Agenda item

Breckland Sustainability Strategy (Agenda item 13)

Report of Councillor Ian Sherwood, Executive Member Customer Engagement & Member Champion for Breckland Sustainable Strategy.

Minutes:

Councillor Ian Sherwood, the Executive Member for Customer Engagement & Member Champion for Breckland Sustainable Strategy presented the report.

 

He felt that this was an incredibly important day for Breckland Council in recognition of all the hard work that had been put in towards what was an exciting programme. He had been delighted to read in the Eastern Daily Press the ambitious 2035 climate change fight plan unveiled and was in respect of what was now going to be discussed and voted upon shortly. 

 

The recommendations were on page 154 of the agenda pack and would be proposed accordingly following a short presentation by the Council’s Senior Policy Advisor, Greg Pearson.

 

In September 2019, Breckland Council became one of only two Councils across Norfolk to recognise that there was an issue and thus a climate emergency was declared. Through this process, the Council had been working towards a date to set net zero and Councillors would be asked to support this ambitious target of 2035 - the Government target was between 2030 and 2050.

 

Members had been kept fully informed of progress through Cabinet meetings, a Members’ Forum in November 2020 and the Overview & Scrutiny Commission; and all Members had been given the opportunity to take part in the discussions.

 

The process and key actions that would ensure success to reach net zero carbon emissions were explained.

 

Councillor Sherwood thanked the 100s of people who had responded to the Climate Change public survey and was delighted that Members would have the opportunity to support the release of £525k that highlighted the Councils commitment to climate action.  This money was going to be spent on various work programmes, details of which could be seen on page 156 of the agenda pack. 

 

The monies that had already been spent and the commitments that had already been made were highlighted:

 

·        £825,000 to replace all the streetlights it owned with LED alternatives which was already reducing energy consumption.

·        £90,000 to fund a new 2-year fixed term Environment and Climate Change Officer.

·        £10,000 to carry out an initial carbon audit to understand its emissions more fully.

·        £10,000 for Elected Member ICT kit to enable paperless meetings.

 

A presentation including a detailed overview was then provided by the Senior Policy Advisor (see presentation attached).

 

It was noted that the web pages would be going live after this meeting and the Council would commit to publish its carbon footprint and emissions levels annually on its website.

 

The recommendations were proposed and seconded.

 

Councillor Bowes commended the report but asked for assurance from Councillor Sherwood that the issue of general littering would be fully addressed through this Strategy and through the Council’s environmental protection aspirations. Breckland Council had a very good record of tackling fly-tipping but the level of general littering along the hedgerows, verges, publically accessible woodland walks, and amenity areas was unacceptable and was, in itself, a serious threat to wildlife, flora and the natural environment, as well as being an eyesore.  She asked if Breckland Council would be working with Norfolk County Council and other agencies across the board to educate and campaign against the irresponsible behaviour of littering.

 

Councillor Sherwood thanked Councillor Bowes for her support to the programme.  He knew that she and many other Members were passionate about all aspects of the environment.  That said, a Board would be duly formed with organisations and perhaps ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ to help and inform the Council of any forthcoming projects so that it could work with them to ensure that the hedgerows and towns were clean and tidy. During this process what had been promising was the public engagement which he felt had changed over recent years.  The public wanted to be involved and wanted to make a difference and with this Strategy he felt that everyone would see a real change.

 

Councillor Gilbert fully supported and congratulated Councillor Sherwood for this report and for Councillor Morton, a Member of the Green Party for seconding the proposals.  This he felt was not a political issue in any shape or form and believed that everyone was singing from the same ‘hymn sheet’ and implored the Council to make this a cross party group working together going forward. He referred to page 214 of the agenda pack where it stated that Breckland Council would work with its residents, businesses and partners and felt that Breckland Council should be working with itself too and be a beacon of light to ensure that whatever was brought forward had full support from everyone whatever the political affiliation.

 

Councillor Sherwood thanked Councillor Gilbert for his comments and felt that what everyone had seen thus far with the seconding of the Strategy by Councillor Morton there was already broad support across the chamber. 

 

Councillor Kybird was satisfied that the Breckland Sustainability Strategy was both fit for purpose and had addressed the key practical issues in achieving its carbon neutral target by 2035. 

 

On behalf of the Labour Group, Councillor Dowling thanked the Senior Policy Advisor for his work on this Sustainability Strategy.  She was very pleased that the Strategy had reached this stage since she tabled the motion to declare a climate emergency in 2019.  It was crucial that Breckland continued to lead by example and she was happy that there had been a budget set aside for improvements to the Council’s assets and she hoped that this acted as a stimulus for others to follow suit.

 

Covid had persuaded many people to walk and exercise in their surrounding areas and this had led many to reacquaint themselves with their local wildlife and scenery and felt that the Council should capitalise on this and involve schools and young people in environmental protection and awareness issues.  As a District Council, it must ensure that it involved all of the population in this work and not everyone had access to technology and therefore it needed to advertise what it was doing to those who needed a more traditional method of communication.

 

Councillor Dowling had been pleased to note that the main focus would be on reducing the carbon index and the net zero date had been suggested as 2035 but there were many issues that were important in a rural area such as Breckland.  Pollinators needed to be encouraged into its green spaces by rewilding where it could as the decline of the insect population was something that everyone had noticed with great concern.  The tree planting had been successful and had caught the imagination of the public, but care and attention was also needed for Breckland’s existing trees.  With severe changes to the weather systems predicted it would also be important to look at areas that were subject to localised flooding, other local authorities including West Oxford DC regularly inspected its ditches and water courses and produced flood reports. 

