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Agenda item

Climate Change and Carbon Reduction Audit and Action Plan

At its meeting on 8 July 2020 the Executive Committee considered the climate change and carbon reduction audit and action plan and RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL that:

1.       the audit report be AGREED as having established the Council’s current position and carbon baseline; and

2.       the action plan be NOTED, and agreement given for detailed work and feasibility studies to commence in relation to the carbon reduction options set out in the action plan.

Minutes:

16.1          At its meeting on 8 July 2020, the Executive Committee had considered the climate change and carbon reduction audit and action plan and recommended to Council that it be agreed as having established the Council’s current position and carbon baseline; and that agreement be given for detailed work and feasibility studies to commence in relation to the carbon reduction options set out in the action plan. 

16.2          The report which was considered by the Executive Committee had been circulated with the Agenda for the current meeting at Pages No. 8-93.

16.3          The Chair of the Executive Committee proposed the recommendation and felt it was important to note that the action plan had come forward as a result of proposals agreed by the Council in October. The Climate Change and Flood Risk Management Group had been asked to take the work forward and, thanks to that Group, the action plan was an excellent document which had been approved by the Executive Committee for recommendation to Council. The recommendation was seconded by the Vice-Chair who felt it was a concise and forward-thinking action plan. 

16.4          A Member thanked all who had worked on the report and was pleased with the suggested substantial savings – both in terms of carbon and financing - and felt this showed that ‘green’ investments could be beneficial in terms of the environment and business. Notwithstanding this, the original motion had first been introduced 12-months ago and he was concerned with the 10-year timescale given how long it had taken to get to this point, particularly when the motion only focussed on the Council’s own buildings. He noted that climate change was an extremely important issue with consequences that would affect the whole world, so everyone had to play their part. Given the flooding issues faced across Tewkesbury Borough, he felt that all Members had a vested interest in improving the effects of climate change and he indicated that, whilst the action plan was a good document, he was concerned about the short and medium-term phasing and the fact that savings needed to be achieved in as short a timeframe as possible. For that reason, he proposed an amendment that the length of the medium-term be shortened to five years instead of seven years with the intention of completing those actions by 2025. In seconding the amendment, a Member reiterated the concerns and felt strongly that the climate change emergency needed to be urgently addressed. Members were advised that safe carbon levels were below 350 parts per million but sustainable practices had to be introduced to get down to that level – as at 26 July 2020 the carbon level was 413 parts per million so there was a long way to go. The Motion only covered Tewkesbury Borough Council owned buildings and, if left with the timetable of 2030, the Council would only have 20 years to ensure the rest of the borough met the government target in 2050. As the action plan had already taken a year to get to this point, the Member was concerned this would be an impossible task. She felt that phase one should be the easy part and if that was addressed quicker more time would be available to concentrate on phase 2. Members were all in this together and the Council must act as quickly as possible to address climate change, particularly now that sustainability was a key priority in the Council Plan.

