UK’s only local authority climate network responds to Queen’s Speech

Polly Billington, Chief Executive of UK100.
  • UK100 welcomes explicit recommitment to Net Zero
  • Only mention of energy efficiency being in respect of jailing energy efficiency activists is lamentable
  • Missed opportunity to recognise strength of public support for onshore wind
  • Welcome direction of travel on redesigning the energy system, but more local involvement necessary
  • Local authorities need more clarity on public transport and electric vehicle plans in Transport Bill
  • Establishment in law of UK Infrastructure Bank is welcome
  • Putting local community involvement gets cautious welcome but must avoid “NIMBYs’ charter” and roll-back of environmental protections

UK100 is the UK’s only network of climate ambitious local authority leaders committed to delivering Net Zero by 2045 at the latest.

Ahead of the Queen’s Speech, UK100 joined 31 civil society organisations urging the government to use a new energy bill to accelerate Net Zero and end fuel poverty.

In response to the Queen’s Speech, which unveiled 38 bills in fewer than 900 words, Polly Billington, Chief Executive of UK100, says:

“In the week the Met Office is warning the chances of exceeding 1.5C heating within five years is now fifty-fifty, the Government’s explicit recommitment to Net Zero is welcome.”

Energy bill

Echoing UK100’s criticism of the energy security strategy, Polly adds:

“However, it seems the new energy security bill fails to address the major flaws of the energy security strategy.”

“Despite the positive direction of travel, the bill fails to recognise the importance of working with local authorities. Local leaders are vital partners in delivering energy security and Net Zero.”

Energy efficiency

On energy efficiency and the energy bill, Polly continues:

“It is another missed opportunity to acknowledge that the cheapest and greenest energy is the energy we do not use. With the energy price crisis only intensifying pressure on families across the UK, the silence on any efforts to support households to increase energy efficiency and reduce demand is stark.”

“The only mention of ‘insulate’ or ‘insulation’ in any of the Queen’s Speech documents published on Tuesday was a promise to jail Insulate Britain protesters.”

“With the energy security strategy suggesting only 2.8% of homes are due for energy efficiency upgrades in the next three years, it begs the question: why are we waiting until 2050 to make the other 97.2% energy efficient?”

“Local leaders are making a success of the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery scheme to deliver lifelong low-carbon housing. They have demonstrated they can deliver at scale and cost-effectively.”

“Decarbonising homes should be a central element of the energy bill — and the best way to deliver it quickly, economically and at scale is hand-in-hand with local authorities.”

Energy networks

On the energy networks, storage and flexibility plans laid out in the energy bill, Polly says:

“The Government appears to be listening to Ofgem on the need to rebuild an energy system fit for Net Zero, but the details are thin gruel — and there is no mention of the importance of local energy systems.”

“Local authorities are key partners in upgrading our network infrastructure to be agile, responsive and make the most of the UK’s clean energy potential.”

“Different cities, towns and regions will have different energy needs and means of production, with local authorities a key element of the network’s future development. It would be a mistake to leave local leaders out of the loop.”

Renewables

With consistent polling, including from UK100, showing wide public support for onshore wind, Polly adds:

“It is disappointing that the Government didn’t take the Queen’s Speech as an opportunity to increase its ambition on onshore wind, despite wide public backing for what is one of the cheapest and cleanest routes to energy independence.”

“The Queen’s Speech also failed to outline exactly how the Government plans to identify and work with the supportive communities central to its plans to deliver even its modest onshore wind ambitions.”

“It’s frustrating because we know there are local leaders throughout our network, like those in Lancaster and the Cotswolds, who are ready to work with the government to increase onshore wind capacity.”

“Ultimately, it remains the case that renewable energy, onshore and offshore wind and solar remains the quickest and cheapest way to secure our energy independence, reduce bills and progress towards Net Zero.”

“The Government needs to work with local leaders and communities to increase the pace and scale of the objectives outlined in the energy bill.”

Transport

On the transport bill, Jason Torrance, Assistant Chief Executive at UK100, adds:

“Across the UK100 network, we see local leaders committed to accelerating action on Net Zero by supporting better access to public transport, providing active transport options, and speeding up the transition to electric vehicles. Therefore, the ambition of the transport bill is welcome, but the details remain scant. And clarity on the role of local authorities is completely absent.”

On public transport, Jason adds:

“Improving public transport is a key means of tackling the air quality crisis while delivering Net Zero. But any new railway body must work closely with local leaders, who have a vital role in supporting and delivering investment in local railway infrastructure.”

Similarly, on electric vehicles and the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund (LEVI), Jason alludes to Michael Gove’s recent complaints about forcing councils to compete for funding pots, adding:

“The Government recognises that the single biggest barrier to electric vehicle take-up is the lack of charging points. But the electric vehicle strategy promises only a single competitive funding pot for local authorities to improve electric vehicle charging provisions. And the competitive process is only likely to exacerbate the existing inequalities in provision, not alleviate them.”

“When it comes to electric vehicle charging, a competitive funding process is likely to favour bidders that already have significant expertise, experience and infrastructure already.”

“By the time the local leaders representing the towns and cities most in need of charging infrastructure drive their Chevy to the LEVI, the LEVI will be dry.”

“As Michael Gove suggests and the National Infrastructure Commission recommends, we need to move away from competitive funding — especially for infrastructure and Net Zero projects.”

“At the same time, without any statutory imperative, every local and regional authority must be included in designing and shaping the charging plans for their area, region and across Britain if there is any chance of delivering a reliable and consistent charging infrastructure.”

Finance

On the news that the creation of the new UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) will be finalised and established in law, Polly Billington continued:

“The UK Infrastructure Bank can play a vital role in helping local authorities work with private finance to fund key projects to deliver on Net Zero while supporting local and regional development and growth — we welcome its establishment in law.”

“And while we welcomed the Chancellor’s recent instruction to support energy efficiency projects, we’re concerned about the narrow scope suggested by the UKIB bill — accelerating action on Net Zero requires investment in a diversity of complementary and interrelated projects, from nature recovery to retrofit.”

UK100 has sent a briefing document and letter to John Flint, Chief Executive of UKIB, laying out a series of recommendations on working closely with local authorities on Net Zero. Polly adds:

“We want to see UKIB work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the new Net Zero Hubs to develop funding solutions and approaches to Net Zero investment that build local development capacity on a financially sustainable basis.”

“As well as a finance provider, UKIB should also consider its role in project development, mirroring the role played by other leading publicly-owned investment and development banks such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).”

Planning and regeneration

On the levelling up and regeneration bill, Polly says:

“UK100 is a network of local leaders representing almost 40 million people across the UK. We believe locally-delivered action on Net Zero is one of the most cost-effective ways of driving green economic renewal in communities that have too long been left behind.”

“But delivering Net Zero requires community consent and support. Local leaders want to involve their communities in designing Net Zero places, and being able to do that in alignment with the Climate Change Act will be the real test of the proposed planning reforms.”

“The Government needs to act with caution to avoid any new planning rules becoming a NIMBYs’ charter or means of rowing back on existing environmental protections. Reforms that could hinder ambitious councils in going further and faster than nationally-set Net Zero ambitions and policies would be a step backwards.”

Finally, on capturing more of the financial value created by development, Polly says:

“We welcome the plans for a new locally-set, non-negotiable levy on developments if it means councils have more funds available to invest in the Net Zero growth opportunities that regeneration brings.” https://www.uk100.org/