 

There was an urgency around this agenda and the timescales needed to reflect this and whilst she understood that it was not advisable to over promise what could be achieved by 2030, the Council also needed to proceed as swiftly as possible, with strategies that could be implemented.  Some of the climate change results were regarded as unstoppable after this date and whilst Covid 19 had dominated the last year, in politics, reaching net zero was back at the top of the agenda with G7 having reconvened.  The general consensus from Government advisors was that domestic support could be hard to achieve therefore she felt it was crucial to get on board with other councils to develop a unified approach for the future.

 

Councillor Sherwood assured Councillor Dowling that all residents would be kept informed by whatever means including Breckland Council’s magazine that would include details of the climate change and strategy being proposed.

 

Councillor James had been really pleased to see that the ‘Switch and Save’ scheme had been included in the Strategy as this had been a matter that she had raised really early on in the process. She was also pleased to see the grant schemes included.  Breckland had a passionate community of volunteers within the District that would really appreciate this support.  As a side note, she was aware that many of her colleagues within the meeting were already involved in schools and the school governors and highlighted a project called ‘Eco Schools’.  Councillor James had been involved in this project for many years and felt that it was a worthwhile endeavour for pre-school children right through to the secondary schools and felt that this would be another way that Breckland could encourage and motivate. 

 

Councillor Borrett was pleased to hear Members of the Opposition supporting the Conservative administration in Breckland and another in West Oxfordshire.  All were being responsive to their residents and were dealing with this really important issue.

On another matter, Councillor Borrett mentioned Councillor Gilbert’s plea about being involved in everything before any decision was made.  This had been the case in respect of the streetlighting in Watton and had been surprised when Councillor Gilbert had chosen to vote against it.  

 

He fully supported this report. Witnessing Breckland, a relatively small Council, spending such large sums of money in an area such as this was hugely responsible.  Some trees that he had planted as a boy with his grandfather were now quite established in the landscape and ever since then tree planting had been a major interest and hobby of his and to see that this was now coming forward as a public policy from public bodies was, in his opinion, a really important piece of work. 

 

Councillor Borrett touched on the subject of electric charging points.  He felt that as Breckland was such a rural authority covering a huge area in comparison to other District Councils, it was vital that it helped to support the delivery of electric charging points as he doubted that the market would be able to provide them without such support. 

 

Overall, he felt that the Cabinet Member and the Council had done a sterling job in bringing this forward in a time when all budgets were very tight; therefore, to be able to commit the sums and the target of 2035 for carbon neutrality was a huge achievement.

 

Councillor Birt was a little disappointed that Councillor Borrett had chosen to bring politics into this report as he knew that everyone was trying very hard to make this a cross party effort. He felt there were admirable environmental benefits in this plan, but it needed to be pointed out that this was not a plan to get the Council to zero carbon.  It did not actually quantify any carbon savings whatsoever as the Council had not reached that far yet.   He hoped, in the future, that he would be able to fully support a plan when it actually set out methods and quantified the carbon that this Council was going to save by its actions.  There was still a long way to go but he was able to vote in favour of this report as an incremental step forward as he recognised that the Council had done some good work and had allocated some money towards it and was a step in the right direction.

 

He understood the issues in respect of the Council’s waste vehicles.  He was somewhat disappointed that the Council had not set a 2030 target which it could have done by including an exception note in respect of the contracted vehicles.  He then referred to a very important graph within the report that indicated the effect of delaying any policies that would put greater carbon emissions into the environment as a result.  He strived to encourage people to be as active as possible and get on with this and come up with proper quantified methods of saving carbon.

 

Councillor Taylor mentioned other contacts that could be beneficial such as ‘Pure Clean Air’ that worked internationally and raised awareness by working with school children and also, more locally, ‘Love Norfolk Hate Litter’.

 

Councillor Atterwill wholeheartedly supported the recommendations and thanked, in particular, Greg Pearson, the Senior Policy Advisor for the excellent work that he had done.  He also thanked Councillor Sherwood for driving this forward as he was sure that not everyone in the Conservative Group had been wholly in favour of this to start with but felt that the work he had done had brought everybody together to support it. He also thanked the Officers and Rob Walker, the Executive Director of Place, for the excellent Opposition Briefing that had recently been held.  Many questions had been asked and cleared up some of our initial misgivings and he was sure that Councillor Sherwood would agree with him that this was a start of a journey and was an excellent start particularly the funding that had been put forward and was one of the first Councils to get this far.  The next challenge would be to try and get Norfolk County Council on board and he looked forward to Councillor Borrett becoming the environmental champion for the County going forward.

 

Councillor Kiddell thanked the whole Team for bringing this exciting venture forward and was a start of a journey that she was looking forward too and thanked the Senior Policy Advisor for highlighting the Carbon Literacy training.  As Chairman of the Member Development Panel she had welcomed this training as everything that Members learnt could help towards our own carbon footprints and pass onto our constituents. 

 

Councillor Morton concluded the debate by thanking Greg and Ian for the work they had done in getting the project this far and felt most things had been said about it but he was interested to see how much money was being spent on environmental issues and he hoped that the Council could leverage some of that money to focus on reducing our carbon emissions. With the new extra money of over £500k he assumed that this was for a period of 5 years in which case if we do identify projects that were worth doing he hoped that we would be able to go and find the money for anything that would speed up our carbon emissions reductions. 

 

The Chairman felt that this had been a very good debate and was great to see everyone across the board coming in on it. There was now something on the table and was on everyone’s agenda.

 

Following a show of hands, it was:

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1.           the Breckland Sustainability Strategy be approved and adopted;

 

2.           the £525,000 from the Inclusive Growth Reserve to fund the programme of work as set out in Appendix 6 of this report be released; and individual expenditure be delegated to both Executive Directors in consultation with the lead Member for Climate Change and the Leader of the Council; and

 

3.           the target of being net zero by 2035 be approved and adopted.

Supporting documents: