CA-WN 18 April Meeting Report

CA-WN 18 April Meeting Report

This month we welcomed as our guest speaker WNC Councillor Jonathan Harris. Jonathan is a member of the council’s Sustainability Group and has represented the council at UK100 training workshops. He talked to us about the proposed Climate Strategy for West Northamptonshire Council, why it is necessary and how it will fit in with the council’s other projects aimed at improving sustainability and meeting its Net Zero commitments.  

Please note one urgent ask in these notes – there is a second consultation on the Northampton Station development, ending on 29 April. Northampton Living Streets have put together some really helpful notes on this so do take a few minutes to respond, it does make a difference.

This meeting was recorded and can be watched on the CA-WN YouTube channel1. Jonathan’s slides are also available to download2.

Present: Adrian Sherlock, Alexina Cassidy, Briony Askew, Christine Ware, David Garlick, Ella Sage, Emmie Williamson, Graham Robb, Harry Mellor, Hilary Haynes, James Hadfield, Jane Wood, John Crick, John Derick Ayson, Jonathan Harris, Leonie Beale, Lynda Moran, Maria Lee, Mick Lorkins, Mike Longman, Orianne Neyroud, Paul Tucker, Peter Conquest, Rupert  Knowles, Stephen Clarke
Apologies: Clare Robertson-Marriott, Clare Slater

Climate Strategy

Councillor Harris advised that he was speaking to us as a member of WNC’s cross-party Sustainability Group (SG), not as a member of the administration. The SG is advisory not a decision-making body, therefore relies on influencing rather than formal powers.


·       WNC re-declared climate emergency as a new unitary authority. Its 4 predecessor councils had effectively all declared climate emergency.
·       WNC joined the UK100 network of local authorities3, and at the same time made a commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2030 as a council and by 2045 for the entire area. These are challenging targets and 5 years ahead of current government legislation.
·       WNC introduced the UN 17 Sustainability Goals4 as a framework for its sustainability plan.
·       A representative of WNC attended first UK100 Leadership Academy
·       First WNC Baseline Emissions report published5.
·       JH attended second UK100 leadership academy – this was very useful and he is keen to make sure the council benefits from what he learnt.
·       Sustainability Group agreed there should be an overarching climate strategy. There are projects and plans relevant to the climate and sustainability agenda but currently no overarching perspective. Development of the strategy has been slightly delayed but they are now aiming for a draft strategy to go to Cabinet in July. 

What’s happening now

·       After attending the UK100 workshop JH mapped the UN goals to the council’s existing strategies (Anti-Poverty and Health & Wellbeing). Nothing already in place at the strategy level really covered climate.
·       The council’s Annual Sustainability Report5 will continue and will report updates on strategies including climate. It will also incorporate an emissions update.
·       The intention of the climate strategy is to provide direction, reflect work already happening and create alignment.  
·       There is already a Net Zero Implementation group made up of officers which meets quarterly. This is an operational group. The SG is keen to engage with them.
·       The council needs ‘sub goals’ as well as the main 2030 and 2045 targets.
·       Key pillars for the climate strategy are:

o   Energy
o   Buildings
o   Transport
o   Waste
o   Nature
o   Economy*

·       The first five of these build on work done by UK100. ‘Powers in Place: The handbook of local authority Net Zero powers6 is a bible of existing local authority powers published by UK100. The overall view of UK100 is that these powers are not sufficient and are not localised enough. The document doesn’t really talk about economy though so this will be added within the strategy.
·       Threads cutting across all areas of the strategy:

o   Procurement – for example sustainability/Net Zero was an important consideration when the new Highways contract was negotiated with Kier.
o   Engagement. Need to do much more of this.
o   Resources. Is there enough resource to do what is needed? The Sustainability Team is small but other departments also have some Net Zero remit. As part of the strategy development it is proposed to do a mapping exercise to identify all relevant resources.
o   Governance. The Sustainability Manager is now able to comment on papers going to Cabinet though the process is not perfect.
o   Communication. A key message from the UK100 weekend was to create immunisation to negative messages. This is about things like sending out creative positive messages proactively, rather than waiting for negative messages to hit and then trying to counter them.
o   Training of officers and members. Hasn’t had much focus to date and needs to be built into the strategy.

