Prior to putting putting our Climate Change Emergency Motion to Council in October of 2019, Patrick Brown (now MLA) and I canvassed each and every Councillor with the overall economic benefits of our Council tackling Climate Change. Unexpectedly, Climate Change Action is good for Council Finances as we will see in these posts over the next 14 days.
Each Party group was canvassed and I delivered this detailed analysis to the home of every Councillor demonstrating how we could transform Councils rates base if we took positive action on renewables. HERE IS THE FULL REPORT – based on FoI’s to every NI Council and the NI Dept of Finance
I have broken up this big A3 analysis for you below to explain each of its components as I did for my fellow Councillors.
Firstly there is a simple league table where some Councils are doing very well, and others not so much – Newry Mourne and Down were languishing at the bottom of the table with almost no income from renewables. And, as you will see below, future rates from this source will soon rise to over £100 million
Secondly, the ~£20 million pounds worth of rates above had to be seen in terms of how it was likely to grow in the future – in 2019 renewables were a tiny fraction of overall energy consumption in Northern Ireland – as it rapidly builds to 100% of our energy consumption, new projects will have to be sited all over Northern Ireland – and start paying rates
Thirdly, the impact in well-paid jobs in every nook and cranny all over Northern Ireland would grow exponentially, further increasing our rates base. In the ‘old economy energy model’ people in N.I. spend money on energy and 90% of it goes to Westminster on excise duties and VAT and the rest goes to Russia or Saudi to pay for the fossil fuel. In the ‘new energy model’ , rates paid to Councils replaces duties to Westminster and local jobs replace the huge sums paid to foreign governments for fuel. This is the Circular Economy localising spending, building wealth and supporting local families.
Fourthly, the whole energy sector is going electric including the electrification of transport over the next 8 years and the electrification of heating over the next 20 years. This is going to at least quadruple the amount of electricity required from renewables and drive demand for more sites paying rates to Councils across Northern Ireland.
WORDING OF OUR MOTION see here
Thanks to the careful preparation above, the motion passed unanimously – but this was only the start of a 5-year campaign for actual real action in Council as we will see over the next 14 days of COP28 in Dubai, in our Council motions directing action by management do not always result in actual action.
MY SPEECH – in case someone else can use it is available here;
Words of Motion;
Notice of Motion received from Councillor Enright, seconded by Councillor Brown:
“In October 2018 the UN announced that we have 12 years to save the planet. Scientists gave the starkest warning yet that our chances of tackling climate change and averting disaster are slipping away. They said 2030 would be too late to avoid a 2% rise in global temperatures and climate catastrophe. The UN says action by government actors would need to be taken now. Westminster is paralyzed by Brexit and Stormont is not sitting”.
In view of the UN’s Climate Change warnings for 2030, Council declares a ‘Climate Change Emergency’ and directs management to effect dramatic short-term changes in every area under its control. All Council departments need to reflect this emergency with immediate and concrete steps. Every plan or target that Council produces needs to have concrete measures to reflect this emergency. ‘That every officer’s report brought to council for decision or noting has a section which must be completed headed ‘implications for environment and sustainability’ akin to the Council’s section on equality and good relations. Every external body or agency that Council influences or directs need to be preparing for 2030 and this will extend to the general public also through the planning and building control processes. Council should refer to Councils in European Countries to find best practice across all areas of sustainable development and organise a summit where foreign Councils implementing best practice will help us make a plan for a low carbon future for Newry, Mourne and Down Council”.
More than half of Councils across the UK, 15 Councils in the Republic and 3 in N.Ireland have passed ‘climate emergency’ resolutions. Many creating net zero carbon targets by as early as 2030. If we pass this motion tonight, we need to consider setting a similar 2030 target for our local area. This is all the more urgent as ,based on the Paris Accord, the UK’s allocation of C02 will run out as early as 2023 and Ireland’s by as early as 2021. After that we are eating into the allocation for the 3rd World just to stop Global temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees C.
There are many steps that we as Council can take now, boosting employment, energy affordability, improving community cohesion and preserving biodiversity. Council pension funds across Britain and Ireland are being divested from fossil fuel investments and into renewables to ensure our pensions benefit from future market trends. In Bristol, the City Council published its City Leap Prospectus in May 2018 aimed at delivering £1bn of low carbon and smart energy infrastructure investment in Bristol’s energy system over the next ten years. We need to do the same.
Many of the measures needed would only have minor implications for budgets and can help Council raise substantial new funds to take the rates pressure off our hard-pressed High Streets.
Westminster is banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars after 2040 (2030 in the Republic and 2032 in Scotland). We need a plan in place now to preserve our filling stations for future use as charging stations for Tourists and visitors to the area, to ensure we don’t damage our Tourism potential or our rates base. Our grid will have to be strengthened to ensure that every home has a charging point. We need to copy the Republic and ensure all new homes in our Council area have a car changing point to avoid expensive retrofitting.
We need to help our staff transition to electric cars. Central government gives a £3,500 grant to install a home-based charging point to anyone buying an electric car. Many government agencies give the same mileage rate for electric cars as they do for 2 litre diesel cars to encourage the switch – in our Council the rate is 23p per mile less.
We can also more rapidly transition our own fleet. Dundee City Council is in the vanguard of the switch to zero-carbon transport. They are on target to have their own fleet fully electrified within 15 years. Dundee has the UK’s largest local authority electrified fleet, with 117 electric cars and vans in use. It plans to buy 65 more, replacing its highly polluting diesel bin lorries and road sweepers with electric vehicles. It even runs subsidised electric minibuses in some of its poorest neighbourhoods. Dundee boasts the largest number of electric minicabs anywhere in the UK and a council-owned network of four solar-powered charging hubs capable of taking 78 cars at a time and sites for another 60 being built, plus the highest number of rapid chargers of any Scottish city. It is now opening a rooftop solar powered car charging hub at a city-centre multi-storey car park.
Our Council leads community planning. We need to look ahead and get our partners on board for the opportunities. Economists project that the transition from being a fossil fuel economy to a renewable electric economy will bring about the biggest growth in locally-based employment since the Industrial Revolution. There will be losers as well as winners. Car mechanics in our area will see a huge loss of employment as electric cars need little maintenance and have few parts to go wrong. This skilled workforce could be retrained to deliver the thousands of PV panels, heat-pumps and solar panels that will be needed across our Council Area.
All EU Counties have target dates for when all legacy buildings will need to be heated without fossil fuels. As early as 2030 in Scandinavian Countries, 2045 in Scotland and 2050 in England and Wales. NI has no target – our Council can set this target for our area and beef-up accordingly our Council-led ‘Warm Homes’ to tackle this huge job over the coming decade. Warrington Borough Council organised the investment of £5.25 million to provide PV panels to 1,500 properties recently. The project saves around £233pa on energy bills in each house.
We can enhance building standards to deliver zero-carbon homes and buildings The UK is expecting to build around 150,000 new homes this year. Most of these houses will probably require retrofitting within the next 20 years to make them suitable for the UK’s own current net-zero carbon target. This makes no sense. This URGENTLY needs to stop. We can adopt the zero carbon homes and buildings standard. This should include all major refurbishments and extensions as in the Republic. The UK Government has provided legal clarification that “local authorities are not restricted in their ability to require energy efficiency standards above Building Regulations”.
For example, Ipswich and Cambridge and Sheffield councils have included a requirement for all new homes to meet a standard equivalent to the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’ level 4 – much better than current national standards. In London the Mayor’s powers are greater and the standard for new homes is zero carbon. Remember the most hi-tech building products companies like Kingspan are based in County Down.
To deliver the amount of renewable energy to replace fossil fuel consumption in our area, we would need at least 7 windfarms the same size or bigger proposed for Hilltown 2 years ago. We should be setting a rates target for renewable projects in our area of £10 million per annum to drive developments across our District. There is no reason why these projects should not be owned by the Council on behalf of the local community. The Council is sitting on Irelands largest energy storage system under Camlough lake. The system was 90% completed and then abandoned at the start of the troubles. A community owned project like this would bring great wealth to the Camlough area.
Warrington Borough Council has become the first local authority to produce all its own electricity from green energy, owning two giant solar farms in Hull and York, expected to generate millions of pounds in profits per annum for 30 years.
A solar farm owned by West Suffolk Council has smashed generation targets in its third year of operation, taking its overall income to £4 million. This year West Suffolk Council received an income of £1.5 million from its Windfarm £100,000 more than expected. Conservative Swindon running joint venture with 3 other councils
Council does not control street-lights but can influence DfI by pointing ‘best practice’ examples in GB Councils and request the same here. Solihull, for instance is replacing all its 24,000 street lights by 2024 cutting its total energy costs in half to £612,000pa and reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent.
All new local authority buildings should be zero-carbon. Exeter City Council has adopted this ‘Passivhaus’ standard for zero carbon energy efficient buildings. Had we done this at the new Downpatrick Leisure Centre we would have saved £150,000 per annum.
