A report by The Climate Change and Environment Officer
The Climate Change and Environment Officer presented the report to committee confirming that in 2020 Boston Borough Council had declared a climate emergency and as part of the Council’s commitment to tackling global climate change and addressing the impacts of its operations, agreed to develop a new Carbon Reduction Plan. The document was a key step in the Council’s response to the climate crisis. The plan had identified emission’s’ hotspots from the baseline year to been used to inform an overview of opportunities’ for carbon reduction.
The Carbon Reduction Plan set out strategic actions for implementation, to achieve the target of net zero CO2 emissions in advance of 2050, currently in advance of the Government target of 2050. Implementing the plan would significantly reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions by up to 90% by 2050.
Furthermore, it would be vital to embrace new green technologies as they became available and more viable and to identify new ways to reduce emissions further, especially scope 3 emissions that were mostly beyond the direct control of the Council.
The plan was a high-level document and therefore a more detailed action plan would need to be developed. That would include anticipated delivery timescales and be presented to Cabinet in spring 2022. Further feasibility studies of all the proposed actions would be undertaken. That would be with a full cost benefits analysis to allow proper consideration of payback prior to taking the projects forward.
The current net zero target in advance of 2050 would be difficult to report against and as such, officers recommended adoption of a more quantifiable target. Although Boston had declared its emergency in 2020, the current target did not reflect the level of ambition.
East Lindsey District Council had annual interim net zero / net neutral targets and officers recommended that Boston Borough Council align its own targets to enable a joined up approach for the two authorities to allow streamlined funding bids be made. It would also allow Boston to stay on track to meet its own net zero ambitions and aim to galvanise action in the short and medium term.
An amendment in target would enable the Council to achieve net zero by the year 2040 with a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2027. Year on year reductions target from the 2019 baseline would be 4.55% each year against the baseline. It would allow a split of 5% reduction each year until 2027 and then a 4.23% reduction each year against the baseline from 2027 to 2040. If agreed, the plan will be updated to reflect the changes in target and proposed new timeline prior to presentation to Cabinet in January 2022’. Officers would then ask the Carbon Trust to re model the plan to take into consideration the changes in target. If agreed
Committee comment and questioning followed which are collated and included:
Whilst applauding the plan and acknowledging the need, Members voiced various questions in respect of the lack of information in respect of funding identified within the report questioning where such funding would come from, and the actual reality of delivering the plan within the timelines specified and why the Council was taking such action. Boston was a small town with a small budget so what effect would using Council funds have on both the residents of the borough, and what effect would using funds have on the service area budgets resulting with the Council potentially making choices on what to deliver for its residents. The Council needed to be confident on what it spent its’ funds on and mindful that any spends were for improvement of services and not just to be seen to reduce carbon emission.
Referencing the timelines identified and the reality of achieving the targets set Members voiced concerns at the possibility of getting to 2026 and only having a further year to achieve the target, not being able to and what cost it would be to the Council in order to achieve the target.
In response, officers acknowledge the concerns in respect of the lack of clarity of funding. They confirmed that some capital investment would be required but that external funding would be key. However, clearly the Council needed to balance any funding against the community’s needs. Furthermore, there was the possibility of a carbon reduction reserve. East Lindsey District Council had been able to reinvest revenue savings after it implemented such a reserve. As a Local Authority, the Council’s duty was to lead by example and prove it had a grasp on operation emissions and that it understood its footprint and was striving to address it. The plan in its draft format would be subject to changes in what it could deliver and when it could deliver. At the current time is was difficult to cost so many unknowns and the plan would be brought back in the spring when projects would have been broken down into more detail with indicative figures available where possible. Large funded projects would come back to Members ahead of implementation with officers exploring all opportunities before coming to committee.
Members were reassured that the targets set were not legally binding and officers assured them they would do everything within their power to achieve them. However, external factors were involved especially in scope 3 emissions over which the Council had little control.
Referencing the significant reductions in emissions at West Street offices due to home working throughout Covid, Members questioned the reality of the reduction aligned with the increase in emissions at the homes of staff, and asked if it actually portrayed a false sense of reduction. All the staff working individually in individual homes would normally be sharing space and heating / lighting within West Street. Whilst homeworking saved emissions for the Council, the impact in individual residences was higher but officers noted that currently it was difficult to quantify.
Further comment by a Member questioned the need to relocate the Council to an alternative, newer or new build office suite due to the size, age and structure and layout of West Street that would never be carbon efficient. Focusing on Council sites with high emissions a further Member questioned the future of the GMLP (Geoff Moulder Leisure Pool) which had by far the biggest footprint and the Crematorium.
Officers confirmed all sites would be under consideration as they considered the possibility for change across all of the Councils’ services and sites and would take recommended actions listed in the CRP back to Full Council for consideration.
Referencing the move by ELDC to their new officers a Member urged the Council to start looking immediately for a new site to ensure it captured the latest renewables. However, in response a Member stated that the Council needed to be careful if planning to relocate. Any such move would purely be to reduce its carbon footprint and it would not bring any savings to the taxpayer’s of the Borough. West Street is a functioning building, it is town centric making it easy for the public and staff to access and it enabled the staff and visitors to access the town centre and support the local businesses on a daily basis. Officers need to undertake thorough Investigations into making West Street more carbon efficient prior to making any decision to relocate and spend vast amounts of taxpayers’ money doing so. Selling on the Municipal Buildings would not solve its carbon footprint issues, it would simply hand them on to whoever bought it.
Officers confirmed that moving forward the viability of West Street would become clearer. A great deal of new technology would come forward, some of which whilst not in the report would be sooner than later and assist in producing zero energy buildings, however the Council must use the most affordable technology it could afford. Officers had to look at the wider picture capturing small savings on everything the Council did and focus on scope 1 and scope 2 emissions allowing what was possible to become more evident for Members. There was however very little the Council could do in respect of scope 3 emissions and in months and years to come, be subject to targets from Central Government and in certain areas, especially gas burning, with the Council’s hand forced it would have to look at alternatives. The plan took also into consideration decarbonisation of electricity from a national level, which the Council had no control over.
Following questions relating to a third party business providing a bus service the Assistant Director of Regulatory (Lead Officer for the committee) provided clarity of the plan. He confirmed that the Council had declared its own Climate in Emergency in January 2020 following a Task and Finish Group review that raised a number of recommendations. One recommendation was to look at the Council’s own emissions and develop its own plan. Thereafter it became a core priority. The plan allowed the Council to ‘get its own house in order’. As the Council had adopted the core priority, it was now obliged to deliver on it and the plan set out how to deliver it within the remit of the Councils control. It looked at the Council’s activities and operations within its control.
Voicing concern a member asked why items within the plan that he felt should have been agreed officially at Full Council, had not been. The Member then stated he felt that the plan should be an aspiration as against an actual fixed plan that is to do something and finish it. What would happen if the Council did not reach its’ targets? If it aspired to, it had attempted but not achieved yet if in the plan they it failed. The Council itself would be obsolete soon and without significant Government intervention, the Council as it stood in size would not be able to afford everything the Officers intended to do, without having a serious impact on budgets and services for the ratepayers. The Member questioned why the Council was not already undertaking measures including the use of solar panels on its public conveniences and within its car parks and why it had not considered harnessing hydro power. Addressing the issue of staff and members now working across the three council areas and their increased footprints over the east of the county the Member stated he felt the Councils footprint was increasing. Stating he supported the plan and realising that the Council could not afford to ignore the situation, the Member underlined his preference of it being an ambition as against as actual plan.
A Member asked for the costs for the power bill for West Street and the Lead Officer advised he would provide it following the meeting.
That the Environment and Performance Committee:
Recommends that Cabinet agrees to refine the Council’s existing ‘net zero in advance of 2050’ to target to a more ambitious and measureable target of net zero by 2040 with a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2028, providing these can be achieved without the reduction in change in quality of services or adversely impacting on the revenues budget. The Carbon Trust to be asked to update the Carbon reduction Plan to reflect this ambition prior to it going to Cabinet.