Good day sunshine

At this time of year, any sunny day is a bonus in the midst of our either wet or freezing winter gloom, but l want to talk about how we in Bath are starting to benefit from all that free solar energy – both now and in the future.

The image above l collected while we were looking around an ancient Roman township site at Jerash in Jordan. As you can see, those that arrive on four wheels are parking their cars under giant solar panels and – while I’ll agree there’s more guaranteed sunshine in the Middle East – our summers are warming up!

Some sort of solar panel coverage may soon be considered for Bath’s Park and Ride as B&NES are intent on taking them out of their Green Belt status which will then allow the installation of ‘renewables’.

Cllr Sarah Warren, Cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel.

According to a progress report, delivered by Cllr Sarah Warren, the Cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, to the council’s Climate Emergency & Sustainability Policy Development & Scrutiny Panel – the council has also ‘installed solar PV on council buildings; and we’re working with West of England Combined Authority to develop their retrofit accelerator to support householders in making their existing homes more energy efficient.’

I think it’s worth publishing Cllr Warren’s update on the progress made on both the climate `and ecological emergencies in full. Having been scrutinised, both the progress made and plans for the future are likely to be approved at council in February.

Here’s what she had to say:

“Almost four years ago, Bath and North East Somerset council declared a climate emergency, pledging to provide the leadership for the district to reach net zero by 2030. And local weather events over the last year – last summer’s record-breaking heatwave with temperatures above 40oC for the first time ever in the UK – at the same time that global emissions reached an all-time high – have re-emphasised the importance of this declaration. Carbon dioxide concentrations reached 420 ppm over the last year, when we know a safe level for life on Earth is 350. We can now all see the damage being done with our own eyes, telling us we must maintain our urgency for greater and faster action.

B&NES also declared an ecological emergency in 2020, with the objective of being “nature positive” by 2030. Scientists estimate that the world’s biodiversity is now just 75% intact, significantly below the 90% threshold scientists believe is safe. We need to remember that our society exists within the natural world, and biodiversity is vital to our daily lives, as well as to the health of Earth’s ecosystems. Vital planetary processes such as the nitrogen and carbon cycle, as well as the production of clean air, clean water, and the food we eat, are impossible without a vibrant ecosystem at every stage. Losing species makes life for all organisms much more difficult and reduces the resilience of our life support system. 

I have heard the challenge of the environmental crises described as equivalent to emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. In this context, it would be easy to criticise any efforts made, whether by individuals or organisations, as insufficient or insignificant. However, it is vital that we in B&NES do all that is within our decision-making powers to make every possible reduction in emissions, and every possible help to nature, not only because we must, but also to support, encourage and inspire others with what can be done with the right will. The council cannot do this alone, we need the ongoing support of others to deliver this.

Those in need of encouragement include our own government, which was last week criticised by its own Net Zero Tsar Chris Skidmore for a lack of “clarity, certainty, consistency and continuity of policy” on carbon emissions, and it’s that same rather unambitious government that sets the tight constraints within which we at B&NES operate, as we’ll hear later. We are lobbying central government both directly and through WECA, UK100, Ashden, the Key Cities network on these points

All panel members here today will recognise that no single council can ever be said to have done “enough” in the face of the overwhelming scale of the environmental challenge. I am certain that you all share my ambition for B&NES to do more and faster every year on climate and nature, and my pleasure that we now have many of the policies we need, as well as skilled staff, in the form of our new Green Transformation Service, that will permit us to move faster on transforming what we do to deliver net zero, nature positive 2030.

One of the things I am most excited to report to you today is the Local Plan Partial Update, which we hope will be signed off at Council later this week. We will then be the first Council in the UK with our requirement for net zero new builds, as well as our process for identifying land for renewables. We are also at the leading edge in requiring 10% biodiversity net gain for developments – a year before this becomes mandated nationally. This policy will also take our Park & ride sites out of the Green Belt to permit the installation of renewables, as well as permitting their conversion to multi-modal transport interchanges. This is just one example of how hard we have been working, and how we are aiming to influence our built environment for the benefit of residents, as well as the environment, from now and into the future. However, we are limited in how far we can go with this document by National Planning Policy. 

In terms of other progress over the last 4 years, installed solar PV has doubled, assisted by the council’s participation in the West of England Combined Authority’s Solar Together scheme; we’ve installed solar PV on council buildings; and we’re working with WECA to develop their retrofit accelerator to support householders in making their existing homes more energy efficient. But we are limited again by a lack of national support to provide the necessary incentives and structure to the industry, to assist homeowners in moving faster in this area; and also by capacity constraints on the National Grid, which they seem in no hurry to resolve.

On transport, we introduced the first charging Clean Air Zone in the country that reduced NO2 emissions by 21% during 2021, and we’ve stated our ambition to set new targets for pollutants that are more demanding than national ones; we’ve published our Journey to Net Zero strategy; established our new Journey to Net Zero transport stakeholder forum to hear from transport campaigners; built new safe walking/wheeling/cycle routes and published plans for more; we are progressing our 15 liveable neighbourhoods; we have saved bus services; brought in a bike hangar trial; opened electric vehicle charge points. And we have plans for so much more, having successfully bid through WECA for £130m to spend over the next 4 years on sustainable transport corridors in B&NES. But again, we are ambitious, but those ambitions are limited not only by the funding available from government, but also by the policy framework in which we operate. 

On nature we are caring for 80 hectares of woodland and 100 grassland sites, as well as creating 12 new flower-rich meadows by 2024, through the Bathscape Scheme; securing funding to create nature-rich areas across 34 hectares of green space through Somer Valley Rediscovered; and changing management practices across 32 hectares of our parks and green spaces to benefit pollinators through the Let’s Get Buzzing campaign. We plan to engage further with farmers and landowners, and the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust; and identify and deliver opportunities for nature recovery and biodiversity net gain on council land.

Officers will now give you more detail of our activities across many of these areas and share our draft Climate Action Plan and Route-map to 2030. Then I hope today that we can have a really constructive discussion, taking a moment to recognise and celebrate the great strides we have taken in B&NES; the incredible, and in some cases, ground-breaking work, carried out by our growing Green Transformation service – often in partnership with the community, who care so much about this issue – and then I hope we can reflect on how we can work even more effectively together to overcome the challenges we face, to enable B&NES to achieve more still, and faster, over the next 4 years.”