Green liberalism: how Eastleigh is raising the bar on low carbon economic development

Junction_of_Fair_Oak_Road_and_Riverside,_Bishopstoke_-_geograph.org.uk_-_478804This post is by Cllr Keith House, leader of Eastleigh Borough Council. It is one of a collection of forthcoming essays to be published by Green Alliance, titled Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy. Similar collections will also be published under Green Alliance’s ‘Green social democracy’ and ‘Green conservatism’ projects, as part of our Green Roots programme, aiming to stimulate green thinking within the three dominant political traditions in the UK. This piece has also been published on Liberal Democrat Voice.

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 collections, 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.

Taming demand for carbon is necessary for economic success
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.

Local authority commitment is needed for the Green Deal to work
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.

Encouraging others to raise the bar
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 headquarters 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?

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