Hertfordshire County Council: Sustainability action plan

Hertfordshire County Council developed an action plan to set out the policies and strategies needed to embed sustainability across all their operations and services.

The context

In July 2019 Hertfordshire County Council declared a climate emergency in recognition of the need for immediate action. This was based on evidence of the global impacts of climate change, including those being experienced within Hertfordshire which included dry riverbeds, reduced water supply, intense weather events, localised flooding and specific loss of habitat and species throughout the county.

This declaration received unanimous cross-party support at the full council meeting, where we committed to developing the Sustainable Hertfordshire Strategy and Action Plan, which set out the policies, strategies and implementation plans needed to embed sustainability across all the county council’s operations and services.

The challenge

The strategy was approved in March 2020, at the same time as the first national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge was engaging services such as public health, adult and children services, schools and communities, at a time when responding to the coronavirus was the priority.

There were also challenges associated with working in a two-tier authority area, where district and borough councils have differing roles and responsibilities to the county council.

The solution

The strategy was to be supported by a series of service specific actions proposed by each service area and it was intended that staff engagement on the development of those plans would start immediately. But due to Covid this engagement was postponed.

However, as the focus started to shift to how Hertfordshire County Council might recover from COVID-19, as an employer and service provider, services considered climate change and sustainability in parallel to the recovery work.

In December 2020 our Cabinet unanimously agreed to the Sustainable Hertfordshire Action Plan and committed to substantial funding to support it. The action plan will help us to achieve our strategy’s nine green ambitions, which are:

  • carbon neutral for our own operations by 2030
  • all operations and services are ready for future climates
  • improve biodiversity on our land by 20% by 2030
  • reduce what we throw away. Send nothing to landfill by 2030
  • net zero greenhouse gas county before 2050
  • our communities are ready for future climates
  • improve wildlife in our land and water by 20% by 2050
  • clean air for all by 2030
  • increase resource efficiency threefold in the county by 2050

The impact

Our elected members and staff have been fully engaged in helping to prepare the action plan and we are now busy implementing it across all service areas. We have already made progress on some of the specific actions outlined, including securing an £18,000 grant as part of the Local Government Association’s Net Zero Innovation Programme. In partnership with the University of Hertfordshire, when we can safely access the care home, we will collect and analyse data to map energy behaviours, consumption and wastage, thereby allowing for the identification of solutions.

This year we successfully secured a total of £23.5m of funding from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, managed by Salix Finance. This funding means we can now deliver several sustainability led projects at a number of our sites, this includes the installation of 98 solar panels across 128 council owned buildings, installation of Air Source Heat Pumps across our schools and non-schools estates, and full double glazing across 17 school sites.

The action plan also builds on programmes as diverse as the replacement of all the county’s streetlights with LED luminaires, a revised verge maintenance strategy to extend pollinator habitats and align with the Pollinator Strategy, the introduction of electric vehicles and power tools for highway maintenance, and the plan for the development of a carbon neutral primary school as a pilot project in Buntingford.

How is the new approach being sustained?

In March 2020 the Sustainable Hertfordshire Team was established to work collaboratively with all service areas of the council, partner organisations, businesses and the public to ensure Hertfordshire is sustainable by reducing emissions and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Additional resources have since been allocated and a Sustainable Hertfordshire Fund of £12m has been established to deliver the actions. These additional resources will ensure much wider implementation and allow for better levels of engagement, both internally and externally.

Lessons learned

The most consistent message and lesson to be learnt is that of the need for partnership working, whether in a two-tier authority area working with district and borough councils, or businesses, industry, voluntary and community groups, environmental organisations, town and parish councils. All of us have a part to play and by working collaboratively the impact is greater than the sum of our parts.