Notes from the secret ‘informal’ South Kesteven Climate Change workshop

The minutes of the formal SKDC Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 18th June, 2019 record that: “it was suggested that perhaps a series of workshops be held to gather evidence and explore what direction the Committee wished to take, what priorities they wanted to take forward.” 

“Some Members felt that workshops should be open.  Caution was stressed in relation to having open workshops as this could stifle debate as Members may feel unable to express all their opinions.” 

In my opinion, one of the most important roles of an elected District Councillor is to express your opinions and those of the people you represent. Unfortunately, the Conservatives appear to hold a different view which is reflected at almost every Full Council meeting where backbench Tories rarely speak except to sycophantically applaud their front-bench colleagues.

The so-called ‘informal workshop’ took place at the end of July and supposedly does not form part of the Council’s decision-making process. Councillors who do not serve on the Environment OSC were not invited to the meeting (except perhaps the portfolio-holder Cllr Moseley (Con)). The details of the meeting were not published and members of the public were not allowed in. The notes will not be presented to the forthcoming 17th September meeting of the Environment OSC so I am sharing them here instead. The notes below are exactly as circulated to Committee Members except for the bits I have added in italics and parenthesis. NB These are the notes circulated by the Council. They do not exactly match my own recollection of the meeting but I have not commented on the accuracy because I was at the end of a skype-line which was not 100% reliable

Climate Change Informal Workshop
30 July 2019 – Room 6
10:00am – 12:40pm

Working Group Members present:       
Councillors Trollope-Bellew (RTB) [Chair],
Baxter (AB) [via Skype],
Dilks (PD)
and Judy Smith (JS)

[Working Group Members absent (all Conservative)
Cllr Chivers
Cllr Cottier (Vice Chair)
Cllr Johnso
Also absent was Cllr Moseley, Cabinet Member for Environment]

Officers:      Strategic Director Commercial and Operations (Gary Smith (GS))                       Principal Planning Officer (Shaza Brannon (SB))
                   Corporate Projects Officer (Debbie Roberts (DR))
                   Democratic Officer (Lucy Bonshor)

Guest Speaker: Mark Davies, Director for Communities and Environment Lancaster City Council (MD) [via Skype]

The Chairman welcomed everyone present to the workshop and those present introduced themselves.

GS gave a brief overview.

3 sections had been agreed by the Environment OSC to focus on in relation to Climate Change:

  • carbon reduction
  • carbon offset and
  • technology

The workshop was for information gathering:

  • how the Committee wished to approach the subjects selected
  • what actions they wished to take
  • what policies they may wish to develop
  • what were the priorities and how to take these onward
  • what were the next steps

Mark Davies (MD) was introduced as a guest speaker – spoken at the recent national APSE Seminar on Climate Emergency on “How is your Council responding?”

Recognition of the need for urgent action on climate change continues to grow both internationally and nationally.

Local Government was best placed to have a community/business/VCS leadership role as well as take action as an organisation.

Optional reading matter circulated referred to the leadership role of Councillors within an organisation, facilitating and enabling and also outside shaping communities and businesses.

Council agreed an energy reduction action plan in 2012 – action plan circulated.

From the action plan it was noted that there were four council buildings with solar panels.  PD asked for information on initial costs and whether it had been financially beneficial.

It was also noted that currently the Council was trialling two electric pool cars.  PD asked for more information about the electric cars and charging points, were they popular with staff, what were the charging times, etc

It was proposed for electric charging points to be introduced in one Council car park in each of the four main towns, although power grid capacity for electric charging points was an issue.

Reference was also made to the replacement programme of Council owned street lights with LEDs which the Committee had dealt with previously.

Presentation – Mark Davies (MD), Director for Communities and Environment at Lancaster City Council

Lancaster City Council had declared a Climate Change Emergency on 30 January 2019, they aimed to be a zero carbon district by 2030. 

Greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide (CO2) were on the rise. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels had raised global temperatures which in turn affected sea levels, melted glaciers, increased rainfall which contributed to increase flooding, changed weather patterns and reduced water supplies.  These also affected air pollution.  CO2 exists in the atmosphere for between 50 and 200 years.

Experts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had provided clear evidence that actions that had been undertaken by people had impacted the environment and that we were facing a genuine and immediate emergency.

As with dealing with any emergency a planned approach was needed.  Identify the causes of the problem and tackle those areas where a biggest impact could be made.  Make sure everyone recognises the emergency and has the same principles in mind.   Allocate resources and reprioritise as required.

Key points to take account of with carbon zero planning were:

  • have a clear target – what base line information you had in relation to Council activities, transport, buildings, energy consumption etc.
  • how Council responds – timescale
  • direct demonstrable control – quick gains
  • coherent overarching strategy – alternative forms of fuel
  • clear action plan with targets that can be monitored
  • genuine business exercise – why deliver services, getting residents on board
  • the council can’t do it on its own – every single person needs to contribute
  • clear communication plan – how it fits with other activities and wider Government and international agendas
  • encourage external monitoring
  • embed in the culture of the council – consciousness about the importance of climate change and make it as important as other agendas such as health and safety
  • important that the Council takes the lead and pulls together strong partnerships with other organisations that have specific accountable actions
  • do the basics well and start with areas where energy is used such as the councils vehicle fleet, buildings – making sure they are sufficiently insulated, that LED lighting is used etc.

By planning services properly with positive actions the result will be efficiencies.

Currently Lancaster produced 3,000 tonnes of CO2. To get to carbon zero by 2030 it was looking at business cases for things like solar farms, how buildings were heated/lighted and the vehicle fleet.  Currently Lancaster self-generated electricity via a solar farm to power its leisure centre.  The council had also shifted energy supplies to renewable energy and was off grid.

Considerable investment was needed and Lancaster looked at efficiencies and invest to save.  Borrowing and budgets had also needed to be re-profiled. 

Rationalisation over the number of buildings required and having an efficient heating system were also areas to look at to help lower the carbon footprint.

Electric and hydrogen transport could also be looked.

Use of open spaces could also help offset carbon emissions and Lancaster was part of a tree planning programme to plant one million trees in ten years.  This had the added effect of improving peoples feeling of wellbeing.  Bio diversity was also encouraged in parks rather than trying to maintain them all as bowling greens.

PD asked about the tree scheme and MD replied that Lancaster was part of the North Forest Scheme which ran from Hull to Liverpool and the Woodland Trust contributed 75% to the cost of providing trees.

Lancaster CC was only responsible for 0.4% of the carbon emissions, a large amount, 50% came from the M6 and transport which went through the district.  Other large amounts came from agriculture, domestic dwellings and businesses.

MD then spoke of partnerships and how these can have big influences, Lancaster University had a lot of knowledge and were forefront on pushing the climate change agenda forward.

Leadership, partnerships, communication, harnessing knowledge, creativity, radical thinking and influence were all areas which helped drive forward becoming carbon zero.

Discussion followed on:

– trees in relation to carbon offsetting
– biodiversity in parks
– off shore wind turbines
– solar installations
– Getting the wider community and businesses engaged
– having a specific Member of Cabinet delivering the climate change agenda (Deputy Leader at Lancaster CC)
– having specific citizens assembles/juries looking at climate change (Lancaster CC having a meeting early January 2020). 
– A significant shift was required and citizens needed to be engaged if this was to be addressed and it was how this engagement took place. Not just with residents but with businesses and partners, everyone needed to be on board.

Engagement support in Lancaster came from the 16 – 24 year age range, they pushed the agenda on climate change, Lancaster was quite radical with having the university.  Morecombe, although near to Lancaster did not have the same level of engagement.  MD was thanked for his presentation and left the workshop.

Further discussion followed on:

  • the important role of Leadership in taking climate change forward
  • the use of technology in meetings
  • electric “pool” cars having a wider use in parishes.
  • It was suggested that it was too late for the Georgian Festival in relation to climate change and the use of plastics and it was acknowledged that this suggestion maybe too late as a theme for the next scheduled Gravity Fields Festival.
  • Encouragement at all festivals to have “no plastics”, Members were keen on this suggestion and it was agreed that this issue be something that was taken forward for future festivals.

PD asked about the amount of CO2 produced by SKDC, could our carbon footprint be found out.  GS indicated that he had some information on utility bills etc, but it was putting it in a format that was easily readable.

Trees – free trees available through the Woodland Trust for parishes and small community groups. For larger business i.e. SKDC a part contribution is available towards cost of trees but it was noted that the land also needed to be available to plant the trees.

AB suggested that information in relation to carbon footprint should be available because of the 2012 Carbon Reduction Plan.  Copy of updated action plan circulated, included actions complete, some ongoing, some no action. It provided a base going forward.

Again information requested to see what position the Council was in following the introduction of the action plan in 2012 – better/worse.