16.5          The view was expressed by some Members that experts had been employed to undertake the audit and action plan work and it made sense to follow their advice. In addition, the plan had been agreed by both the Climate Change and Flood Risk Management Group and the Executive Committee so had been through the Council’s due process. A Member indicated that the experts had not yet applied timescales to the actions so it would be premature to consider an amendment at this stage. Members were advised that Gloucestershire County Council had undertaken to achieve carbon zero across the county by 2050 which would obviously also be of benefit to Tewkesbury Borough. It was noted that the report proposed phased implementation of the actions which, for the medium term, would be from 24 months to seven years meaning they could be achieved within five years because there was already flexibility in the plan. It was noted that this was just the beginning of the plan and it did not make sense to make commitments at this stage that either would not be met or would not be affordable.  It was also felt that the amendment could serve to delay things by shortening the medium term so some things that could have been achieved within seven years would instead be put into the longer term meaning they could take 10 years. There were some actions that could be taken immediately to make a difference, such as turning the heating in the Council Offices down, but there were questions about whether the Council could afford to do everything in a quicker timescale. The report before the Council had been carefully examined through the process and the report itself referenced the significant progress Tewkesbury Borough Council had already made in certain areas. Other Members expressed the view that the Council had the opportunity to do something positive in how it dealt with sustainability and climate change and that the amendment proposed was a constructive way to do that. They could not understand why Tewkesbury Borough Council would not wish to set a challenging target and lead by example on this issue. In supporting the amendment, a Member indicated that the first and foremost thing to remember was that the Council had acknowledged this was an emergency and by implication was urgent. The amendment was modest, sensible and achievable and made environmental and financial sense. The original Motion to declare a climate emergency had been put forward a year ago but then had been considered by Members and ‘watered down’ until it came back to Council in October; the longer the situation remained unaddressed the more it would cost both environmentally and financially. Actions such as putting photovoltaic panels on Council buildings would also provide jobs which was exactly what the country needed now. It was considered by many that the Council’s funds were safer in climate action than in commercial property even though the returns were longer. It was an emergency and there was urgency so to bring the timescales forward from seven to five years was a bold but necessary move.

16.6          In summing up, the proposer of the amendment advised that he had heard a number of spurious arguments against reducing the medium term timescale but he believed it could be achieved for the benefit of the residents of the Borough and that the climate emergency had to be addressed sooner rather than later or the consequences could be dire. A recorded vote was requested and, upon receiving the appropriate level of support, voting was recorded as follows: 

For

Against

Abstain

Absent

C L J Carter

R A Bird

J H Evetts

P E Smith

C M Cody

G F Blackwell

 

C Softley

L A Gerrard

G J Bocking

 

S A T Stevens

D J Harwood

K J Cromwell

 

 

M L Jordan

M Dean

 

 

H S Munro

R D East

 

 

P W Ockelton

P A Godwin

 

 

R J G Smith

M A Gore

 

 

R J Stanley

D W Gray

 

 

M G Sztymiak

A Hollaway

 

 

S Thomson

E J MacTiernan

 

 

P N Workman

J R Mason

 

 

 

H C McLain

 

 

 

P D McLain

 

 

J W Murphy

 

 

 

A S Reece

 

 

 

C Reid

 

 

 

J K Smith

 

 

 

V D Smith

 

P D Surman

 

 

 

R J E Vines

 

 

 

M J Williams

 

 

16.7          With 12 votes in favour, 22 against and one abstention, the amendment was lost.

16.8          A Councillor proposed a further amendment that Officers bring back a report to Council in six-months’ time detailing the business case of how to achieve implementation of photovoltaic installation (the cost of which would result in an overall saving to the Council after six years). She indicated that she was new to the Council but had noted that photovoltaic installation had not been looked at as a business case to date. She was also of the view that the funding the Council had been unable to invest in a commercial property could be used instead to achieve part of the photovoltaic programme; this would be identified as part of the business case. She had raised this issue at the Executive Committee meeting and the Head of Finance and Asset Management had indicated that a business case would be required which was the reason for proposing the current amendment. In addition, there was a possibility of the local electricity emergency bill coming through parliament and it made sense for the Council to join that as early as possible and move forward with this positive investment. In seconding the amendment, a Member indicated that it asked for a minor change to what was already suggested within the report with a reasonable 12-month timeframe. Officers had indicated that 12-months would be sufficient and achievable, so it made sense to formalise that position. In response to a query, the proposer of the amendment confirmed that, ideally, all the Council’s buildings would have photovoltaic panels but viability would need to be confirmed within the business case. The report stated that panels on the Roses Theatre could halve its bills so that in itself would be worth investigating. It was confirmed that the amendment asked for a business case to come forward within 12-months to understand the feasibility and what the returns would be.

