HomeLow carbon futureMy big manifesto idea: three great ideas for local empowerment

My big manifesto idea: three great ideas for local empowerment

London Bus Streaks Past the Houses of ParliamentWe’ve asked leading thinkers, from politics, business and green groups, to set out their one big manifesto idea for the next parliament – the one they think will make a big impact in creating a greener Britain. We are publishing them through May and June.

With six ideas already under the belt, featured in posts on the 16 May and 20 May, today’s three ideas on a local theme come from independent adviser Rebecca Willis, Guy Newey of Policy Exchange and Simon Roberts of the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

We’ll be posting more big manifesto ideas over coming weeks. How do you rate these ideas? Should they make it into the manifestos? Join the discussion on twitter or build on the proposals and contribute your own via the blog comments.




Rebecca Willis
Independent researcher and
adviser on environment and sustainability

What’s the big idea?
Local control of energy supply and demand

Local areas are given the responsibility, and the powers, to meet climate change objectives and energy needs for their area, through a locally-owned energy agency.

Who benefits?
Customers benefit from owning their local grid, and because there will be more focus on demand reduction, to reduce overall energy use. Local authorities benefit, from having direct control over local carbon emissions. The energy industry benefits, as the reforms will create a wave of innovation, particularly in small scale energy generation, and energy services. The renewables industry benefits, as local areas will want to host renewables, to contribute to local carbon reduction targets and energy provision.

What’s the catch?
It’s a massive change, so there would be disruption.

What has to change?
The ill-conceived orthodoxy of UK energy policy would have to change, as it is based on the idea that energy is a commodity like any other, when in fact it should be seen as a public good.

This is how it would work:

  • Create a local energy agency, by expanding the current Distribution Network Operator (DNO). The agency is owned jointly by the parent company, customers (ie anyone who connects to the grid), and the local authority or authorities. Initially, the area would be defined by the area served by the DNO, but these could be split up further, to map local authority boundaries, for example.
  • Give each area a carbon target, based on a per capita allocation from the national carbon budget, allowing it to trade with other areas to achieve its target. Local government finance allocations will be adjusted for carbon, to reward areas who meet their goal. Each area also needs to be self-sufficient in energy, so it needs to produce as much as it consumes, or buy in power from other areas. So large rural areas with small populations would sell power to urban areas.
  • The agency manages the local grid and makes sure that the area meets its carbon and energy targets. DECC would provide co-ordination; Ofgem would provide technical advice and support and oversee the trading platforms.
  • Incentives for renewables and energy efficiency (FiTs, ROCs, ECO, Green Deal, etc) would be devolved, with local areas free to alter, allowing them to tempt the most innovative companies into their area.

Why should it be in the manifestos?
Because the current energy system is broken, and piecemeal policy change won’t fix it. Local energy and community-based solutions are politically popular, so it would be a vote winner too.




Guy Newey
Head of environment and energy at Policy Exchange 

What’s the big idea?
To create a crowdsourced urban green space map

This would be a free online map that people can use to find out information about their local city parks, allotments and other green spaces. The map would be created by releasing currently restricted government data and also encouraging people to add their own information.

Who benefits?
First, the map would allow people to access (and add) information about local green spaces, such as opening hours, who has access to them, facilities and events. A TripAdvisor style ratings system would also allow visitors to rate parks or other green spaces for various characteristics, such as cleanliness.

Second, the map would make sure funding for parks was being well and fairly spent. It would help the public hold local authorities to account if they did not have enough good quality green space near them. It would also allow different policy interventions on urban green spaces to be properly tested.

The wider hope is that it would encourage people to use their green spaces more (physical inactivity costs £8.2 billion annually in treatment costs and sickness absence) and get involved directly in improving them.

What’s the catch?
Ordnance Survey data is currently expensive to access and raises about £50million a year from sales to firms and the public. This shortfall would need to be met by public money. It would cost just £400,000 to create a crowdsourced urban green space map based on open source mapping (such as OpenStreetMap).

What has to change?

  • Release OS data which is currently limited.
  • Create a common and comprehensive urban green space classification system and ratings regime that can apply across the UK; this will ensure that comparisons can be made not only between different areas within the UK, but also over time.

Why should it be in manifestos?
Green spaces are important to people. At a national level, we have no idea how many parks and other urban green spaces  we have, where they are, how big they are, what state they’re in, who has access to them or who owns them. Without this information, it is impossible to identify whether public sector funding is being spent effectively or where improvements are most needed.



Simon Roberts headshot Oct 2011No.9

Simon Roberts
Chief executive of the Centre for Sustainable Energy 

What’s the big idea?
A million meaningful discussions on sustainable energy 

This would be created by a national programme of local citizens’ meetings focused on how their locality makes its fair contribution to the transition to a low carbon society. It would be backed up with greater local powers to influence local changes in the energy system, where such meetings have established meaningful plans to deliver this contribution.

Who benefits?
These well organised meetings and discussions will result in a stronger sense of collective purpose and personal agency in establishing and living with a low carbon energy system. This would significantly increase the response to every well designed low carbon policy, planning proposal, product and service, thus reducing implementation costs.

What’s the catch?

There are at least three:

The approach sounds like an unappealing and woolly process unrelated to the ‘tough decisions that need to be made’ about technology and investment. But the evidence shows that (a) people are increasingly rejecting those decisions and (b) structured discussions between lay people about sustainable energy enhance understanding and transform opinions and commitment to action.

It will also cost money to deliver a network of trained facilitators, resourced to stimulate and manage involving, conversational, negotiating local processes. But that cost – perhaps £100 million over three years – would be dwarfed by the savings in the costs of trying to implement other policies and programmes.

And there is a ‘tragedy of the commons’ dimension to this problem. Everyone with a relevant policy goal or regulatory obligation gains significantly by nourishing public understanding and consent, but no one specifically gains enough to justify their direct investment in securing it. So no one takes it on and everyone free-rides. It needs direct government intervention and funding to address it in the public interest.

What has to change?
Politicians and government officials need to:

  • Understand and commit to the process: to understand that the social and cultural conditions required for a successful transition do not currently exist, having been steadily eroded by relentlessly technocratic approaches over the past 35 years; and to ensure that every locality has a duty to make its contribution to that transition.
  • Use neighbourhood plans: to make low carbon a ‘must do’ feature of every neighbourhood plan.
  • Fund a structured discussion: to support a network of local facilitators to manage a well-designed process (this is the sort of process we’ve been trying out on a very modest scale with PlanLoCaL).

Why should it be in manifestos?
Unless (and until) we secure a new level and quality of public consent for the transition to a low carbon society we will fail to achieve that goal, having spent a lot of money trying. We need a different approach which starts by trusting people to understand the challenges and opportunities and to make decent choices for their localities, framed by wider societal goals.

Without this, an uninformed, uninvolved, disconnected population will resent having to pay for low carbon policies through their bills and taxes. And they will reject proposals to host the technologies in their landscapes, neighbourhoods, homes and businesses, and fail to adopt the behaviours needed in a low carbon energy system.

For more discussion of this theme see Green Alliance’s  Green liberalism pamphlet (page 9), an article and evidence available on the Centre for Sustainable Energy website.


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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.