Comment  ⁄  Climate & environment

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Net zero exeter   Exeter city council   Exeter city futures   Devon county council   Devon carbon plan   Climate crisis   Public consultation  

Exeter City Council’s ruling Labour group manifesto for tomorrow’s local elections places the council’s current policy of “creating a net zero carbon city by 2030” at the centre of the party’s claims about its capacity to transform the city in the coming years.

Council leader Phil Bialyk has pledged that that this aim would be “at the heart of everything the council does going forward”.

Exeter Labour’s election campaign has also been dominated by claims about its environmental credentials, prompting a war of words with Exeter Green Party, which has presented Labour with a series of challenges on green spaces, air pollution, transport, housing and waste management.

However, from the moment Devon County Council adopted its updated 2020-2030 Exeter Transport Strategy in November last year, the only prospective zero in Exeter’s decarbonisation plans became the probability that it would achieve them by 2030.

Data: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy .

The county council’s position is that Devon should decarbonise, not by 2030, but by 2050 “at the latest”. It says its “ambitious, but realistic” Exeter Transport Strategy “sets a direction of travel” and “aims to provide a range of travel choices which will manage congestion levels, improve air quality and move towards a low carbon transport system”. But not to arrive at that destination by the end of the decade.

Transport is already Exeter’s principal source of greenhouse gas emissions. Its contribution to the city’s carbon footprint actually increased over the ten years until 2018, the most recent year for which figures are available. The council’s “Liveable Exeter” development plan would add a further 28,800 cars to the city’s roads if it were to maintain the parking provision rate of 2.4 cars per household it approved for the development of “zero carbon homes” at Pulling Road in Pinhoe.

At the same time the city’s flagship St Sidwell’s Point leisure centre development, for which no environmental impact assessment was performed despite 150 lorry loads of concrete being used in the first phase of building alone, is expected to drive half a million city centre visits each year, many of which seem likely to be encouraged by the free car parking that is proposed for its users.

And Devon County Council’s position on decarbonisation remains unchanged despite a recent public consultation on the first draft of the Devon Carbon Plan finding that a majority want net zero by 2030 and only 13% support a 2050 target date.

The Devon County Council-led Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (DCERG), which is responsible for the Devon Carbon Plan, says it is intended to “consider the earliest, credible date which should be set for net-zero emissions” which it presents as “2050 at the latest, with an interim target of 50% reduction by 2030”.

A report on the consultation response findings to the county council’s Climate Change Standing Overview Group said 2030 was a “popular” target year, but questioned whether it was “realistic”. At subsequent DCERG meetings an unspecified “compromise position” on a decarbonisation date that “could be palatable to all of the organisations in the Devon Climate Emergency partnership” was suggested.

A citizens’ assembly due to take place in July will deliberate key issues presented in the first draft of the Devon Carbon Plan. It will nevertheless not be invited to discuss the date for achieving decarbonisation in Devon despite some consultation respondents saying they thought it should.

Data: Devon Climate Emergency Response Group.

Following these findings, a report by Exeter City Council’s chief executive to the Audit and Governance committee said there was a high risk that the council will be unable to “deliver carbon neutral aspirations for Exeter by 2030”.

The report said that Devon County Council’s draft net zero plan was “explicit that net zero cannot be achieved by 2030” and instead aimed for “a 50% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050” which it said was a “fair reflection of the technical and financial challenges ahead”.

It said: “Members may wish to reflect upon this in responding to this particular risk”, adding that a “50% reduction in greenhouse gasses would be an incredible achievement”.

At the meeting Liberal Democrat councillor Michael Mitchell asked whether Exeter City Council would carry out “an urgent review” of its carbon neutral aspirations.

Dave Hodgson, the city council’s finance director, replied: “The aspiration of the council is to deliver carbon neutral by 2030 but it has always been made clear that, from a financial point of view, we required the support of partners both local, regional and, indeed, national in order to deliver this.”

He said: “That’s a question for the Executive. Perhaps that’s a question that may be appropriate at [a full meeting of the] council because ultimately, obviously, it will be a councillors’ decision.”

The month before the Audit and Governance committee meeting, the council gave advance notice of a report on its “Net Zero Proposals” to be presented at an Executive meeting in April. The report, which was to be heard in private, has since disappeared from the Executive forward plan.

Exeter City Futures Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan cover

The review which accompanied the Audit and Governance committee report identified several potential causes for the delivery failure risk. These included the “political environment”, the “economics of carbon reduction” and “behavioural challenges” as well as “misalignment” with the Devon Carbon Plan.

