Sustainability Roundtable: Councillor role in sustainability

Spotlight Presentation - Councillor Marianne Overton MBE: Vice Chair of LGA, Leader of the LGA Independent Group, Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents, Lincolnshire County Council and North Kesteven District Council, Spokesperson on Climate Change and Energy at Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) & Leader of Independent Network.

In the heart of Lincolnshire, Councillor Marianne Overton stands as a representative for a diverse community of 12,000 people, all united by a shared determination to make a positive impact on the environment. Before venturing into local government, Cllr Overton dedicated herself to biodiversity efforts in the Amazon, Africa, and Southeast Asia, providing her with a firsthand understanding of the crucial importance of preserving natural diversity.

The urgency of the climate crisis prompted the Local Government Association to declare a climate emergency along with over 300 councils also committing to achieving net zero and publishing their climate action plans. This collective commitment spans councils nationwide, each taking significant steps towards a sustainable future.

Lincolnshire County Council also declared a climate emergency, setting ambitious goals to reach net zero by 2030 and align with the seventeen sustainable development goals. The council developed a comprehensive strategy and an action plan, regularly updated and available on their website. Collaboration is key, involving various organisations within the district, such as the county council and trusts, ensuring a unified approach to sustainability.

The council's innovative initiatives include a straw-powered power station, significantly reducing energy consumption. Solar panels have been fitted on many council houses, and a continuous search for additional rooftops for solar installations is underway, contributing to the ongoing commitment to clean energy.

Securing funding for projects has been a priority, utilising resources such as the new homes bonus and grants from Central Government. Striving for efficiency, the council ensures funds are allocated carefully, maximising their impact.

Advocacy is a constant effort, with motions and regular updates on the agenda for scrutiny, emphasising progress towards environmental goals. Councillors play a pivotal role as community ambassadors, engaging in numerous events and newsletters to keep residents informed and motivated.

Collaboration with other councils has been a strategy to tackle funding challenges. While there have been successes in retrofitting houses, lobbying Central Government for accessible and faster green grants remains a priority, especially for private housing.

Community engagement is fostered through green grants, encouraging local initiatives that strengthen the commitment to biodiversity and emission reduction. Partnerships with organisations like the Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union amplify the impact.

Councillor Overton's involvement at national and international levels, including participation in COP events, showcases the importance of engaging on a broader scale. The Local Government Association supports councillors through training, recognising their key role in driving positive change.

Local businesses are not left out, with dedicated events showcasing their efforts and discussing challenges. The council actively supports businesses in adopting sustainable practices, from energy savings to incorporating solar panels.

Changes to the local planning framework has been an achievement, where developers are now expected to align with the council's goals for net zero, sustainability, and biodiversity. This comprehensive approach exemplifies the commitment of Cllr Overton's council to building a greener, more sustainable future for their community.

Further links mentioned can be found here:

Strategy for North Kesteven District Council and link to Make a Climate Pledge

Action Plan for North Kesteven District Council

Central Lincolnshire Local Plan

A summary of Q&A discussion:

Q. Representative from City of York Council asked, how do you go about making sure that the sustainability underpins all the council decisions as some departments are much more aware than others or much more engaged with sustainability. What mechanisms do you put in place to make sure that all the decisions that a council makes are really considering sustainability?

A. From the council's perspective, our decision papers have a significant impact, encompassing various aspects that must be addressed comprehensively. Compliance with equality standards is a crucial element that must be carefully considered and adhered to. As a councillor, evaluating these components is essential, and if any discrepancies are identified, we proactively address them. We emphasise the importance of aligning with our corporate policy, which has been formally adopted, extending its applicability to every member of our staff. This alignment is reinforced through the established management structure, job descriptions, and various mechanisms, including staff appraisals and performance reviews. The commitment made during the initial decision-making process holds significance, allowing for the seamless integration of corporate policies throughout the organisation.

Q. North Somerset Council asked the following question: Do any councils have a dedicated budget for all climate work? 

A. I think the first question is what do you want the budget for? In essence, it revolves around having a clear strategy and action plan, outlining what you have committed to achieve and the corresponding budget requirements for each year. The crucial aspect is ensuring alignment between your goals and financial allocations. Having a dedicated budget for a specific principle might pose challenges, as your overarching objective is to enhance the environment across all budget allocations. Separating it into distinct pots could potentially lead other departments to perceive it as a completed task. It's more effective to articulate your needs, present a comprehensive strategy, and identify budget allocations for each specific item, emphasising the management of strategy and budgeting.

The Roundtable continued with 3 breakout sessions, here is the summaries below capturing the discussions from the breakout rooms:

The breakout room discussions talked about being in a position to address climate change, seeking to learn from others about setting targets and collaborating using local resources. They also highlighted the challenges in applying for grants and achieving a significant number of affordable and net-zero homes in areas such as Bath and Bristol for example. 

Community-led energy solutions were emphasised for tackling fuel poverty, with solar and heat pumps installation proving difficult. There was mention of the importance of cautious engagement with residents, colleagues, and officers recognising the need to avoid being too introspective or overly praising council plans. 

The various breakout room discussions went on to stress the importance of effective communication, engagement, and bringing people along in the climate change journey. It is important to acknowledge that not everyone may immediately prioritise climate concerns when getting the message across to residents. Collaboration with other councillors, community energy, and the private sector is recommended.

Discussions went on to mention examples of successful partnerships, including one with a local university, and highlighted the value of training, upskilling, and efficiency improvement; also touching on the challenges of securing funding, urging collaboration with the business community.

Some councils face financial challenges in implementing Net Zero by 2030 Action plans, focusing on behaviour change on the ground and the retrofitting of existing infrastructure. Scrutiny is seen as essential for accountability, and temporary housing issues, pollution, and air quality were discussed, including initiatives like using thermal cameras to identify heat leaks in homes and measuring air quality on the journey to school.