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South Cambridgeshire District Council Zero Carbon Strategy

South Cambridgeshire District Council set out a wide-ranging zero carbon strategy, outlining the many ways in which it is encouraging, supporting and influencing action on climate change in the district.

This starts at home with action to decarbonise the council’s biggest sources of emissions – its refuse vehicle fleet and main office building, and expands on this to make the most of the council’s powers and influence on wider district emissions.

The challenge

How to make a difference when the council controls less than one percent of carbon emissions from the South Cambridgeshire district.

The solution

The council’s Zero carbon strategy and action plan sets out its approach to supporting reductions in net carbon in South Cambridgeshire in six sectors: homes, workplaces, transport, recycling and waste, energy generation, and land and trees. In each sector the strategy outlines a three-fold approach, how the council is acting as an exemplar on its own estate; how it is using its direct influence through policies, and how it is making the most of its wider influence with partners and the community.

The Council allocated a total of £4.7 million (4.7 per cent of budget) to spend on tackling climate change in 2020/2021, and £4.02 million (4 per cent of budget) for 2021/2022, earning it recognition in 2020 by DeSmogUK as one of the top ten councils in terms of investment to implement a zero carbon pledge. The council has ringfenced business rates on renewable energy developments for sustainability projects. South Cambridgeshire has several solar PV farms. Business rates from these are retained under the business rates retention scheme.

Measures outlined in the strategy include:

  • Drafting a bold new Greater Cambridge Local Plan which will make zero carbon and environmental targets central to local planning policy
  • Carrying out a major review of its 5,300 council-owned homes to plan the next steps in cutting emissions to zero over the next three decades
  • Working with developers to ensure new homes and their construction are as carbon-friendly as possible and supporting existing homeowners to make their properties more energy-efficient
  • Committing to a reduction in the carbon footprint of the Council’s own estate and operations of at least 45 per cent on 2018-19 levels by 2025, and 75 per cent by 2030, including carrying out green refits such as a solar carport and a ground source heating system at its own Cambourne headquarters
  • Supporting businesses to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs by making it easier to access advice and funding
  • Replacing its fleet of bin collection vehicles with electric or hydrogen trucks, committing to a 50 per cent reduction by 2025 and a 90 per cent reduction by 2030. (In October 2020, the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service, which the council operates in collaboration with Cambridge City Council, became one of the first waste collection services in the country to take delivery of an all-electric bin lorry)
  • Continuing its recycling focus, to include minimising waste in its own operations, working with eco-friendly partners to promote food waste, repair and refill schemes, and creating a resource toolkit for communities to use at their events
  • Delivering a Zero Carbon Communities support programme, with a £100,000 annual round of grants for community-led projects aimed at engaging communities on climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

The impact

On a purely cost basis, investment in climate action is expected to bring significant operational cost savings. These include reduced running costs for the waste collection fleet as it changes from diesel to electric and reduced energy bills for the council’s headquarters. These are expected to save almost £100,000 within the first year of the scheme’s operation and repay the investment within no more than 16 years.

There are also many other benefits which are harder to quantify but include improved air quality, better health through encouraging active travel and a strengthening of community as a result of the projects funded through our Zero Carbon Community grant scheme.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The council’s Cabinet is advised on climate and environment matters by a cross-party Climate and Environment Advisory Committee. This committee receives twice-yearly reports on progress by the council in delivering the Zero Carbon Strategy and makes recommendations to Cabinet based on these.

Lessons learned

The council was able to move swiftly in putting its zero carbon strategy into action thanks to strong leadership and in-house technical expertise. A partnership approach between members and officers has enabled a whole-hearted council-wide commitment to the strategy with high levels of enthusiasm being communicated to communities across the district.


Siobhan Mellon, Climate and Environment Development Officer

[email protected]

Links to relevant documents

South Cambridgeshire District Council: Zero carbon strategy and action plan