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Solar panels on Christ Church primary school in St Leonards. Rooftop solar has a leading role in HBC’s climate change strategy.

Council’s roadmap to carbon-neutral Hastings

Armed with a climate change strategy and action plan, Hastings Borough Council has embarked on a journey to make the town carbon-neutral by 2030, as called for in the climate emergency motion approved last year. Nick Terdre describes the main features of the plan.

HBC’s climate strategy and action plan were approved on 23 March by the council’s new managing director, Jane Hartnell, one of her first decisions under emergency powers adopted in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

These measures are intended to provide a roadmap to achieving carbon neutrality in the borough by 2030, as mandated by the climate emergency motion unanimously approved by the full council in February 2019.

Measures approved under the 2019 climate emergency motion

Make Hastings carbon-neutral by 2030
Take advantage of new powers as they are made available to us by central government
Work towards supplying 30% of the town’s electricity by 2030
Update the low carbon and renewable energy policies as part of the Local Plan review to deliver energy-efficient new developments and renewable energy projects
Update the council’s sustainable procurement policy to take account of climate change
Work with partners to increase the EV (electric vehicle) infrastructure in the town
Reduce the council’s and town’s reliance on single-use plastics
Work with partners to help deliver the climate emergency commitments
Maintain council land to maximise species diversity and mitigate species extinction
Incorporate an evaluation of climate change implications in all reports to council committees
Appoint a lead councillor ‘Climate Change Champion’

There were 11 parts to this motion (see box). One aim has already been achieved: the council has a climate champion in the form of Cllr Maya Evans, who has been appointed the Cabinet lead for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.

Movement towards reducing reliance on single-use plastics has also taken place with a ban on the use of such plastics at events organised by the council and the drafting of a single-use plastics policy for adoption by the council.

The council has also promoted two energy efficiency schemes and is looking into the potential for carbon-neutral housing at the proposed Bulverhythe housing project. It had also continued to push its project for ground-mounted solar arrays in the Country Park, but as this article was about to be published, it announced that this proposal, which had proved controversial, had been dropped.

Taken by surprise

The announcement that the strategy and action plan had been approved came as a surprise to most. In fact the news was only broken on 7 April, two weeks after the decision had been taken. No relevant local groups, such as Energise Sussex Coast, Hastings Campaign for Sustainable Transport and Hastings Urban Bikes, were consulted, nor is any public consultation planned – unlike in Rother where the council has invited public comment on its draft environmental  strategy, which also aims at carbon neutrality by 2030.

The lack of contact with any outside bodies was because the council was in a rush to get the strategy out before the period of purdah ahead of the local elections in early May (now postponed) came into effect, Cllr Evans told HOT. But, she said, the strategy and action plan are a live document, meaning that partners can feed back at any time with thoughts and suggestions.

However, the council is working with Energise Sussex Coast; in March the two parties signed an agreement to work together towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Joint projects will include rooftop solar, which has an important role to play in the strategy.

With its poor housing stock and reliance on gas, the residential sector is the town’s main source of carbon dioxide emissions. In June the Cabinet is due to authorise a programme of rooftop solar installation.

The council plans to boost the number of public charge points for electric vehicles.

Extreme challenge

Meeting the ambition of carbon neutrality by 2030 “will be extremely challenging,” the strategy admits, “and it is not clear whether, within the next 10 years, it is an achievable goal, but what it will do is catalyse innovation, galvanise and engage local communities and businesses in action, and deliver a broad range of projects and ideas that take us on a pathway to being carbon neutral.”

The strategy and action plan draw heavily on a report by the consultant AECOM (the “world’s premier infrastructure firm,” according to its website), which was originally commissioned to inform the update of the Local Plan. AECOM has drawn up an evidence base showing where the town stands in terms of climate change and provided analysis identifying which measures will have most impact in terms of meeting the carbon-neutrality aim.

Of the current effect of climate change on the town, it says: “…there are visible impacts of climate change including increased winter storminess, winds and rainfall, storm intensity, as well as hotter, drier summers causing drought conditions. The summer of 2019 was the joint hottest ever recorded in England.”

The study also concluded that Hastings is most at risk from changes to the coastline and flooding; heat waves and the associated risks to health and well-being from higher temperatures; drought and the risk of water shortages; impacts on local ecosystems and biodiversity, and on local food production; and the impact of new disease and pests and non-native species on wildlife.

Fossil fuels account for the bulk of the town’s energy usage. Consumption is greatest in the residential sector, followed by non residential buildings and transport (source: Hastings Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan: The Evidence Base 2020).

Between 2005 and 2017, the last year for which official figures are available, average total carbon dioxide emissions in Hastings fell by 39%. In that year the residential sector was responsible for just over 120,000 tonnes, transport for a further 65,000 and non-residential buildings for just over 60,000. The figure above shows the mix of fuels consumed in each of these sectors.

HBC’s aim of achieving carbon neutrality in 2030 is considerably more ambitious than the government’s 2050 target. But the strategy acknowledges that “Support from Government will be vital in achieving our accelerated goals and will need to be targeted in areas with the most impact to unlock our ambitions.”

Partial control

It also recognises that the “Council only has direct control over a small proportion of the total emissions of Hastings, and achieving the carbon-neutral target will depend on changes that occur at a regional and national level as well as in local organisations, business, communities and our own lives.”

