Agenda item

Environment and Climate Change Partnership - Overview


Members considered the report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change that provided members with background information on the County Durham Environment and Climate Change Partnership (for copy of report, see file of minutes).


Prof Jon Gluyas, Durham University and Durham Energy Institute, Chair of the Climate Emergency workstream, Mr S Bhowmick, Environment and Design Manager and Mr S Priestly, Principal Ecologist were in attendance to present the report and deliver a presentation (for copy of presentation, see file of minutes).


The presentation set out details of the background and structure of the partnership, vision and partnership priorities, plans and challenges (for copy of presentation, see file of minutes).


The Environment and Design Manager advised members that following the County Durham Vision 2035 being agreed by the County Durham Partnership September 2019 and the restructure of the County Durham Partnership governance structure in September 2020, a new Environment & Climate Change Partnership (ECCP) was developed and introduced.


A workshop to consider a potential role, structure and priority areas for the new ECCP took place on 10 November 2020. Experts were drawn from across other thematic partnerships as well as stakeholders from Durham County Council, Durham University, external agencies, the voluntary sector and business partners.


The new Environment and Climate Change Partnership governance structure was agreed at the workshop, with the partnership being led by the Environment and Climate Change Partnership Executive Board and supported by 3 workstreams:


        Climate Emergency

        Ecological Emergency

        Place, Health and Community

Following the establishment of the three workstreams the Environment and Climate Change Executive Board met for the first time on 24 March 2021.


Members were advised of the makeup of the Executive Board and of the new vision statement for the partnership - ‘A better County Durham: sustainable communities, resilient to climate change, richer in nature.’


The Chair of the Climate Emergency Workstream, Professor Gluyas advised that he has worked with the low carbon team for a number of years and that this work stream had held their first meeting. The Chair of the Climate Emergency Workstream reminded members of the Council’s declaration in 2019 of a Climate Emergency with two distinctive targets to reduce the Council’s carbon footprint by 80% (relative to the baseline from 2008) by 2030 and that of the county completely decarbonise by 2050. However, the council’s emissions equate to only 3% of the county’s total emissions.


The remit of the workstream is broad in relation to the elimination of greenhouse gasses and link into national government and organisations. Durham University has developed the Durham Heat Hub. Half of the energy in the UK goes on heating and of that 77% comes from fossil fuels. The Durham Heat Hub is tackling this head on such as the repurposing of old coal mines and using the water from the disused mines to supplement heating. The Durham Miners Association at Red Hills had received a lottery grant to reduce their carbon footprint and would be an exemplar of how to move forward. The Chair of the Climate Emergency Workstream advised on the development of a customised Local Area Energy Plan to identify energy assets and challenges across the County and develop a programme of interventions. The workstream was also pulling together a countywide plan as to How to Tackle the Climate Emergency with the plan due for completion in February 2022. However, in the meantime the workstream has taken some old initiatives that perhaps needed more work such as the use of car parks and car ports to collect solar energy and potentially charge electric vehicles with, such initiatives allowing for greater engagement with the public. Another example of a project is the removal of greenhouse gasses produced in agriculture by the housing of animals which allows this to be undertaken. Work on this was being carried out by Durham University in partnership with Houghall College this project was called Moothane. In relation to national work Durham University was working with the Church of England to reduce its carbon footprint with many Church of England Priests trained at Durham University therefore they will go out across the country taking the climate emergency message with them. There is a long way to go but this is the beginning.


The Principal Ecologist introduced the Ecological Emergency Workstream whose principal role was to co-ordinate strategic action to reverse the decline in biodiversity across the county. The Principal Ecologist explained how our wildlife has depleted over the centuries and the workstream would by following the Lawton Principles create bigger and better-connected habitats and ensure the strategies were in place to do this. Private, public and third sectors make up the representatives on the workstream, however going forward this may change to adapt to the needs of the workstream.


The main role of the Ecological Emergency Board will be to develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS) for County Durham which is likely to be a statutory requirement of the Environment Bill, due to receive Royal assent later this year. LNRS will help drive more coordinated, practical, focussed action and investment to help nature thrive, for its own sake and for the benefits a healthy environment brings to communities.  The boundary for these statutory strategies is likely to be counties and the workstream was making progress towards the things likely to form part of these strategies, including habitat mapping, a statement of biodiversity priorities, key outcomes and associated actions to deliver them. Although the workstream representatives are currently fixed the workstream is aware they will need to adapt and change as they progress.


The Environmental and Design Manager introduced the Place, Health and Community workstream which has met twice and made considerable progress to date. The aim of the workstream was to make communities feel empowered to take environmentally based actions for themselves to achieve places where people want to live. The workstream intends to promote healthy lifestyles through community outreach including the links via the Area Action Partnerships and other engagement and partnership working.