They also included the council’s “technical capability to deliver”, “lack of control over all stakeholders” and “failure to engage with residents and businesses of Exeter to ensure solutions proposed meet real need”.

The review identified three “mitigations and controls to be put into place” which included ensuring “clear alignment with D[C]ERG and national climate action plans”, continued investment in “supporting Exeter City Futures” and “national communication positioning Exeter as a leading sustainable city”.

We asked Exeter City Council several questions about the review. The council said: “We are a partner with Devon and there is clear alignment”. But when we asked in what ways the city’s carbon reduction aspirations can be clearly aligned with with D[C]ERG and national climate action plans without adopting the same target dates, it responded by saying our question was not applicable.

We asked about the report on the council’s “Net Zero Proposals” which was scheduled for the Executive’s April meeting but which then disappeared from the Executive forward plan. The council said: “Net Zero 2030 will be discussed at Executive at a date in the future, although it will not be part of the agenda for the April meeting”.

A spokesman for the council added: “The council’s 2021-22 budget has been approved. Net Zero 2030 is the council’s priority and the council is working to make this happen within the resources that have been approved by the council’s budget.

“This inevitably requires the city council to work with a wide variety of partners in pursuit of the goal. The council’s recovery plan identified the need for a sustainable fund to support our ambitions. The council will continue to make the case for funding to support our ambitions.”

When the DCERG formed in May 2019 it invited public, private and third sector organisations across the county to endorse a Devon Climate Declaration framing their commitment to taking action in response to the climate emergency.

All of Devon’s seven other second-tier district and borough councils have so far taken formal decisions to support the declaration as full signatories.

Exeter City Council has not. It has however adopted a plan produced by Exeter City Futures which ignores over a million tonnes of carbon emissions generated by the city and massively underestimates the challenges it faces.

Meanwhile, despite Parliament passing legislation in June 2019 committing the UK to reaching net zero by 2050, national climate action plans have been criticised for lack of ambition in key areas and are being undermined by recent decisions including cutting domestic air passenger duty and foreign aid, freezing vehicle fuel duty for the eleventh year in a row and axing the flagship green homes grant scheme.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says the government does not have a “co-ordinated plan”, the National Audit Office says the UK is currently not on track to meet its targets and the Institute for Government says it has “not yet confronted the scale of the task”.

Whether Exeter City Council is about to do so, and whether it will follow national and regional policy leads as a result, will hopefully become clear in the coming months.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


Recent stories
Pennsylvania housing stock in Sylvan Road, Exeter

Pennsylvania petitioners expose fifteen years of flawed student accommodation policy-making

Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter


Help power our public interest journalism

More Comment
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Global lockdown pollution level changes

I'm a climate scientist – here's three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

A leading climate scientist's perspective on what the community has learned over the past year about the interactions between the pandemic and the current and future global climate.

All Comment
More Climate & Environment
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

Exeter Extinction Rebellion activists fly flag outside COP26 Exeter event at MakeTank with COP26 Exeter photography project in window

COP-EXE event showcases local responses to global climate crisis

Exeter city centre venues last week hosted exhibitions promoting local action to mitigate the climate crisis in tandem with the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

All Climate & Environment
News
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

All News
Analysis
Pennsylvania housing stock in Sylvan Road, Exeter

Pennsylvania petitioners expose fifteen years of flawed student accommodation policy-making

An Exeter Observer investigation has found that city council policies based on faulty premises, inaccurate information and miscalculated projections have failed to prevent mass student occupation of Exeter residential housing stock despite the proliferation of Purpose Built Student Accommodation across the city.

Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

All Analysis
Transport & Mobility
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

RMT campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter

Stagecoach strike to take place following failed pay negotiations

Transport union RMT says Stagecoach pay offer is unsatisfactory and demands better conditions as staff shortages threaten services.

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Pennsylvania housing stock in Sylvan Road, Exeter

Pennsylvania petitioners expose fifteen years of flawed student accommodation policy-making

An Exeter Observer investigation has found that city council policies based on faulty premises, inaccurate information and miscalculated projections have failed to prevent mass student occupation of Exeter residential housing stock despite the proliferation of Purpose Built Student Accommodation across the city.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Independent local business on Paris Street, Exeter

Prospects improve for pop-up Paris Street and Sidwell Street tenants wanting to stay on development site

Council leader Phil Bialyk says it will be "some years" before planned CityPoint redevelopment affects repurposed retail units, and that council "would want" to accommodate artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses "should they wish to remain".

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

All Arts & Culture
Democracy & Governance
Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

All Democracy & Governance
Community & Society
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas' Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

All Community & Society
Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All Economy & Enterprise