Keith House writes: Low carbon development, the Eastleigh way

This is the second of three extracts from the forthcoming collection of essays Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy. Similar collections will be published under Green Alliance’s ‘Green social democracy’ and ‘Green conservatism’ projects as part of the Green Roots programme, which aims to stimulate green thinking within the three dominant political traditions in the UK. 

An international airport where two major motorways bisect may not, at a first glance, be the obvious place to start when looking for a council committed to the green economy. Add in support from the council for the managed growth of the airport, and the story becomes more complicated. Eastleigh is different.

The borough council has a record of climate action that stands tall in Hampshire and beyond. Eastleigh was an early beacon council on the theme of ‘tackling climate change’, with a range of policy initiatives on both adaptation and mitigation. It was the first council in England to roll-out alternative weekly waste collection, driving up recycling rates and reducing the mileage of waste vehicle fleets.

But there has been a driving economic edge to Eastleigh’s actions on carbon reduction, moving towards the elusive ‘low carbon economy’ alongside traditional liberal positions on the environment and social welfare.

The area had seen rapid economic growth and inexorably rising demands for housing, with many commuting to neighbouring cities in South Hampshire and further afield to London. Taming demand for carbon in Eastleigh is necessary for long term economic success.

The evidence is that the market alone will not deliver change. It could need a nudge but, more likely, it requires a strong prod with financial inducement.

Take energy. Eastleigh’s approach is to use policy to promote change. Hence the unusual practice of not charging planning application fees for renewable energy schemes. This has encouraged solar PV installation, new CHP schemes and, at the margin, wind turbine applications. Not for Eastleigh the approach of Hampshire County Council which, to appease the right, has banned wind turbines on county owned land. Solar farms have started to spring up in Eastleigh as a result, looking much like polytunnels from a distance. That’s in addition to the council’s own PV retrofit programme which has taken full advantage of feed-in-tariffs to create green energy, while at the same time giving a rate of return to protect services from funding cuts. We will achieve a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. And we do not build anything that is not at least excellent by BREEAM standards.

At a domestic level, and increasingly in partnership with local authorities along the M27 corridor, Eastleigh’s Liberal Democrat Council has taken the lead with the Green Deal. The potential to retrofit housing to reduce energy consumption and address fuel poverty hand in hand appears initially to be straightforward. Job creation and business development of Green Deal installers, and the supply chains behind them, has the potential to grow a green sector of the economy. Yet the Green Deal will require substantial local authority commitment. Experience with poor uptake of projects giving away home insulation demonstrates consumer resistance to change, and residents’ lack of confidence in energy suppliers makes the strong reputation of councils an essential ingredient to implementation.

It is at this level that sub-regional partnerships come into their own. Even an ambitious council like Eastleigh lacks the capacity to turn its own vision into reality. Tough targets for carbon reduction will not be achieved in isolation, and climate change knows no boundaries.  Eastleigh has always been prepared to work with others. B&Q has its HQ in the borough; it is a local firm with a strong environmental record. From the Green Deal to work on coastal erosion, work with the borough’s neighbours is not optional. With LEPs being the national flavour of the month for regional growth funding, developing a green economy plan gives economies of scale and helps to encourage others to raise the bar.

In conclusion, our experience shows that change can happen. What is needed most is effective leadership, a degree of courage to stand out from the crowd and getting the messages right. We have proved that communicating climate change well can bring people along. Doing the right thing almost always has a strong business case. Time for take-off?

 

 

 

 

 

* Cllr Keith House has been Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council since 1994.

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4 Comments

  • Jonathan Brown 5th Sep '13 - 4:22pm

    Thanks for doing this. Speaking personally, it’s hard to know where to even begin on this. I would love our local party to push green policies, but turning a desire to do the right thing into real policy proposals is very difficult when probably none of us really understand the national policies or exactly what or how we can make changes locally.

    I wonder if there are specific, easily understandable things that we could campaign for even if we can’t persuade the Tories (here in Chichester) to adopt any of them.

    Alternatively, are there specific things we can push as a local party / as individual councillors that individuals can do regardless of the lack of interest taken by the council?

  • If you haven’t already heard about Transition Towns Initiative, it might be a good place to start. These groups are springing up all over, and are formed from people with the same ‘low carbon’, mindset. It is less about politics, and more about ‘from the ground up’, lifestyle changes. There appears to be an Eastleigh Transition Group already set up.
    http://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives/eastleigh-transition-network

    Could be a good starting point for sharing ideas with like minded people?

  • Jonathan Brown 9th Sep '13 - 11:53pm

    Sorry for the delay in replying, but thanks both of you – John and Oliver.

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