Stroud District Council's comprehensive strategy and plan, unanimously adopted in March 2021 drives progress on their commitment to a carbon neutral and ecologically resilient 2030. Despite being relatively small, Stroud is ahead of the game, achieving carbon neutral operations back in 2015 and taking a progressive approach to community collaboration and strategy governance. They are ambitiously active, positioning themselves as a pathfinder council for the rural district, pioneering wide reaching services and programmes that provide an avenue for them as influential partners in the climate and ecological crisis.
How to unify a council and community in an approach to our climate and ecological emergencies and begin deep collaboration to achieve our 2030 commitment?
Stroud District Council (SDC) is a small rural district within Gloucestershire. As a sustainability pioneer, we were assessed as carbon neutral in 2015 in respect of our own operations where we have direct control. In 2019 we made an ambitious commitment to become a carbon neutral district by 2030. A comprehensive strategy and masterplan has been developed with community, business and statutory partners and unanimously adopted (March 2021).
The Strategy takes a ‘sustainable development’ approach to the growth of our economy and natural capital addressing both the climate and ecological emergencies.
The Council is a relatively small contributor to district carbon emissions, both direct and indirect therefore, the Master Plan sets out how we will act as:
- an exemplar – a pathfinder in our own estates and practice
- an enabler – through partnerships and services
- an encourager – and supporter of community led action.
The framework comprises 23 Stretch Goals that provide the direction of travel across 14 themes and a total of 75 commitments. Addressing a range of issues from affordable, healthy homes and nature recovery to low carbon economy and mobility planning; the themes include those relating to social justice, inclusion and community to help us keep a balanced approach that leaves no one in our district behind.
In development, the strategy was consulted with all staff and focus groups held within the Leadership and Management Team meetings to initiate the ownership over goals and commitments that will be needed by operational leaders. Cross party, councillor engagement and ownership across all council services has been enabled by embedding the Strategy into each of the four main committees through consultation exercises in the run up to its adoption by full council.
Prior to adoption of the 2030 Strategy, the 2030 commitment was embedded as a priority for development within our Corporate Plan, Purchasing Policy and service planning, hard wiring our commitment as a top priority through all of our work. Our existing and emerging Local Plans provide national exemplar policies to address climate change and promote renewable and green technology.
Our 2030 Mission Statement reflects our philosophy and has a focus on social inclusion and justice in conjunction with carbon neutrality and ecological resilience and enhancement. The council is focused on outreach and keenly aware of the multi-faceted social benefits we can achieve by improving on practice and embedding sustainable culture in the district. Our focus is on engaging with those not yet involved by putting their needs, environmental or otherwise, first and finding 2030 focused solutions to these.
The strategy recognises the importance of community voice and that success is reliant upon community action. A formal alliance with some of our most proactive citizens was formed through a collaboration with Transition Stroud to establish a growing movement of ‘Climate Action Neighbourhoods’ across the District (17 action groups to date). These are realising fabulous local projects, sharing best practice and ideas. The forum provides links to external experts and a route for the Council to have face-face interaction with our climate active communities, and has valuably informed the Strategy’s development.
We are now also underway on the development of a formal community governance structure for steering and monitoring 2030 progress and aim to build this as a socially representative group rather than solely around sustainability expertise and to use this to support emergent leadership in the District for our 2030 challenge. We already have our Youth Council represented by the commitment they placed into our Masterplan and we are working with them to support them in delivering engagement as proactive ambassadors for the 2030 mission.
Given the plan was only adopted this year it is still early for the kind of significant results we are aiming to achieve however there are already some very clear impacts. These are a direct result of a clear and visible presence to the 2030 Strategy and Masterplan and a growing sense of engagement and ownership from all our directorates and services, from our communities and from our service delivery partners. Some early achievements include:
- 17 citizen led Climate Action Neighbourhoods
- a Domestic Energy Efficiency Advice Service in place for 20 years and with our delivery partner success in bids to BEIS LAD 1 and 1a funds to support our vulnerable residents. In the last financial year alone, this service secured lifetime carbon savings of 1,657 tonnes through 72 installations across our District
- as a pathfinder for our heritage buildings, the Council owned Brimscombe Port Mill and will showcase Water Source Heat Pump technology at an investment of £1.4m
- our canal regeneration work has involved over 500 volunteers and realised 100 nesting boxes, new wetland habitat, fish and eel passes to support migration to breeding grounds of the critically endangered European Eel and improved nature corridors across our district
- new build plans for our social housing are assessed to achieve Energy Performance Rating C exceeding national targets set for 2035 and will be EV ready and powered by PV
- although not a transport authority we have completed 5.5 miles of fully accessible multi-use path and wildlife corridors, used by 250,000 people per year and have a strategy to do more
- 6 electric vehicles and two e-cycles are now included in our small fleet and, with our waste partner the first electric refuse fleets are expected within 24 months
- in Autumn a new salary sacrifice scheme, similar to that already in use for bicycles will encourage our staff to make the switch to e-cars
- our award-winning Rural Sustainable Drainage Systems became a National Government Case Study Exemplar this year. It involves working in partnership with 42 different landowners and includes 390 woody dams and 1,500 trees planted
- our new project with Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-operative on our Independent Living Homes will demonstrate the benefits on our own buildings and attracting local investors to the share scheme is a great engagement route with huge co-benefits
- our residents are in the nation’s top recyclers with more than 60% recycling rates here. More than 13,000 residents use the ‘Freegle’ initiative and have rehomed more than 31 tonnes of potential waste through this service.
The most important lesson to pass on is that whilst it is important to take action and deliver projects and schemes this must not be at the expense of making the time to build the foundations that will develop and deliver action over the decade.
These foundations are strong communication, meaningful collaboration and a focus on community needs and the sustainable solutions rather than prioritising the ‘emergency needs’ as this risks only realising the ‘sticking plaster’ fixes.