The viability of having an electric “pool” car in parishes was again discussed. It was felt that the logistics and viability were perhaps more relevant to urban locations.  The connectivity of charging points linking them to the power grid were a major consideration until technology caught up.

Members then received a presentation from a planning perspective from Shaza Brannon, Principal Planning Officer at SKDC.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies for England. A revised NPPF was published in 2018 and updated in 2019.    Although the NPPF published in 2012 strengthen climate change policies the new updated NPPF contained an environmental objective on mitigating and adopting to climate change as well as meeting the challenge of climate change in relation to flooding and coastal change. 

The local authorities should support a low carbon future by shaping places to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimise vulnerability and improve resilience.  Existing resources should be re used including conversion of existing buildings.  The new NPPF states that strategic policies of Local Plans should made provision to address climate change mitigation and adaption.

Strict new guidance had been issued on where wind turbines were located and these should be backed by the local community.    The new NPPF also required consideration of cumulative impacts on areas with regard to flooding and looking at natural flood management.

The emerging Local Plan had recently been through independent examination with a view to adoption in 2020.   The plan had been examined against the 2012 NPPF.   As soon as the current plan was adopted a new plan would be underway which would include the strengthened NPPF climate change policies recently issued.  The current plan did include objectives which sought to tackle climate change and reduce impacts, 13 & 14.

There were a number of supplemental policies which ran alongside the Local Plan.  The Principals of Sustainable Development was one.  Development proposals in South Kesteven would be expected to minimise the impact on climate change.   Design and construction were part of this, one size did not fit all and she suggested that Richard Shaw, Principal Design Officer be invited to speak to the group.  Local Plan policies which touched on climate change were “Reducing the Risk of Flooding” and “Sustainable Building”.  Emerging polices were “Promoting Good Quality Design” and “Renewable Energy Generation”.  Proposals for renewable energy generation would be supported subject to meeting detailed criteria.  Once the current plan was adopted work would start on the new plan which would push forward the climate change agenda.

RTB asked about visiting an Eco house – DR indicated that she was aware of a passive house in North Kesteven and GS said he would look into it.

A workshop discussion followed with the points below being made.

Strategy should have short/medium and long term goals which should be time based with options and costings such as charging points, other things may take longer.

Council should have a specific person with climate change knowledge.

Revisit 2012 plan look at reasons for barriers – update of plan to next meeting.

Mirror Lancaster CC in declaring a Climate Emergency – look at issues on transport, energy, trees.

Festivals – themes, reduction in plastics.

Transport – transport levels in relation to Councillors and Officers, car travel, vehicle freighters what’s feasible/viable, what is the replacement programme for vehicles, emissions – should also apply to all Council owned companies.

Understanding the planning aspect in relation to design – Invite Planning Design Officer Richard Shaw.

More information in relation to solar panels on council properties initial costs, revenues received etc.

Energy from Waste Plant – Anaerobic digestion plants – current food waste trial – will Government legislate that food waste collection carried out on weekly basis – County Council are disposal authority – possible commercial venture level of costs/risks.

Straw burning plant outside Sleaford energy used to heat leisure centre pool, council offices and heat primary schools.

Green waste – council currently charge for green waste collection service, waste taken elsewhere – look at doing it ourselves?  Home composting should be encouraged more – community leadership role?

Encouraging use of community vehicles – reference made to Call Connect – LCC public bus service – mitigate amount of emissions – taxis emissions also mentioned – taxi vehicles have an age limit.

Greater crack down on litter.

Possibility of tree planting to be incorporated as part of large planning applications as well as carbon offset attributes, contributes to health and wellbeing.  As a nation tree planting was lower than average, lowest tree covered areas – look as financial feasibility of planting trees.  LPA’s had a statutory duty to consider the protection and planting of trees when granting planning permission.  Look at having a tree policy long term – suggested that a minimum of three trees planted per dwelling.

Going forward:

2012 Action plan with update to be circulated electronically.

Possible speakers for next workshop – Environment Agency, Woodland Trust, Richard Shaw

Target recommendation for carbon reduction needed and timescale.

Use 2012 action plan as base line – has there been a reduction?

Need to have a sense of the political priority/ambition of the Council in relation to climate change

Festivals – reduction in the use of plastics – to next committee

Use of technology (i.e. Skype to attend meetings) to go on a workshop agenda

Possible next workshop in October – date to be confirmed.

Close 12:38pm

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