The Environmental and Design Manager set out the workstream’s intentions over the coming year and beyond and added that it had an opportunity to add value and be a critical friend to challenge existing agendas and use breadth of skills on the group to bring communities into the wider environmental agenda of Climate Change and Ecological Emergency but also the regional agenda.


The Chair thanked Officers for their comprehensive report and presentation. The officers responded to questions and comments from the Committee as follows:


Councillor Adam indicated that it was important to recognise the work that had been achieved since the council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and the creation of the Climate Emergency Response Plan. The Partnership presentation identifies the joined up working and thinking and focusing on the outcomes and what can be delivered as a Council. This is a valuable partnership and the workstreams make it easier to manage and understand and was looking forward to hearing about its ongoing work. Councillor Adam then referred to the work programme and highlighted there was only reference made to one of the workstreams in the work programme (the ecological workstream) and suggested that the other work streams should be picked up in the committee’s future work programme and that he would be raising this later. He indicated that the climate emergency workstream were having quarterly meetings but did not know how often the other workstreams were meeting. He then referred to the delivery of the reduction of CO2 emissions, specifically transport, in terms of reduction of car use, delivery vehicles etc and asked whether there was work to be carried out in this field as it effects not only the carbon footprint but affects the air quality too which is a major health issue.


The Chair indicated that they would discuss the issues around the work programme at that agenda item.


The Principal Ecologist advised that the Ecological Emergency Board meets quarterly with sub-groups meeting in between board meetings to pick up on issues, also in both Cumbria and Northumberland they have both completed pilot Nature Recovery Strategies, so it is important to retain those links which have already been formed.


Prof Gluyas indicated that transport was a key part of their work, there was an active joint study between the Council and Durham University looking at what has happened during the pandemic with regard to energy consumption. It was clear from the unofficial results that there had not been much impact in terms of changes in energy required in buildings, but the real change was associated with people working from home and that there was a massive drop in carbon emissions from transport. Recently Durham University was awarded two national networks for the whole of the UK, one on the decarbonisation of heat and the use of hydrogen within transport that would address some of the issues with larger vehicles, possibly including some of the refuse vehicles. As the hub is in Durham then we would be the first to benefit from it.


Councillor McLean referred to an old colliery site in Horden that was not developed and through contacting officers in relation to establishing a countryside walkway, the site turned out to be a Specific Scientific Interest Site (SSIS) due to the natural habitat of invertebrates, however there was also mine water on the site too and there was a lot happening on the site with regard to ecology, the Councillor felt that the site had a lot to offer however, there seemed to be no engagement between services managing the various activities on the site, it needed to be pulled together. Discussions had been going on for three years and he commented that he was pleased to hear that something had now been set up to look at joint priorities.


Prof Gluyas indicated that he was not aware of that particular site but would ensure that it was on the agenda for the relevant workstream.


Councillor Potts indicated that he kept bees and commented on the importance of bringing people along and the difficulties faced by the public in finding who to contact about what should and should not be planted and suggested a website where people could get information and advice.


The Principal Ecologist responded that at the last meeting of the Ecological Emergency Board they discussed urban habitats and how they were classified as there was a danger of looking at it on too big a scale and you forget that you need to integrate biodiversity throughout the landscape and that included gardens, parks and urban areas and something like an oasis of a wildflower meadow in a community was a valuable resource and needed to be incorporated into the strategy. There had been discussion about a single point of contact and there was recognition that this needed to be done but this had not been achieved to date.


The Environmental and Design Manager reinforced the words of the Principal Ecologist and added that the Place workstream wanted to promote local food growth and provide links to cultivators and that discussions were taking place in relation to a food commitment statement. There was learning to be done and links had been made with other organisations and local authorities and this was a strong area to look at but unfortunately currently there was nothing joined up.


Councillor Potts added that lots of schools were trying to do this and perhaps this was a way forward.


Mrs Holding referred to homeworking and asked if because more people were staying at home was this having a detrimental impact on their individual carbon footprint.


Prof Gluyas responded that there was a reduction in transport with people working from home, and they will be publishing information from the study which may provide some information which may help to answer this question.


Mr Bolton referred to a previous question about where to get advice in relation to planting and advised of a couple of schemes local to him, ’edible incredible’ that looks at growing vegetables on unused plots for intergenerational use and indicated that there are plots in Eldon and the Dene Valley areas. There were also groups in Darlington, Middlesbrough and Ashington so it may be worth having a look at the websites and suggested that this was something that members could sign post their local communities to.


The Environmental and Design Manager added that the Place, Health and Community workstream were getting local food growing at grass roots level embedded into the respective town and villages plans.


Resolved: (i) That the report and presentation be noted.


(ii) That the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee include a further update from the Environment and Climate Change Partnership in its work programme for 2022/23.

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