Blog by Andrew Parmar-Yee and Emma Andrews

Local elections in the UK took place last week providing parts of the electorate an opportunity to choose their councillors and mayors.  With the Government’s focus on a green recovery from COVID-19, together with its net zero commitments, there is no doubt that standing candidates’ stances on the climate crisis will have been a key driver in winning votes.

The crucial role that local government will need to play in achieving the UK’s overall net zero targets is indisputable, however exactly how this should be navigated is still up for discussion.  Emma Andrews and Andrew Parmar-Yee attended Regen’s Local Leadership Workshop on Net Zero Action Planning and set out a number of key considerations below:

  • Low carbon projects: Local authorities have a wide array of potential projects which could be targeted when considering their net zero ambitions.  This might involve the transport network, retro-fitting developments, decarbonising heat networks and zero carbon housing developments.  It will be crucial for each local authority to capitalise on a range of projects within its constitutional boundary in order to bridge the delivery gap of a climate emergency being declared and meaningful progress being made.
  • The role of central government: Central government will need to play a key role in enabling local authorities to properly execute their own localised net zero targets.  There has been a cultural shift in central government bodies with climate change underpinning much of the work being undertaken, however a strong relationship between central and local government is going to be instrumental in achieving maximum potential.  Whilst central government can steer local authorities and make clear what options are available to them, local authorities can use their democratic mandate to determine which policies will have the most impact within their area if implemented.
  • Strong governance and collaboration: There is no standardised ‘one size fits all’ policy that can be applied to all local authorities, however knowledge sharing and communicating best practice will hugely assist all local authorities in successfully implementing meaningful change.  In particular, local authorities would benefit from the sharing of more sensitive material, such as contractual frameworks and financial models to properly streamline and enhance projects.
  • Action plans and targets: The creation of action plans and the setting of definitive targets will aid local authorities in implementing change.  Two schools of thought often emerge in this regard, being the setting of ‘realistic’ or ‘ambitious’ targets.  While either might be adopted, targets ought to be pragmatic in order to drive action and, in any event, the process of setting such targets must not distract from inspiring immediate action.
  • Urgency: Local authorities must act quickly in response to the climate emergency.  While budget allocation is a notoriously difficult process (particularly so in light of the pandemic), the route map to net zero can provide ‘triple wins’ for communities with decarbonisation, capital injection into local economies and the creation of new local jobs. 

Burges Salmon is currently working with a variety of local authorities in tackling their net zero ambitions, which includes greening energy supplies and developing district energy projects under the HNIP programme, as well as acting for Bristol City Council on its innovative City Leap initiative, which brings together private sector and community partners to transform Bristol into a zero-carbon, smart city by 2030.

Please do get in touch with the team if you have any related queries or would be interested in discussing how Burges Salmon might assist you.