitor progress.

The advantage of a LEIP is that it offers a framework that can be developed over time, linking together all the areas of environmental focus for government and local government as well as business and community factors, including:

• Climate change mitigation, net zero and Local Area Energy Planning.

• Local Nature Recovery Strategies, biodiversity net gain and land management such as the emerging Environmental Land Management Scheme.

• Local flood, Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs) and climate resilience (adaptation) strategies.

• Local air quality plans.

• Sustainable transport strategies such as Rights of Way Improvement Plans and Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plans.

• Water and energy utility plans focusing on supply, demand, quality and supporting vulnerable residents.

green-leafed trees

Bringing together the many individual funding streams that exist across these areas and taking a place and evidenced based approach will ensure greater value for money and economies of scale, as well as additional co-benefits such as those for physical and mental health and green jobs and growth.

The idea is not to create more work for councils who successfully achieve a Level 2 devolution deal. It is to offer – through a LEIP – a process, framework and templates that supports tailored and local environmental improvement and maximises investment in the local area in the most efficient way.

Implementation would be a phased approach and the ultimate goal is to make conversations around environment priorities smoother, quicker and more effective.

A basic LEIP template will be developed with key departments based around the government’s EIP, incorporating what can be done immediately and constructed in such a way so that it can be developed further over time.

At the heart of this are active conversations with government, other local authorities including my colleagues in Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire, other public sector bodies, businesses and not for profit organisations who all have our communities’ needs at heart. Adhering to the underlying principle, that no resident is left behind.

Over the next few months, I will be talking to key government departments and agencies as well as other local government partners and local stakeholders to see how we can achieve this.

We all frequently use the terms ‘partnership’ and ‘collaboration’, and now it really is the time for these words to mean something, so that together we can effect real change.

Carolyn McKenzie, Chair of the Environment Board for the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) and Director for Environment at Surrey County Council, discusses recent devolution deal successes and the huge potential offered by Local Environmental Improvement Plans.

More features: 

The importance of climate action and communication after UK local elections

An expert’s guide to net zero and climate standardisation

How financial institutions meet ESG requirements through data and analytics


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