There is much we can do as we currently stand without even looking at the Newry Mourne and Down’s Local Development Plan to 2030 (preferred options paper) which my seconder Patrick Brown will now deal with. This document scarcely mentions Climate Change, does not tackle the UK Governments forcast of 3 feet of sea level rise to 2080 and actually suggests there is no need to develop the National Grid in our Council area and that there is no need for more renewable energy locally.
I commend this motion to Council.
Notes used by Cllr Patrick Brown for his speech (he is now an MLA for South Down)
Council is affiliated to NFLA (Nuclear-Free Local Authorities). NFLA tell us that lawyers have written to 100 local authorities across England currently creating their Local Development Plans to warn them that they will violate their legal obligations and risk legal challenge if their Development Plans do not introduce detailed proposals to mitigate climate change.
Our Development Plan covers new and existing infrastructure; homes, buildings, roads, utilities and many other details that will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions. It affects plans for resilience to climate change effects like the 3ft of sea level rise predicted by UK Government and flooding in inland areas. Local authorities have a legal duty to set targets and policies based on their local potential to reduce emissions at least in line with the UK’s Climate Change Act (i.e. net zero by 2050).
The lawyers say that if carbon targets to be meaningful, they need to be incorporated into local planning policy as a core objective against which all other policies and decisions will be tested. Local planning authorities also need to monitor performance against local targets at least annually.
There are substantial benefits to climate-sensitive planning, such as improving local economies and creating jobs. Climate action at a local level can transform people’s quality of life for the better, with clear net benefits to eliminating fuel poverty, improving health, air and water quality.
Newry Mourne and Down’s Local Development Plan to 2030 (preferred options paper) went out for consultation in June 2018 and the consultation closed on 24th August 2018. Our draft Development Plan is minimalistic in dealing with climate change, it notes the lack of National Government targets and oddly comments that “there is no system-wide need for further renewable energy being connected to the grid” (key issue 18).
The plan acknowledges that the Council has 160 kilometres of coastline, but it has no plans tackle the UK Governments estimate of 1 meter of sea-level rise by 2080. (key issue 23 and 24).
In October 2018 the UN announced that we have 12 years to save the planet, giving the starkest warning yet that our chances of tackling climate change and averting disaster are slipping away. Their scientists said 2030 would be too late to avoid a 2% rise in global temperatures and climate catastrophe. Action by government actors would need to be taken now.
The UN announcement last October means we must re-draft the Newry, Mourne and Down Development Plan to deal with Climate Change. Even were the Stormont Executive up and running, and even if Westminster were not paralysed by climate change – the need to deal with these developmental issues would still sit with Council and its Development Plan.
Main areas for re-drafting in our Development Plan;
Coastal Erosion and Land Instability (Key Issues 23 and 24 Flood Risk)
We need to plan for the official estimate of sea level rise of 1 meter by 2080. Failing to take action over the next 10 years until 2030 will only make the issue more difficult and more expensive to deal with. Whist our primary concern is on settlements and the human population along our 160 kilometre coastline, we need to start thinking about what stretches of coast we are going to defend. The whole of section 8 on Enhancing and Protecting the Environment is affected by this issue. (I.E. Key Issues 20. 21 and 24)
All the main towns in our District are in areas of serious flood risk from Downpatrick to Newcastle and Newry and many others besides and we need more an better flood alleviation schemes.
Renewable Energy (Key Issue 18)
The need to transition the District’s infrastructure to accommodate the electrification of transport over the next 10 years to 2030 is not mentioned in the Plan. This change alone would double the consumption of electricity in this area and potentially create a revenue windfall for our residents, our local businesses, our farmers. Also for our Council by way of rates. Most houses and businesses will need new charge points.
Section 7 of the Development Plan covering economics, jobs, prosperity transport and infrastructure does not reflect the need to adapt to climate change. While the Plan correctly identifies the lack of a 33kv or 110kv transmission spine to the grid in Newry, Mourne and Down, it comments in 7.105 that ‘Council has no responsibility for electricity provision’.
This is highly questionable
- transport is being electrified over the next 10 years,
- that already existing electricity production is being moved to locally-based renewables
- and that legacy fossil fuel heating needs must all transition to electric or passive solar power over the near horizon,
it is difficult to see how Council could escape this task. Making the provision of a basic transmission grid for the Council area to support a charging network and supplement the distribution network must be a key component of the Council’s Development Plan.
Economic Development in the Countryside (Key Issue 11)
The transition to renewable energy can only be managed within the context of our development plan, as there are a host of planning issues that would halt such a transition. A permissive regime is essential for ‘Economic Development in the Countryside’ for renewable energy (Issue 11) if we are to play our part in averting climate change and deliver a lower rates regime for householders and commercial ratepayers alike as new rates revenue streams emerge.
