Council Watch March 2023
So what has West Northamptonshire Council been up to so far in 2023?
The full council met in February to agree WNC’s annual budget. With inflation at around 10% these are not easy times in which to set a budget. Councils in England can only increase council tax by a maximum of 5% (including 2% ringfenced for social care). A rise higher than this requires a referendum, a risky move only one council has taken since the cap was introduced in 2012 (they lost). While no one wants their own bills to go up, the gap between rising costs and capped income will put pressure on council services, and any cuts to services are more likely to hit those already vulnerable. Seen in this context unpopular rises in green bin collection fees and car park charges might be more understandable.
Incidentally, ‘anti-car’ measures like higher parking fees could be a ‘pro-environment’ tool. But only if they sit alongside measures to make healthier and greener choices like cycling, walking and public transport more attractive - not the case here.
There wasn’t a lot in the budget to reward the hopeful climate activist (with a couple of exceptions - see below), although the Capital Strategy promised better to come:
One ‘scheme that contributes to the climate change agenda’ is the Rural Leisure Centres heat decarbonisation scheme, which proposes to replace gas heating systems with air source heat pumps at a cost of just over £8m, mainly grant-funded.
The Housing Revenue Account Budget includes more spending on decarbonisation and energy efficiency, with plans for retrofitting 500 Northamptonshire Partnership Homes properties with £9m of Social Housing Decarbonisation Programme grants. See CA-WN's interview with Paul Tucker from NPH for an in-depth look at retrofit.
WNC first emissions data report published.
This report provides a baseline measurement of the council’s own emissions, calculated using an assessment tool provided by the Local Government Association. The biggest sources of carbon emissions in WNC’s operations are heating, electricity, and outsourced services including waste management and highways.
WNC’s total annual emissions are just over 20,000 tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). This compares to 505m tonnes CO2e for the UK as a whole (provisional 2021 data). It’s worth noting that the biggest single contributor is UK consumer expenditure at 27% of all emissions, so there is plenty of room for individuals to make a difference.
WNC has committed to achieve net zero carbon for its own operations by 2030 and for West Northants as a whole by 2045. Baseline emissions measurements are an essential foundation for delivering on these targets. The decarbonisation projects mentioned above will take emissions in the right direction, although other investments will be in projects that push them the other way. The current approach to assessing the climate impact of projects needs improvement, which WNC's sustainability team are looking to address.
A second report is planned, which will quantify emissions for West Northants as a region.