16.9          During the discussion which ensued, a Member questioned whether funding that had been earmarked for commercial investment could be used for other things. In response, the Chief Executive confirmed that the Council would have to raise money for any capital investment, whether for commercial buildings or environmental matters. Another Member indicated that a lot of investments were insecure in the current climate, but the amendment as proposed would result in Tewkesbury Borough Council being greener and having more money in its pocket. At a time when the cost of electricity and fuel was increasing it made sense for the Council to be generating its own energy. He noted that respiratory disease affected one in five people and the annual economic burden of lung conditions, including lung cancer, cost £11billion so improving air quality would help save lives as well as improving the climate and saving money.

16.10        A Member suggested that the amendment could actually mean there would be a delay in bringing forward a business case for photovoltaic panels. In response it was confirmed that this was not anticipated to be the position. Officers had indicated they would not be able to do the work requested by the amendment within six months – which was what the proposer and seconder had originally wanted – but that the 12-month timescale would be achievable. Without the amendment the timescale would be completely open-ended and supporters of the amendment felt this would be unacceptable. They indicated that the amendment did not require the Council to spend money at this stage, it merely asked for a business case to see if photovoltaics would be cost effective. The idea was to introduce a timeframe for the work to be undertaken.

16.11        The consultant that had undertaken the carbon audit for the Council thanked Members for the interesting conversation. He felt the only aspect to raise from his perspective was the 12-month timeframe for photovoltaic panels. The main risk was that, if the panels were installed ahead of knowing the demand, the operator may not be able to export the additionally generated energy and the Council ran the risk of installing an excessively large system with the energy needing to be dumped rather than used. The action plan focussed on low / no cost measures to bring down the energy demand. Once the level was known, the photovoltaic panels could be sized accordingly to reflect demand across the Council’s whole estate - 12 months was not unrealistic, but the demand / reduction side of things was a lot of work so there may become a pinch point on resources. 

16.12        Speaking against the amendment, a Member reiterated that the action plan had been agreed as it had come forward and the Council had a structure in place to meet that action plan; as such, he felt Members needed to allow the process to continue and then push it as quickly as possible in a realistic way. He felt the experts must be allowed to do their job and advise the Council accordingly. Another Member agreed and indicated that the Council had a sensible action plan before it which prioritised actions in a rational way to ensure the most urgent things were addressed first. He advised that the Council currently had panels on its office building because it was a leader and was effective at doing the right thing at the right time. He also felt it would have been more effective to have had these discussions in Working Group meetings rather than trying to make ad-hoc amendments at Council.

16.13        A Member requested a recorded vote and, upon receiving the appropriate level of support, voting was recorded as follows: 

For

Against

Abstain

Absent

C L J Carter

R A Bird

P E Smith

C M Cody

G F Blackwell

 

C Softley

L A Gerrard

G J Bocking

 

S A T Stevens

D J Harwood

K J Cromwell

 

 

M L Jordan

M Dean

 

 

H S Munro

R D East

 

 

P W Ockelton

J H Evetts

 

 

R J G Smith

P A Godwin

 

 

R J Stanley

M A Gore

 

 

M G Sztymiak

D W Gray

 

 

S Thomson

A Hollaway

 

 

P N Workman

E J MacTiernan

 

 

J R Mason

 

 

 

H C McLain

 

 

 

P D McLain

 

 

J W Murphy

 

 

 

A S Reece

 

 

 

C Reid

 

 

 

J K Smith

 

 

 

V D Smith

 

P D Surman

 

 

 

R J E Vines

 

 

 

M J Williams

 

 

16.14        With 12 votes in favour and 23 against, the amendment was lost.

16.15        With no further amendments, the original proposal was put to the vote and accordingly, it was

                 RESOLVED           1. That the audit report be AGREED as having established the                                  Council’s current position and carbon baseline.

                                                2. That the action plan be NOTED and agreement given for the                                    detailed work and feasibility studies to commence in relation                                    to the carbon reduction options set out in the action plan.

Supporting documents: