Agenda item

Decarbonisation Plan 2020-2030

To consider the report of the Managing Director.


Members considered the report of the Managing Director.


The Managing Director spoke in detail to the report and highlighted the salient points contained therein.  She explained that the first section of the report acknowledged that climate change was a global issue of significant importance and the plan set out a clear ambition and clear direction for Blaenau Gwent on how it could reduce climate change and become a carbon neutral Council by 2030.  The plan also intended to support the delivery of the Welsh Government’s vision of a low carbon Wales and called for public sector leadership and for the whole of public sector in Wales to become carbon neutral by 2030.


Members were advised that the Council was already working on initiatives and making investments to help reduce its carbon footprint and these were detailed in paragraph 2.4 of the report.  Therefore, the Council was not starting from a position of ‘no activity’ and whilst good work had been done there was a considerable amount of work to do going forward.  Good examples of what had been achieved so far included investment in 21st Century Schools providing more modern and efficient school infrastructure/buildings; moving towards a full low energy street lighting estate; waste management – reducing the amount of waste that went to landfill and the Refit programme – working with Welsh Government refitting buildings to make them more energy efficient.    Details of the current carbon emission levels were provided within the appendix to the report.


The Managing Director continued by pointing out that paragraph 2.7 set out a number of the Council’s operations where action could make a significant contribution towards the ambition of carbon neutrality and transitioning to and delivering a more efficient carbon neutral Council.  Further work would be required to be undertaken and include areas such as transport and travel (including travel to work); procurement of goods and services; the purchase and use energy and heating of buildings and further work around waste and increasing recycling rates.  In addition, important work and mapping activity was currently being undertaken which would look at how land assets/holdings could be used to offset any carbon emissions – this was known as ‘sequestration’.


The Managing Director emphasised that the Decarbonisation Plan should not be seen as another new initiative or plan, it was an ambition about how the Council wanted to operate and it would underpin all service delivery and how services would be designed, developed and improved in the future.  Members and officers would have to be mindful of the impact of future decision making and the effect this would have on the authority becoming carbon neutral. 


Section 6 of the report highlighted the work and data evidence that backed up the plan including the elements of the carbon footprint.  It was estimated on annual basis, the Council currently generated 71,330 tonnes of CO2 as an organisation delivering its day to day operations and activity.


The report provided examples of this activity, with a large part of carbon emissions resulting as a consequence of the commute to work and officers driving around during the course of their daily activities.  A recent exercise had evidenced a significant impact over the last 6 months, due to the change in working arrangements where officers were not commuting to work and travelling during the course of their duties. Prior to lockdown only 11% of potential commuting journeys were avoided due to homeworking but since lockdown this had risen to 80% as staff had been enabled to work from home.  Based on an indicative estimate this represented a saving of 1,500 tonnes of carbon emissions in an entire year.


This demonstrated that an important factor of becoming a carbon neutral authority was about changing behaviours and how business was conducted and services delivered.  If this positive behaviour could be embedded and built on going forward, this would be a significant step in achieving the Council’s ambition to become a carbon neutral authority.


The Managing Director concluded by advising that the Regeneration Scrutiny Committee had debated the plan and had endorsed Option 1.


Members were thereupon, provided with an opportunity raise questions/comment on the report.


The Leader of the Labour Group said that this was an excellent plan but on a note of caution said that whilst homeworking was now critical and vital, going forward conditions would need to be different because it must be realised that homeworking brought its own issues for example wellbeing and also had a knock on economic effect on town centres.


A Member shared a similar concern regarding homeworking and the difficulties encountered by the public regarding contacting the Council.  There was also a major impact on town centres with business owners losing custom, particularly, with the current closure of the Civic Centre.  In addition, the Member referred to the possibility of a further facility being located at Silent Valley which could potentially increase the number of vehicles that visited this site from outside of the County Borough and asked what impact and implications this would have for Blaenau Gwent becoming a carbon neutral authority in the future.


The Managing Director advised that the Council was operating in    strange times and the Civic Centre had closed and officers were homeworking because this was quite clearly Welsh Government advice.  She acknowledged that working arrangements had gone from one extreme to another i.e. from a position of largely office based staff with occasional homeworking to total homeworking with occasional office use.  However, as part of the ambition, the Council could not revert back to the previous operating approach in future – it would be a balanced approach between office and homeworking which would counter some of the downsides to homeworking once the pandemic eased sufficiently. Work was being undertaken to ascertain how this could be facilitated but this had been slightly set back due to recent Welsh Government announcements.


In terms of the Council ambition to become carbon neutral, for this to be achieved every project that was developed or any improvements or changes made to service delivery would need to take account of the impact of carbon emissions going forward i.e. this needed to be considered as part of everything that the Council did.


Another Member referred to the infrastructure within the Council Chamber and advised that she had been given an assurance pre Covid-19 by the Leader that the infrastructure in the Chamber would be upgraded to enable Members to be able to use their laptops in the venue but to date this had not been undertaken.  There were still no electrical sockets in the venue and there were issues with accessing Wi-Fi.  Also, as part of any future arrangements, there needed to be provision for Members to attend a meeting remotely, if so required.  She expressed her concern that a considerable amount of money had been spent on modernising offices but the Chamber had been left behind and remained in the same condition as when the Civic Centre was originally constructed. 


A Member said that this long term plan together with the Local Development Plan would be one of the cornerstones on which the County Borough would be built on in the future. He expressed his appreciation to the Managing Director for the work undertaken to date and commended the progress made.


Another Member agreed with the points raised regarding homeworking and that there needed to be a blended approach of both homeworking and office (similar to the way education was currently operating) because he was concerned that homeworking had potential knock on effects and disrupted the whole household.  He pointed out that staff who were told to work from home were now entitled to claim £6 allowance per week to offset general expenses such utility bills.


The Executive Member – Regeneration & Economic Development echoed the comments made, that there had been a huge amount of work already undertaken but it was a developing plan and would change over time.  He agreed with the blended approach referred to and said that discussions were already taking place with Trade Unions on this and work would also take place with partners to ensure the approach was correct going forward. This was a very challenging target but with the endorsement of the plan this could be realised over time.


He, thereupon, proposed that Option 1 be endorsed with addendum that the Council declare a climate emergency.  It was noted that the Welsh Government was leading on this initiative and had asked local authorities to consider accordingly.


It was unanimously,


RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be endorsed, namely that the Decarbonisation Plan 2020 – 2030 be approved.


FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council declare a climate emergency.

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