This blog post was originally published on 12th March 2021
At Telford and Wrekin Council, we published our ‘Becoming Carbon Neutral’ Action Plan in February 2020 following our declaration of a climate emergency in July 2019. We committed to our operations becoming carbon neutral by 2030 – ambitiously targeting 20 years ahead of the government’s 2050 deadline.
But the dual challenges last year of unprecedented flooding and the Covid pandemic threw planned priorities in the air and would have threatened to jeopardise our climate emergency agenda had we not already been focussing on the issue for some time.
I’m proud to say that tackling climate change has been front and centre of Telford and Wrekin’s priorities for many years. As an ‘early adopter’, we have been committed to reducing our carbon footprint for more than a decade (with the biggest reductions since 2011), having reduced emissions by 44% from 2005 to 2018. We were one of the first local authorities in the UK to own and operate a solar farm, while the replacement of the borough’s streetlights to LEDs has led to a reduction of nearly 7.5k tonnes of resultant carbon dioxide since April 2017.
We don’t just talk about climate change; we do something about it, even during the incredibly challenging past year. This is testament to the commitment of not only the council but also our partners, without whom we couldn’t achieve all that we have set out to do.
At Telford and Wrekin, we are a Co-operative Council. We have adopted a hugely beneficial partnership approach, establishing a Telford and Wrekin Borough Climate Change Partnership which involves a total of 33 organisations. Together, this has enabled us to drive our climate change agenda forward.
Since publishing the council action plan, we have taken a number of steps towards becoming carbon neutral and good progress has been made. We saw a 36% decrease in emissions from the council’s operations in 2019/20 compared to the previous baseline year. This has been achieved by true cross-council collaboration with officers and members of all parties involved in suggesting actions we could take to reduce our carbon footprint.
The move to home working as a result of the coronavirus pandemic led to a significant fall in the level of printing at Telford & Wrekin Council, business mileage claimed and energy use.
This year also saw the launch of ‘Telford and Wrekin Climate Change Fund’, offering grants to help local organisations reduce their carbon footprint, plus the ‘Trees4TW’ campaign giving away 8,600 free trees to residents, businesses and organisations, and the start of work to install solar panels on eight council premises.
Plans for the next financial year include a £1.37m grant-funded scheme to fit heat pumps and improved insulation in council leisure centres, retrofitting council buildings and temporary housing, and measures to deliver a 30% reduction in business travel.
We also plan to improve cycling and walking routes, complete an innovation park with electric vehicle charging points and solar panels, and install electric vehicle charging points not limited to council car parks.
To help capture carbon dioxide, building on the 10,697 tonnes/CO2e/ha/year stored through our existing woodland landholdings, Telford & Wrekin Council plans to enhance, restore and create heathland, species-rich grassland, wetland habitats and woodland. This includes a commitment to plant additional trees on council land and create a community forest with a tree planted for every child starting in reception on an annual basis.
We know from the findings of our recent residents’ survey how concerned our residents are about climate change. As Leader of the council, I must respond to these concerns at a local level but, to effect change in our borough, this issue must also be addressed at national policy level.
This is why we have included 10 Asks of Government in our action plan. Government needs to do much more to drive the change needed and urgently, and to provide additional financial support to mitigate the significant ‘new burdens’ being placed on local authorities as a result of growing concern and public pressure about climate change. We will lobby the government for more support, including more financial support for local authorities and policy changes to help us achieve carbon neutrality.