HOW COUNCILS ACROSS ENGLAND TRANSLATE – ‘CLIMATE CHANGE EMERGENCY’ MOTIONS INTO BEST PRACTICE ACTIONS
Like our Council, County Durham passed a ‘Climate Change Emergency’ motion in 2019. Their motion resulted in serious action in their Climate Change Emergency Response plan 2022 – 2024 This strong and rapid response is typical of Councils in GB.
WHAT WE DID – OUR FIRST MOTION
Newry Mourne and Down Council unanimously passed our Climate Change Motion in October 2019 that said “Council declares a ‘Climate Change Emergency’ and directs management
- to effect dramatic short-term changes in every area under its control. (like County Durham did!)
- 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.
- 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 Denmark, Scotland, Norway, Sweden and Germany to find best practice across all areas of sustainable development and low carbon technology for Newry, Mourne and Down Council
As of December 2023 none of this has happened. Meanwhile, across England, Councils are rolling out detailed plans that will benefit their ratepayers like East Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Worchester and dozens of others.
WHAT WE DID – OUR SECOND MOTION
Newry Mourne and Down Council also passed a Climate Change Motion in June 2019 aimed at addressing the 2030 Development Plan for the District . As you will see below our draft development plans had completely failed to address Climate Change Emergency as an issue.
The Motion outline the serious emergency faced by Councils and Government and said ” In view of this, and the UN’s Climate Change warnings for 2030, Council declares a ‘Climate Change Emergency’ and will fundamentally revise and amend the draft of the 2030 Newry, Mourne and Down Development Plan (preferred options paper) to deal with
- rising sea levels,
- the need to transition to 100% renewable energy,
- the infrastructure for electrification of transport over the next 10 years and
- how our District can command a strategic advantage in being a major producer of renewable energy on the Island of Ireland to bring large numbers of well-paid jobs to the area and boost the commercial rates of the Council from new renewable installations in our area.”
As of December 2023 none of this has happened. But dozens of English Councils have shown what can be done;
ENGLISH COUNCILS AMENDING CURRENT DEVELOPMENT PLANS
Many English Councils adopted Climate Emergency Emergency Motions as our Council did in 2019. BUT they then went and did something about it. Examples are legion but Plymouth and Devon were similar to us. They adopted their development plan in 2019, but then adopted an update to it in 2020 to take into account their Council’s declaration of Climate Change emergency.
This means that when renewable energy or other proposals come before planners – they are obliged to take climate change into account. See Plymouth and Devon policy adopted in 2020 here.
At our Council meeting to consider the Hilltown Windfarm – we were told that Council’s Climate Change Emergency Policy could not be taken into consideration as we had not amended the development plan to take account of it. 3 years have passed and we are still waiting.
English Councils contain quantified, strategic carbon reduction targets to support their council’s 2030 net-zero commitments.
South Lakelands Council and many other Councils have produced “Interim Planning Statements” to add Climate Change Emergency provisions to their current Development plans as they develop their new plans. Other Councils like Cornwall have added ‘Emergency Climate Policy’ to their existing Development recently adopted plans.
Meanwhile, Newry Mourne and Down Council is saying it will address Climate in its next Development plan that could be years away before it is adopted. This is wholly unacceptable and at odds with both the 2 motions passed in our Council above.
HOW TO FIX THE SITUATION WE ARE IN?
Lancaster City Council adopted a plan in July 2020 which was already too far advanced to reflect the council’s declared climate emergency, and lacked a carbon reduction strategy. This is the situation Newry Mourne and Down are now in. We are late with our Development Plan and cannot delay it further.
Lancaster City Council, like those mentioned above, embarked on a climate emergency review of the plan in summer 2021. This is an example that local authorities like ours will follow. Crucially, the revised plan includes a whole new policy (CC1) on responding to climate change, which seems to reflect good practice.
I intend to seek cross-party support for a 3rd motion on this subject to pass a binding motion on Council to bring in Interim or Emergency updates to the existing Development plan.
HOW BAD ARE OUR EXISTING DEVELOPMENT PLANS?
The 2 current development plans in our District do not tackle Climate Change in any way. The draft development plan is not a lot better. I PASTE BELOW PART OF MY SUBMISSION TO IT WHEN IT WAS ISSUED IN DRAFT TITLED ‘CLIMATE CHANGE – ACTION BEFORE 2030’. You can judge for yourself.
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. 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.
Our draft Development Plan is minimalistic in dealing with climate change, noting the lack of National Government targets and uncertainty over the future of renewable targets. It 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 there are no plans to deal with sea-level rise in the document. (key issue 23 and 24).
The UN announcement dives a need to 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 it’s Development Plan. At the moment it has 36 mentions of Climate Change – but no actions or targets.
Main areas for action;
Coastal Erosion and Land Instability (Key Issue 23 and 24 Flood Risk)
The development plan needs to plan for the official estimate of sea level rise of 1 meter by 2080. It does not mention this salient fact. 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 of the Development Plan is affected by this issue. ( eg Key Issues 20. 21 and 24)
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 in not mentioned in the Plan. Aside from the hundreds of charging points that will be required across the district – this change alone would double the consumption of electricity in this area and potentially create an income windfall for local businesses, farmers and also the Council by way of rates.
Section 7 generally in the Development Plan 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’.
Given that transport is being electrified over the next 10 years, that existing electricity consumption is being moved to renewables and that legacy fossil fuel heat and power needs must all transition to electric or passive solar power over the near horizon, it is difficult to see how Council could escape making the provision of a basic transmission grid by SONI/NIE for the Council area to support a charging network and supplement the distribution network make a key component of the Council’s Development Plan.
(Note that in November 2023 I finally got our Council to tackle NIE networks and the Grid regulator on this issue see Long-awaited Council Management Response to calamitous grid situation in South Down )
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 and also lost Council a substantial contribution income and regional rates.
As a result of only having the electricity distribution network of 13kv in our district, factories and farms from Ardglass to Kilkeel and Warrenpoint have to run diesel generators in our area to obtain electricity. This is a huge development problem for our District.
In the light of climate change planning, it is not sufficient for our draft plan to say that 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 South Armagh to Killinchey 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.
Section 7 in general from key issue 12 to 19 all need to reflect the need to adapt to climate change and 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 owning wind farms, or in the development of Camlough Lake and Strangford Lough.
Other sections of the Development Plan for revision
Both section 5 and section 6 could be revised in the light of the need to rapidly adjust 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..