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Excellence in Place - how to translate climate change targets to a local level

Kathryn Haworth, Head of Highways at Gloucestershire County Council, shares her thoughts on the final Excellence in Place Leadership (EiPL) session for the 2020 cohort.

The role local authorities will play in meeting the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050 cannot be underestimated. The vast majority of authorities have declared climate emergencies, and many of those have set the ambitious target to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. The focus now is on how to translate this to a local level, looking at how to implement and drive real innovation and change.

Our fourth and final EiPL session focused on ‘Leadership in a Climate Emergency’. To kick off the day, I delivered a real-world case study, looking at the current climate change strategy in Gloucestershire. I wanted to set the scene and examine what the challenges are – many of which are shared by other local authority areas across the country – with the aim of providing Gloucestershire with a series of tangible carbon recommendations.

We looked at how to balance growth (such as housing, infrastructure and transport) and make it clean. Of course, we want a strong economy, but we don’t want to add carbon, instead we want to reduce it. We established that our key challenge is to put climate change at the heart of decision making.

Three expert contributors then gave leading examples of how they have worked with the public and private sector. Jon Furley, from the University of Gloucestershire, Ola Gustaffson from Gehl, and John Twitchen from Env23 all spoke about their experiences of working on climate change projects. We were joined by the Gloucestershire Youth Panel, who provided an insight into how they would like authorities to react to the climate emergency.

Following this, we split into two workshop groups, focusing on either transport or economy. Each group held detailed discussions, to get to grips with the brief, to ask further questions and find out further information. We also held an ‘options debate’, where we considered the key opportunities for each of the themes, using our learning from previous EiPL sessions, such as green finance, procurement, etc. After each of the three workshops there was a review session, where two groups presented their workshop findings to a master panel.

One interesting result of our debates was the contrast between the climate change emergency and Covid-19. We – generally – are applying a ‘business as usual’ approach to climate change, looking for solutions from within our existing frameworks and systems. This doesn’t factor in that our whole approach needs to change. We need to apply our learning from dealing with Covid-19 to the climate change emergency, working at pace and with agility.

Our main outcome for the day was to create a think piece for local authorities. We discovered that many of the themes and challenges around the country on climate change were universal. We identified a number of recommendations for Gloucestershire, which can be applied to different locations.

We focused on four key areas: engagement, communication, implementation and measurement. We also established some specific recommendations for economy and transport.

Our shared experience is that communities and businesses are supportive of climate change policies. There was an agreement that engagement needs to be developed and increased – we need to be bold to ensure we succeed.

Another key outcome from the day’s sessions was around using simple communications to convey messages and build awareness. For example, using a simple bold statement can have real impact and will ensure the message is understood. We also agreed on the importance of having data to back up these bold statements. Having relevant, credible data to explain the reasons behind decisions helps engage communities and builds confidence and trust.

Ultimately though, we had one overriding conclusion – there is no magic bullet to achieve our net zero goals. This is a hugely complex issue and we need comprehensive and wide-ranging government commitment at all levels, along with communities, to sign up to this. Behavioural change is critical, which needs commitment from everyone. We also need to recognise that we are planning and designing for future generations. This is not only about our immediate needs, it is about how we plan for the future, sustainably.

I really enjoyed our final session. I found it useful to talk about my local authority area and have such a concentrated focus from my colleagues in other areas. Having such varied approaches applied to a single issue was a helpful way to develop new ideas.

As in one of our earlier EiPL sessions, we met virtually and we found this worked really well, although was not as easy as meeting face-to-face. However, we were still able to switch off from our usual routines and workloads to think creatively.

The Excellence in Place Leadership programme has been a really valuable experience – I’ve developed my skills and grown my network of colleagues across the local authority spectrum, as well as got involved in emerging policy areas and how to translate that to local implementation.

It will be interesting to see what the new topics will be in the new 2021 cohort, and seeing synergies with our work over the past year.

The ADEPT Excellence in Place Leadership programme is sponsored by Amey, who pioneered this approach within the highways sector in 2018. ADEPT and Amey continue to collaborate and will deliver a second programme during 2021.

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