·       Existing activities have been mapped to the six strategy pillars. This is slide 8 of the presentation – worth a look if you want to dig into the detail. Some activities are complete (Estate and Construction & Maintenance strategies) and are therefore coloured green on the slide. Items coloured amber are work in progress (eg Tree Policy, Local Plan), red means no progress (eg transport decarbonisation) and black means state of progress not confirmed. There is more work to be done on this.
·       A provisional structure for the strategy has been developed. WNC can learn from other UK 100 members. Examples from other councils are available online, JH highlighted Wiltshire, Cambridge City and North Somerset7.
·       The new Local Plan for West Northants is now in consultation. It is a major opportunity to ensure we have the right policies in place for our area and the right level of emphasis on climate. It really is important to have a look if you can. The full draft plan is about 900 pages – a shorter read is to focus on the policy section which is only 300 pages! JH advises that if there are just one or two points you really want to make these can be sent in by email rather than completing the full consultation. This option is available on the consultation site.8    
·       UK100 have joined forces with the Mission Zero coalition led by Chris Skidmore. A report out today, Zero In,9 focuses on how to accelerate climate action especially within local government. It includes key actions for local authorities and for government. It also introduces a pledge for local election candidates, a key element of which is to remove ‘culture wars’ from climate action.
·       The WNC Sustainability Group is cross party and is keen to create processes and governance systems which will withstand any changes at next year’s WN local elections. The climate strategy should not be politicised. 

JH ended with a slide highlighting a number of reference sources. There is no shortage of good advice. It has been challenging for JH to keep track - he tries to share key sources with officers and cabinet members at the council. Alignment is the challenge as it is possible to get pulled in lots of different directions.

There are some regulatory driven initiatives which will support the climate agenda – WNC now has a full-time officer in place for local nature recovery, and the Tree Strategy work is going well.


Volunteer groups could be part of the resource?
It has been broadly agreed that groups such as CA-WN, Transition Town and others should be engaged before the climate strategy draft goes out for wider consultation.

Strategy needs key targets and timelines.
We’ve got the two big goals but yes definitely need intermediate milestones and sub goals.

Culture in the council – how are you feeling about that? This can be seen as least important when it should be most important. Could the change in leadership today possibly be positive?
I’m an opposition councillor so see things through that lens. In reality coming together from 4 councils into 1 was a massive task and other unitaries have said it is a 10-year journey. Covid is not an excuse but was a distraction. When talking about culture I mean this is not yet part of our DNA, climate is not talked about enough. In some reports produced by officers the mandatory climate change section does not really pick up climate impact correctly. This does require education and training. Doing this is a challenge when in some places there are still temporary staff or high levels of change.  We’ve had carbon calculator training on the workplan for at least a year. There is a range of views across the council. The Local Plan is stronger than the previous iteration although could be more robust. There is a national government issue in terms of building regulations which could make things compulsory instead of ‘nice to have’.

Will community energy projects be in the mix?
They are in the local plan and there is more emphasis on local energy plans. JH attended an external briefing on this today. One council has created its own local area energy plan which is an expensive exercise.

Any views on officers and how much genuine commitment there is and how much work to do on education?
Similar to the councillor community – a wide range of views. Some people will see climate as really important and others won’t. There is definitely an education issue. As an example, the Net Zero delivery group meets quarterly which it could be argued is not often enough but you have to start somewhere. In a council structure you have to start the ball rolling and then try to build on it. The SG started quarterly and now meets monthly. General feeling is there is a lot of positive will but people are juggling day to day workload which can mean Net Zero sinks into the background.

Active Travel England is now a statutory consultee on large planning applications. John Crick has seen a response from them on the Northampton Station plan which was not favourable. Following changes a second response from Active Travel England was similarly scathing. Planning can be an adversarial process so it is good to see a professional government body like Active Travel England exercising its powers.
The same thing can be said of the lead local flood authority, which is WNC. Positively there is a paper proposing new byelaws for minor rivers regarding pollution etc (major rivers are covered by the Environment Agency), however the authority do not have the resource to do regular inspections. All councils are similarly short of resources.

Paul Tucker shared his experiences from his previous role as Sustainability Manager at Northants Partnership Homes, working with the council at all levels from director down:
At officer and apprentice level there is a lot of enthusiasm. People who got involved in working on NPH retrofit projects could see the value and got very engaged. PT met the council’s Chief Exec, Leader and the Sustainability Team, all of whom were very positive. For him the challenge was the layer between Chief Exec/Leader and the officer level. At around assistant director level/senior executive management there is a certain amount of apathy on Net Zero. They are under a lot of pressure from different priorities - ‘everything’s a priority’.
PT likes to think of Net Zero not as a goal but as a transformation, because seeing it as a goal can make it seem unachievable. Your vision is an anchor to the future - what you are transforming towards. Not all senior decision-makers are bought in to the vision of zero carbon by 2045. Perhaps it would be better to paint this as a picture of transformation to a desirable future that everyone wants.

That’s a fair point. The council was pushed to adopt the 2030/2045 goals, this was a good thing but perhaps not fully thought through at the point the goals were adopted. What is encouraging is that some less supportive stakeholders are now being brought on board. For example, work is being done to develop a solar generation project – the cabinet member for finance is seeing major opportunities in terms of saving money. We are not talking enough about the co-benefits. Retrofit for example is transformational for the people living in the homes and has health and wellbeing benefits as well as cutting energy bills.
Education about what Net Zero means is important - it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything that results in emissions. This is still possible but must be managed in the context of the overall emissions profile.

How will the WNC climate strategy translate to parish and town council level?
Parish and town councils are not specifically mentioned in the Power of Place document – there will be some work needed to interpret this in terms of what it means for parishes. Some of the pillars are definitely relevant to parish and town councils.

Social get together on Saturday 20 April

2pm at the Museum. No agenda, just a chance to meet like-minded people. We are also launching the CA-WN Lending Library on Saturday so please come along to borrow a book – the list of titles is on CA-WN Exchange10.

WNC Consultations

Three consultations currently underway:
·       Local Plan (ends 2 June)
·       Flood Management (ends 16 June)
·       Railway station refurbishment (ends 29 April)
CA-WN will provide some notes on the Local Plan and Flood Management consultations. Living Streets have put together information on the railway station development, which we will share11.
JC pointed out that only a couple of dozen people responded to the first railway station consultation – many of these referenced the active travel provision. Changes have been made as a result.

Trust the People

Something which may be of interest:
“A grassroots community building movement, sharing democratic tools to help people support their communities in the face of local and global crises.
Trust the People are offering a free 4 week online course that takes you through different aspects of community building - from connecting with people one-to-one to running community assemblies, which harness the wisdom and power of the community.”
Their next course begins Monday 29th April.


·       EW said the climate group in her village is seen as very ‘fringe’. It really helped having WNC send down a directive to the PC about a biodiversity plan. Ideally another directive from WNC on climate would be helpful.
·       JH mentioned the work being done in Brixworth by the climate action group there. They have a Green Framework, their way of showing intent to get to Net Zero - it’s available on the Brixworth PC website12.


Thursday 30 May 7:45pm (note departure from usual schedule). The speaker will be Damon Fox from Northampton Town FC Community Trust.


1.      Jonathan’s slides on Climate Strategy

2.      CA-WN YouTube

3.      UK100

4.      UN Sustainability Goals

5.      WNC Baseline Emissions report 2021/22 and Sustainability Report 2022/23

6.      UK100 Powers in Place

7.      Council climate strategies;;

8.      Local Plan consultation

9.      Zero In report

10.  Link to CA-WN Lending Library

11.  Living Streets advice on station development

12.  Brixworth Green Framework