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Encouraging take up of renewable energy

Green living and working is important to Wealden. To ensure sensitive, sustainable economic growth, the council sought to consider the development of a renewable energy centre and encourage the take up of green energy options. This is case study forms part of our economic case study resource.

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Industry Cluster Study Green living and working is important to Wealden. To ensure sensitive, sustainable economic growth, the council sought to consider the development of a renewable energy centre and encourage the take up of green energy options.

Wealden District Council (WDC) appointed a Local Government Association (LGA) Economic Growth Adviser to assist in developing an approach to business engagement, retention and creation - enabling clustering of complementary industries. The aims of the study being to analyse the presence of industry clusters, and in particular to examine the prospects for the green industries / low carbon and environmental goods and services cluster in the district. Another aspect of the study was to examine the potential for a business incubator with a particular focus on green industries / low carbon and environmental goods and services.

WDC’s Community & Regeneration team was looking for expertise that would provide guidance and recommendations with the aim of understanding industry clusters. Our intended project outcomes being to:

  • establish a Green Business Cluster / Engineering Business Cluster;
  • organise a Business Cluster Survey;
  • organise a Business Cluster Workshop / Event;
  • work with partners to promote South Wealden as a location for a renewable energy centre and area for green / engineering businesses;
  • establish baseline data of number of green / engineering businesses in area before/ after engagement and promotion.

The LGA economic growth adviser prepared an assessment that addressed these issues and provided a structured approach with an options appraisal and recommendations focussing on the rural economy, the visitor economy and housing needs and prospects for industries or business activities where Wealden has a strong presence, advantage or there are future opportunities. The final report will be used to guide WDC in meeting its Corporate Plan ambitions 2015–2019 whilst providing a range of potential solutions to suit different budgets, capabilities and resources.

Rationale for project

Industry Cluster Study

Wealden is the largest of five districts in East Sussex with an area of 323 square miles. It has boundaries with six local authorities: Mid-Sussex and Lewes to the east, Rother to the west; and stretching 30 miles north to south from Tunbridge Wells in Kent to the edge of Eastbourne Borough. Wealden District is classified as one of the most rural in England with two-thirds of the area covered by the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the South Downs National Park. WDC is committed to the district’s high quality natural and bulit environment for everyone living in, working in or visiting Wealden. WDC sought specialist advice to explore:

  • the scope and opportunities that the ‘green industry’ has and how the clustering of green/ engineering businesses can best be achieved within South Wealden close to the main road route – A27;
  • whether the clustering of such businesses could support the development of a renewable energy centre or should the centre be established first?
  • whether businesses within this sector keen to collaborate and develop local supply chains?

Through the definition of environmental sustainability – being the current generation’s quality of life and prosperity attained without harming the quality of life of future generations – a number of fundamental ways relating to this definition were highlighted as follows:

  • increasing resource efficiency, reducing resource use
  • reducing the negative environmental impact of economic activities – e.g. replacing use of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources
  • encouraging use of more environmentally-friendly patterns of behaviour – reducing travel and environmental impacts of travel; consumption of goods and services; production of goods and services
  • increasing the understanding of the value of the environment, and incorporating this into commercial activities and market mechanisms

In terms of tangible actions, common approaches include initiatives such as:

  • behavioural change – encouraging residents to be more energy efficient, recycle, place more value on environmental goods and services
  • reducing car use and use of fossil fuels
  • shifting people away from car use towards use of more sustainable transport modes such as public transport and cycling
  • environmental protection
  • developing markets for environmentally-friendly goods and services, and the  environment itself (e.g. eco-tourism)  encouraging the development of local supply and consumption chains – e.g. to reduce transportation costs and associated emissions
  • energy efficiency building measures such as insulation, water efficiency, heating efficiency
  • helping businesses in low carbon and environmental goods and services to grow
  • encouraging innovation to provide new goods and services that are more environmentally friendly or resource efficient
  • providing information and advice to businesses so that they can increase their resource efficiency and save costs

As the project sought to build ‘green’ resilience into the district’s economy, it was important to deliver on the council’s corporate plan, and the action plan developed with support from the LGA Economic Growth Adviser, to avoid a possible stagnation of sustainable economic development over a period of time. This would be due in part to a lack of co-ordinated development and support provided by WDC.

The project intended to bring together interested parties in the green industry sector to explore opportunities for them to collaborate and then to broker their involvement into a programme of cross-council activity that could be launched by the end of the LGA Economic Growth Adviser project.

Key Actions/ How your project was delivered

Industry Cluster Study

The approach taken by our LGA Economic Growth Adviser to deliver the project was divided into four stages:

  • Understanding industry/sector strengths and opportunities via:

Desk-based study to review existing strategies, evidence and literature, and conduct a few initial telephone calls to try to determine: known industry/sector strengths; collate and analyse available economic statistics and reports to provide insights; the status of energy industries, and low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS1) – whether there are any particular strengths or advantages in terms of: Existing businesses and supply chains; key institutions or assets; factor conditions that confer an advantage – e.g. skills, natural features; what is known about business competitiveness or performance issues more generally, and for specific industries. 