This means that it will have to work with regional and national bodies to make progress. While the council is not all-powerful, it sees itself having an important role in providing leadership on the journey towards a carbon-neutral Hastings, for example, in encouraging behavioural change on the part of residents.

In an ideal world, the strategy says, to hit the target, we would have to:

Decarbonise the grid in Hastings
Ban all carbon-emitting vehicles from the town centre
Provide a free improved public transport network
Retrofit all the town’s homes and non-domestic buildings
Deliver sufficient locally generated renewable energy to every home and business to reduce reliance on the national grid
Grow all the town’s food needs locally
Plant enough trees throughout the borough to reach the 2030 target through sequestration.

Some of these aims are outside the council’s powers, but there is plenty there that can be worked towards. An action plan has been drawn up for the first two years. In parallel with its implementation, a plan for the following eight years will be prepared.

Active travel – walking and cycling – is to be encouraged under the climate change strategy. Hastings Greenway Group has been advocating it for years. Here from an HGG walk along a proposed greenway route in 2017.

Priority areas

The action plan identifies six thematic areas for priority action. One of these is renewable energy. As already mentioned, the council is preparing an extensive programme of rooftop solar, not just on council-owned buildings but also third-party roofs. In the course of this year, it aims to set up power purchase agreements with council tenants and hold a tender process for the supply of solar panels.

It will also seek to identify further opportunities for installing ground-mounted solar on council land and will liaise with the Ministry of Defence over a potential site in Crowhurst and with East Sussex County Council and Biffa over another on the Pebsham landfill site.

Council car parks constitute other potential sites which will be investigated, as will other opportunities for renewable energy schemes such as onshore wind.

Another thematic area is low carbon sustainable transport. Here the council will seek to replace its fleet of vehicles with zero and low carbon vehicles and electric bikes – a review is due to be completed by September. Charge points will be installed at council workplaces, and the number of charge points available to the public will be expanded at council-owned sites such as car parks with the aim of delivering 15 double-bay charge points in the borough by March 2021.

Through planning policy and working with partners the council will undertake measures to encourage greater use of public transport and active travel (walking and cycling).

Reduction in energy demand is another thematic area. A programme will be drawn up to improve the energy/carbon efficiency of the council’s estate, for example, by installing LED lighting at Muriel Matters House, if shown to be cost-effective.

A pilot programme will be developed for a ‘whole house retrofit’ project, and the potential for a low carbon heat network in the Bohemia Area development will be investigated.

March 2019: schoolkids on strike in the town centre demanding action on climate change.

A fourth thematic area is grid decarbonisation. Here the council will work with UK Power Networks to support the transition to a smart grid capable of meeting the requirements of a carbon-neutral Hastings, including an extensive EV infrastructure.

Communication, lobbying and partnership working constitute a fifth thematic area. Within the council, a climate change programme board will be set up to monitor and report on progress and plan activity beyond 2022. Results, conclusions and recommendations of the climate emergency plan will be disseminated so that they can be taken on board within all council policies, strategies and projects.

Staff will be encouraged to submit their own ideas for reducing the council’s greenhouse gas emissions. Central government will be lobbied to provide the powers and resources to make the 2030 target possible.

An engagement and communications plan will be developed to encourage local organisations, businesses and communities to reduce their own emissions.

The council will also work with partners such as Selep – South East Local Enterprise Partnership – and other regional organisations to identify funding for specific projects, to clarify the part they can play in tackling climate change, and to increase the town’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

As part of the sixth thematic area, offsetting, the council will seek to develop climate-friendly land management practices, including tree planting, as a means of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The climate change strategy is closely linked to the Local Plan which is currently under review. The adoption of the updated Local Plan, scheduled for winter 2021, “will be fundamental in setting the scene for our pathway to carbon neutrality,” it says. “By reviewing local plan policy we can help support reductions in emissions through new and existing developments.”

Via the local plan, the council will also work with partners towards low carbon sustainable transport and support renewable energy initiatives through site allocations.

Starting in March 2021 an annual report will be made to Cabinet on the progress of the emergency plan.

Useful contacts

Cllr Maya Evans, lead for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development
Chantal Lass, Tackling Climate Change Programme Manager

 

Posted 19:36 Wednesday, May 13, 2020 In: The HOT Planet

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bea

    The objectives are quite unspecific and will need a lot of consultation. Could I put in a plea for co-ordination with Rother and its very ambitious proposals?
    I don’t see anything much about conserving green spaces and especially tree planting (and preserving existing trees). The Council recently approved the wholesale destruction of trees on Ridge West by Beauport Park caravan park, which should never have happened.
    Transport policy is about more than electric cars, though that is important. How about promoting public transport over cars? The bus services need a complete review to maximise use. There should also be a plan to introduce electric buses. Land use planning is also critical: the Council should not promote housing developments that would require heavy additional use of cars. It is ironic that their new development on Bexhill Road for a supermarket with hugely increase car traffic there.
    The question of gas use for home heating also needs to be tackled: promote all-electric homes with good enough insulation, and talk to the estate agents about highlighting this as a selling point. Alternative domestic systems like heat exchangers should also be promoted. Once lockdown is over, the Council could promote an alternative energy trade fair.

    Comment by Bea — Friday, May 15, 2020 @ 10:37

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