Feature: Devolution and the environment – a plan for a greener East Midlands

Ben Bradley MP, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, explains how devolution can benefit local environments and drive the UK towards net zero. 

On the 30 August this year the Government confirmed that a devolution deal worth £1.14 billion is on offer for Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Derby, and Nottingham.   

The devolution deal would mean a new guaranteed income stream over 30 years, which could be used to attract more investment, so the true economic benefit could be in the billions. It would give our area a bigger voice and influence, with a new regional mayor. But what would it mean for the environment?  

The deal is a golden opportunity to improve the lives of the 2.2 million people who call the region home by creating a greener future. Devolution would mean we can work more effectively on a larger scale on cleaner air, more energy efficient homes, to promote renewable energy, and more, with clean heat coordination and a new local energy plan.  

The Government has acknowledged that there has been too much centralisation in the past, and that this has led to imbalance and inefficiencies, with missed opportunities for using local knowledge and expertise to tailor policies to the needs of geographic areas.  

city skyline during orange sunset

Devolution would mean that we can work together more easily to move towards becoming carbon neutral. The devolution deal comes with £18 million to support housing and to drive our Net Zero ambitions. It would mean new low carbon homes could be built, and existing homes could be retrofitted with external wall insultation.  

Through local control of the adult skills budget, we could match up the region’s existing knowledge and expertise in manufacturing and green technology with the training that the industries of the future will need, to promote a future low carbon economy.  

Devolution plans and the local unity they demonstrate have strengthened our position as a region to be the host for new development projects. For example, the new STEP prototype fusion energy plant, recently confirmed for Nottinghamshire; a ground-breaking multi-billion investment in research to provide clean energy and to demonstrate how fusion could work on a commercial scale.   

Fusion produces no greenhouse gas emissions nor any waste products. Helium, a non-toxic gas, is the only by-product. It is inherently safe as if any disturbance occurs the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops.   

Fusion can produce energy on demand and isn’t affected by the weather, and fusion power stations need less land than other renewable technologies. It’s an incredibly exciting area and could be the key to the planet’s energy needs, potentially powering the planet for hundred of millions of years, as the raw materials are found in seawater and the earth’s crust.  

As well as promoting renewable energy and research, devolution gives us the chance to protect and enhance existing green spaces across the region, such as local areas for wildlife and green verges, with opportunities for more re-wilding. 

people playing soccer on green grass field during daytime

We could simplify how we deal with household waste and recycling across both cities and counties and take advantage of economies of scale by using combined and devolved budgets to deliver more value for taxpayers and more cost-efficient services. For example, we would have more negotiating power when buying new electric or hybrid buses.  

Transport is obviously another area with major implications for the environment, and devolution means we would be able to coordinate one region-wide scale transport plan, to better manage our areas busiest roads. We’d also have the opportunity to develop smart integrated public-transport ticketing and enhanced concessionary fare schemes to promote more sustainable ways of getting around.  

Devolution has the backing of all four city and county council leaders, as well as other organisations like all local universities, and the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce.  

If the devolution deal goes ahead, and I hope it will, it would create a new combined authority, under the leadership of a regional mayor, from 2024 onwards, with local leaders and organisations also given a voice. 

Ultimately this is about setting the groundwork to create a better world for our children and grandchildren, so the mechanisms are there to allow nature to recover, and so that our region can take action to build its resilience to climate change, through flood alleviation for example, while also taking steps to tackle it on our doorstep.  

What’s good for the environment is good for all of us. We all want cleaner air, better health, and wellbeing, and we want a better planet for future generations to inherit.  

A consultation on devolution is due to take place later this year, where local people, businesses, and other organisations will be able to give us their views. I hope that, like me, communities will see the great possibilities that the devolution deal opens up, including our plans for a greener East Midlands.  

Photo by Tom Podmore and Ignacio Brosa


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