The development plan fails to note the economic upside of transitioning the District to renewable energy over the Development Plan period to 2030. As renewable energy is produced locally, it is extraordinary that the potential rateable value of this transition is not estimated. It would be reasonable to suggest a £10 million pa increase in rates from these sources by the end of the 10 year period to 2030 with a permissive and positive regime of development for renewable energy. The recent proposal for a windfarm near Hilltown that was narrowly lost by casting vote in in Council had a rateable income to Council and regional rates in excess of £1.5 million.
In the light of climate change planning, it is not sufficient for our draft plan to say that grid operator SONI has no plans to develop the electricity grid in this district – passive acceptance of this will put Newry Mourne and Down at a huge economic disadvantage by 2030. Rural areas from Killinchy to South Armagh could reap huge economic benefit if we push for our grid to be upgraded as in County Derry or Tyrone.
Proposed Transport Schemes (Key Issue 15)
Again the development plan fails to mention the electrification of transport over the next ten years.
The Plan is also very conservative in respect of reducing road transport and makes no proposals to reduce the number of commuters in the District. For instance there are 5,500 commuters in East Down. Of these, almost 5000 work in the public sector. The need to revitalise the Downe Public Sector Campus Project in Downpatrick is an obvious route to reduce this unsustainable traffic load and points up the need for the Eastern Distributor Road to ensure that East Down is seen as ready for any further devolution of jobs, ameliorating the main criticism of the Bain Report.
With regard to ‘park and ride’ schemes, the Plan is unambitious and does not reflect Translink’s stated needs in this area. Nor does it see a need in the plan for the Council to help commuters make the transition to public transport. The Downpatrick Belfast Road scheme needs to have at least 500 slots. Castlewellan, Crossgar and Saintfield need to be sized at 100’s of slots – not mere dozens.
The whole Economic Development Section from key issue 12 to 19 all need to reflect the need to adapt to climate change. It needs to reflect the growth of jobs and economic activity that could arise form a transition to renewable energy. Quarries in our Council area have been refused permission for wind turbines to provide power to grind stone. Tourism could be enhanced by building on the special area of research and development for tidal energy in Strangford’s narrows.
There are obvious opportunities for Council itself to have an energy company as many Councils in GB do.
Other sections of the Development Plan for revision
Both Spatial Strategy in section 5 and the settlement hierarchy in section 6 most be revised to rapidly adjust our landscape to climate change. Spatial Strategy needs to take into account significant sea level rises. The settlement hierarchy also needs to reflect where the essential future renewable energy production centres are going to be for each of these settlements.
In Key Issue 9 ‘Integrated Renewable Energy and Passive Solar Design’, planners are recommending in point 3 that only big developments or social housing should have the benefit of low or non-existent energy bills. It is difficult to see in the light of the UN announcement why small developments or even once off housing should not benefit from low-cost energy bills.
Again, in Key Issue 9, there is no mention of the bulk of existing legacy developments across Newry, Mourne and Down. While Stormont is not sitting, there is nothing to prevent Council canvasing for an extension of the projects it already carries out in addressing energy efficiency in older properties, or for those on low incomes to tackle fuel poverty though renewable energy or insulation.
Council should be aiming to seek funding for a massive retro-fit of PV panels across the district by seeking funding from Stormont, Westminster or Europe and should consider a loan scheme for such implementations where the loan repayments are payable along with the rates, or via its own energy company. This would hugely increase disposable income across the District, eliminate fuel poverty and enhance wellbeing across the district. Scotland gives examples here.
Legal issues with Development plan
A formal submission to the Development Planning process on the economic advantages to the area of renewable energy made by the 2 Universities, local employers, the Ulster Farmers Union and renewable energy companies operating in the area. It recommended Council identify ‘special areas of development’ for renewable energy. The submission was not considered by the authors of the Development Plan (referred options paper). Failure to take into account formal submissions by academic, industry or farming interests can leave the Development Plan open to judicial review. This omission needs to be addressed.
Fellow Councillors, I commend this motion to you. Council needs to follow up this declaration of ‘Climate Change Emergency’ with real short-term actions aimed at directing management to put in place ‘best practice’ solutions being developed by other Councils across Britain and Ireland. We do not want not to re-invent the wheel or produce any expensive long-term studies and reports for the shelf.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THIS MOTION? – We have had an uphill battle since to have obvious actions taken by Council as posts over the next few days will make clear.