  • Shortlist of two or three industries/sectors or clusters for a focused growth or development strategy via:

Focus group with local authority officers/members and relevant stakeholders.

  • Understanding potential opportunities and the location needs of businesses, including site and premises needs via:

Telephone interviews with businesses

  • Options identification via:

Report on delivery options.

The project ran smoothly and was completed within the allocated time. Regular progress reports were provided over the phone and by email throughout the timetable of the project. A final report presentation date was organised and attended by invited WDC Officers and the WDC Member Portfoio Holder for Economic Development. This enabled face to face discussion and feedback to/from the Consultant enabling the final report to be amended and signed off. From this final meeting, a programme of action has been agreed to take forward.

  • The report explored the following themes:
  • quantifying and qualifying the industrial clusters and the presence of low carbon and environmental goods and services  general business support themes and issues (including business incubators)
  • the potential themes for policy development, initiatives and implementation, including: - neighbourhood energy initiatives and micro-generation - creating a renewables market or incentives from government-related activities - creating a renewables / low carbon opportunity from housing development - low carbon and sustainable construction - sustainable forestry and environmental conservation - environmental mitigation vehicles/ initiatives
  • options appraisal and final recommendations

Key Findings and Outputs

The consultant provided a detailed study drawing together the findings and analysis and suggested options for a way forward to deliver growth and development in industry specialisations, and low carbon and environmental goods and services related activities. In view of the study the impressions from the Wealden economy evidence base noted the following points:

  • low levels of employment growth and a very low unemployment with few seeking Jobseeker's Allowance;
  • lower rates of business births compared to the national average;
  • more reliant on very small businesses (microbusinesses with 0-9 employees);
  • notable industrial specialisms in construction;
  • some leading firms in Low Carbon and Environmental goods and services – relating to renewable energy generation and construction (insulation);
  • significant conservation habitat in Ashdown Forest;
  • significant employment in Agriculture and Forestry;
  • tourism related employment is important, but declining.

This evidence helped to suggest the following opportunities for Wealden:

  • start-up and small businesses in general – in terms of encouraging and supporting startup businesses and SME growth;
  • neighbourhood or micro- energy generation and energy efficiency in construction;
  • resource efficiency and greening existing activities: businesses, local government, residential;
  • developing further sustainable visitor activities and resources in Ashdown Forest, ensuring future developments either have a neutral effect or enhance the natural habitat;
  • exploring how sustainability and the natural environment can be used to boost tourism activities and employment.

The outputs of this project as presented in the final report have been shared with a number of WDC personnel. Going forward the report recommendations and the seven actions listed will be considered and implementented as far as possible within the remit of the WDC Corporate Plan 2015-19.

  • Action 1: Neighbourhood behavioural change;
  • Action 2: Neighbourhood renewable energy;
  • Action 3: Community firewood harvesting in local forests and woodlands – supporting the district’s forestry industry;
  • Action 4: WDC implements high standards of sustainability practices on its own operations and buildings;
  • Action 5: Sustainable housing;
  • Action 6: Generating interest in and referral to existing support mechanisms including support for the District’s significant farming sector;
  • Action 7: Exploring how sustainability and the natural environment can be used to boost Tourism activities and employment. This LGA Economic Growth Adviser exercise has helped to share learning and gain knowledge whilst flagging up a cross-departmental responsibiity for delivery via the individual work programmes of officers.

Economic Benefits

This study offers a number of avenues that the council can incorporate into its programme of work to support the local economy via the seven actions presented. To ensure the economic benefits of the study become a reality, WDC will consider the suggested approach:

  • “So what makes this place special? Wealden as a competitive business and visitor location and an attractive place to live” – must be the guide for the economic development strategies and implementation. There are many localities which are nice places to live, but the successful ones tend to have some distinctive strengths and qualities.
  • Focus on a small number of transformational projects that are pragmatic and achievable, build on existing advantages and have the potential to transform local communities;
  • Reinforce and build on what’s working now.
  • Focus on a small number of activities that provide investment opportunities for partners including SELEP, East Sussex County Council and UK government.
  • Better utilise existing assets, and uncover hidden assets – such as the use of key influencers to build consensus, lead transformation and lobby for resources.
  • Think solutions and outcomes first – be outcome focused, rather than structure or process focused. Look for solutions, new ideas, and ways of using existing resources, relationships and networks.
  • Communicate and inspire – develop a communications and partnership plan about what Wealden District Council is doing now that is great, and what it plans to do - and deliver it – keep businesses, partners and communities informed.
  • To win further resources for your community – it’s good to prove that you have a track record of successful delivery. Bigger investments tend to follow successful smaller investments.