We need a detailed green recovery map

By Nigel Riglar | 24 November 2020

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) has been emphasising the need for a green recovery since the devastating impacts of the pandemic on the economy and local places began to emerge.

Like many others, we welcome the apparent shift in Government mindset indicated by the 10-Point Plan and the drive for a Green Industrial Revolution.

We agree with the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) that it is a ‘landmark moment’. For environmental and green investment to now be seen as an opportunity to deliver jobs and green growth, rather than an add-on to ‘business as usual’ is a much needed step change. But there are some clear omissions that need raising, not least that a recent PwC report stated we need to invest more than £400bn over the next 10 years.

The environment, economy, inclusivity, health and wellbeing are inextricably intertwined, but uniquely so in our places, meaning recovery must be shaped and led at the local level.

The absence of local authorities in the 10 Point Plan is concerning; resilient places do not create themselves. Place directors especially are fundamental to the success of delivering net zero, not just as directors, operators and providers of buildings and services, but also through their role as place-shapers, partners and leaders. Our complex role makes us key in creating the sustainable and resilient places that provide the best outcomes for our people.

COVID-19 has laid bare the inequalities, poverty and social injustice of the old normal and we cannot afford to just return to thinking we have to choose between the economy and health. If we truly want to create a thriving economy for all it is not an either or choice.

Fortunately, a green recovery, with its focus on the environment, reducing emissions and enabling clean growth, provides a way to tackle many of the most pressing issues facing us today.

Investing in new industries, creating green jobs and enabling new skills will benefit all our communities.

The emphasis on using a green recovery to further the ‘levelling up’ agenda is crucial, and if Government is serious, we must lose the requirement for competitive bidding that hard-pressed local authorities can ill-afford.

All our communities and businesses have been impacted and will need the benefits of a green recovery – better jobs and a healthy environment, increased biodiversity and access to green space, local energy generation, and the implementation of new technologies at a local level.

The Government’s commitment to investment in new technologies – carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production, sustainable aviation fuels, and of course, the transition to zero emission vehicles – is essential, but we cannot rely on technology alone. We all have to recognise maintaining our current lifestyles is not sustainable, and this too is absent from the plan.

We welcome the Government’s emphasis on modal shift to active travel, but we are dealing now with the impacts of climate change and it will take many years for some of these investments to make a significant difference.

Widespread changes in behaviour such as reducing waste and excessive consumption must be supported, so it is discouraging to see that the development of the circular economy is not an integral part of the green industrial revolution.

And this is where I come to another challenge of the 10 Point Plan – policy coherence. It was good to see the document bring together emerging strategies for infrastructure, energy and decarbonisation, nature and trees, but it is through policy that this will all come together and a detailed roadmap is essential.

The planning White Paper is focused purely on housing volume and unless it changes as a result of consultation, will be a grave missed opportunity. Creating sustainable, low-impact neighbourhoods, building in reduced travel and access to green space is central to resilient, safe and healthy places.

We urge the Government to review how a coherent policy framework will truly enable a better and more beautiful nation.

It was encouraging to hear the environment minister say at a recent London Climate Action Week webinar, that nature is at the heart of the UK’s COP 26 presidency. We need to go further than that and make it central to policy and action.

The climate emergency is serious, and COVID-19 has inadvertently brought together the economy and the environment for the first time. But to be successful nationally, we need the resources locally and access to green investment. Local government is ready to step up to make our places extraordinary, we just need the Government to follow.

Nigel Riglar is president of ADEPT and director for the environment and community services at South Gloucestershire Council

@ADEPTLA

A blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level is available at: https://bit.ly/3flSax5

Green revolution or missed opportunity?

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