NEWS  ⁄  CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Exeter City Council accepts climate emergency plan to make city carbon neutral by 2030

Chief Executive warns that resourcing the plan is "problematic" given COVID-19 financial challenges and that lack of resources limits the council's capacity for immediate practical action.

EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES   CLIMATE CRISIS   NET ZERO EXETER   COVID-19   DEVON CARBON PLAN   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD  

Exeter City Council has accepted a plan intended to make the city carbon neutral by 2030. At a meeting on Tuesday its Executive agreed to recommend that the Net Zero Exeter plan published by Exeter City Futures in April should be adopted by the council as a policy “to inform all policy documents, plans and corporate decision making in response to the climate emergency”.

The plan sets out a range of actions that Exeter City Futures believes can deliver the city council’s target of a carbon neutral Exeter by 2030. The actions are to be taken by Exeter City Council and Devon County Council as well as organisations and individuals across the city. The plan’s 26 priority actions come with estimated carbon savings and indicative timescales attached to each, but the plan is an indicative route map rather than an operational document.

The plan was developed from a “blueprint” published by Exeter City Futures in February. It claims extensive community, business and political involvement in its production. Council leader Phil Bialyk stressed in his remarks to the Executive that what was particularly good about the plan was that had they had “consulted with a number of groups”.

The total number of participants in online and physical events was 302. Three events were cancelled due to COVID-19, including a “mobilisation summit” planned for 26 March.

Exeter City Futures Net Zero Exeter business workshop tweet

A report to the executive by the city council chief executive Karime Hassan made further recommendations about the future handling of the plan, covering finance and governance.

Mr Hassan told the meeting that the lack of resources, both human and financial, meant that the city council cannot take practical action now in delivering its part of the plan beyond building its principles into work already underway and planned.

The loss of income from car parking and other fees due to the coronavirus pandemic together with a decade of funding cuts by central government had left the council in a very difficult financial position. There would be an emergency budget brought to councillors in July.

The report claimed that it “could require close to £1 billion to achieve a net zero Exeter”, presumably based on indicative costs outlined in the plan, which are mostly given as minimums. Councillors gave Mr Hassan authority to explore new opportunities to secure investment and to create mechanisms for funding the programmes set out the plan.

They also noted that he would report further on how to deliver those actions in the plan which fell to the council once the council’s financial situation, which depended on whether further support would be available from central government, had been clarified.

Exeter City Council Executive Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan decision

Exeter City Council Executive Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan decision

The plan’s authors recognised that the pandemic may prompt further changes to the recommended actions, stating in the preface that “Exeter City Futures will listen to how people view the plan in light of the current climate and reissue this document towards the end of the year to incorporate these changing attitudes”.

Even without such changes there are elements of the plan that will be seen by some as not going far enough, for example the proposal to confine new 20 mph speed limits to “high-density areas” and the low bar that has been set for active travel modes.

On governance, councillors recognised that achieving many of the goals in the plan would require action by others than the city council. They agreed Mr Hassan’s recommendation that the council should approve the Liveable Exeter Place Board as “the appropriate body to adopt the Liveable Exeter Place plan on behalf of the city of Exeter”, on the grounds that the board “is the one body that already convenes many of the largest organisations in the city”.

It is not clear why the recorded decision referred to the “Liveable Exeter Place plan” and not the Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan.

The creation of the Liveable Exeter Place Board was agreed by the city council’s Executive in July 2019. Its composition and terms of reference were to be reported back to a future meeting of the Executive, but no report has since appeared.

A council spokesperson said its role is “to support the council in achieving and promoting its vision for the city” and that its members are “drawn from a diverse range of leading public and private sector organisations within the city and from national agencies”.

Its chair is Sir Steve Smith, the retiring vice-chancellor of Exeter University. Among its 23 other members are Lord Charles Courtenay, Earl of Devon, Matt Roach, Managing Director of Exeter Airport and Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon. The board meets in private and does not publish minutes of its meetings.

Mr Hassan’s recommendations were accepted in full by the executive, without comment from the leaders of the two opposition groups. They will be put forward for approval at a full council meeting on 21 July.

Exeter City Futures Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan cover

Exeter City Futures’ Plan for a Net Zero Exeter sets out a series of actions that local authorities, organisations and individuals can take, with associated carbon savings and cost, all of which Exeter will need to put in place in order to meet the city council’s target of a net-zero carbon city by 2030.

They include a city-wide low carbon mobility scheme, supported by integrated multi-modal ticketing, that improves movement into and around the city, making the city centre and core walking areas free from non-essential motorised vehicles, and revising the local plan to identify sites for new housing and commercial developments that can be served by quality public transport links and attractive cycle and walking connections.

Key figures in the plan include an estimated saving of 53,000 tonnes of carbon if all of Exeter’s electricity was generated from clean sources, and an estimated saving of 140,000 tonnes of carbon if Exeter were to exploit the maximum potential for renewable generation.

The plan is built on the understanding that success will only be achieved through a genuinely collective effort from everyone.

Dr Liz O’Driscoll, who led Exeter City Futures from its inception until April 2020, said: “[The plan] has been four years in the making with collaboration with the many different communities, institutions, organisations and individuals who make up our city.

“Everyone across Exeter has a role to play, this isn’t something that can be delivered by any local authority alone. This plan represents the contribution of hundreds of businesses and individuals across Exeter, who have engaged with us to set out the action plan to become a carbon-neutral city.

“Many businesses and individuals are now struggling to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 and this is likely to change the way the city views and responds to the plan. More than ever the city needs to come together to think about the kind of future that we really want, and make it a reality.”

The plan includes 26 priority actions that it says should be taken in order to maximise carbon reduction in the city. Some would have a very limited cost, such as encouraging organisations to use more renewable energy, while others, such as retrofitting housing stocks, could cost more than £100 million.

The indicative cost given for the launch of a city-wide low carbon mobility scheme, supported by integrated multi-modal ticketing, that improves movement into and around the city, is more than £500 million.

Underpinning the priorities is a set of specific actions that will need to be taken by Exeter City Council, by Devon County Council, and by organisations and individuals.

These actions are grouped into those that will be taken in the short term (by 2022), medium term (2023-2026) and long term (2027-2030).

Exeter City Futures’ work is intended to feed into wider planning by the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group. However the city has not signed the Devon Climate Declaration despite being a member of the group and it is not clear how the two initiatives will combine.

The full plan is available for download here.


 is a contributing editor of Exeter Observer.

 was a Local Democracy Reporting Service reporter based in Exeter.

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