SECA is keen to keep tabs on how member groups are getting on in their efforts to engage with their local councils on their climate action plans.  So we have been approaching SECA member groups by phone and email to ask how those efforts have gone.  The news is encouraging;  there’s a lot happening!

So far we have made contact with 14 groups (engaging with 16 councils). Here are some initial findings – further feedback will follow as we contact more groups.

Many groups are in touch with their councils. Some are in the early stages. Others have got quite far in developing relationships and building trust.

Some councils have proved very responsive. This can be because their climate emergency motion was passed with a strong (sometimes cross party) mandate, or because there is a particularly well-informed and motivated council officer in an influential position who has helped seize the initiative. Or both. Where councils have been responsive, good progress is being made.

Elsewhere it has proved harder work. But climate change is high on the agenda now.  That means we can keep pushing, knowing that public pressure is swinging behind us.  Here are some examples of progress to encourage us all along:

Partnerships: In Eastbourne they are setting up the ‘Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 Partnership’, a collaboration between Eastbourne Borough Council and a newly formed Community Interest Company called ‘Eastbourne Eco Action Network’. The CIC will support and facilitate a network of community groups and businesses to collaborate with the council to achieve the 2030 target.   The council is funding the CIC to a limited extent, and the CIC is fundraising to support itself (it has a grant from the Chalk Cliffs Trust, and is applying for a Lottery grant).  Other councils are creating databases of ‘influencers’ (eg Rushmoor) and/or networks of community groups to work with.

Visioning events: In Worthing and Adur, community groups are linking with the council to stage an ambitious conference on March 4th, ‘Zero 2030’. This will bring together national speakers and local businesses, council officers and the public to feed into the council’s ‘Sustainable Adur and Worthing’ framework.  Other conferences and visioning events that we know of are underway in Lewes, Bookham and Hastings.

Community representatives on advisory boards: some SECA members report that they have been invited onto groups that are advising councils. Examples are ‘climate steering groups’ (Rother), ‘environmental forums’ (Mole Valley), advisory groups (West Sussex). Worthing/Adur council is convening a citizens assembly.

Creating frameworks: Some councils have been using the Friends of the Earth 33 actions document as a stepping off point for analysing their progress (eg West Sussex County Council and Rushmoor District Council).  Others are being encouraged to use the new Ashden co-benefits checklist.  Adur and Worthing are developing their own framework

Adur & Worthing Sustainability Framework

Assigning funds: Lewes DC has assigned £100,000 for climate emergency measures. Horsham DC has set aside £40,000 a year for 5 years for green action and £500,000 a year for ambitious wildlife and biodiversity plan, which they are calling Wilder Horsham District, developed in collaboration with Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Carbon audits: Many councils are doing baseline carbon audits of their own activity, in some cases bringing outside agencies to help – for example, Horsham DC commissioned a report from the Carbon Trust. In several cases councils are talking about redefining the scope for these measurements, from narrow definitions that only count council-owned buildings and vehicles, to a much broader scope that include subcontracted services, schools and other delegated responsibilities.  This means the headline numbers go up, but the results are much more representative of the council’s sphere of influence.  Problems with getting accurate data are one of the challenges involved, as is comparability between councils because of differing definitions.

Sparking ideas/leadership: Surrey County Council has sought ideas from the community and will be showcasing the top ten ideas in January to look for funding. One idea that has been chosen (from Blackwater Valley FoE) is to hold a survey of businesses to see what are the main barriers to employees leaving their cars at home. Chichester DC is holding a Green Energy Fayre in the spring to showcase solar panels, insulation, heat pumps etc. Hastings BC supported Transition Town Hastings ‘Car Free Day’ in September.

Overall, we have heard of considerable engagement going on over the region between communities and councils.  This is often driven by the community groups, but councils are starting to recognise the value of having us on board. It is also creating a need for frameworks to support the process.  These in turn often rely on large amounts of voluntary time and effort, as councils do not have the resources .

We will carry on with the survey over the next few weeks and look forward to talking or emailing with you. Please email if you would like us to be in touch sooner rather than later.

Sally Barnard and Alison Marshall

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