House of Commons debate, UK’s Climate Progress: The Committee on Climate Change’s 2021 Progress Report, 21 October 2021

Councils are a unique and powerful leadership and delivery partner in achieving Net Zero and adapting to climate change. Local government has the powers and influence over a third of emissions in their areas – through buildings, transport, waste, energy, the natural environment and more – and only councils can mobilise collective action to deliver in places. We particularly support the recognition given to local government’s continued role in combatting climate change.


Key messages

  • The LGA welcomes recommendations made in the double report issued by the Committee on Climate Change relating to ‘Progress in reducing emissions’ and ‘Progress in adapting to climate change’.
  • Councils are a unique and powerful leadership and delivery partner in achieving Net Zero and adapting to climate change. Local government has the powers and influence over a third of emissions in their areas – through buildings, transport, waste, energy, the natural environment and more – and only councils can mobilise collective action to deliver in places. We particularly support the recognition given to local government’s continued role in combatting climate change.  
  • The reports find that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government now the Department for Housing, Levelling Up, and Communities (MHCLG/DHLUC) is ‘not fully supporting local government to play its part in the transition to Net Zero’.
  • The LGA is seeking to work with cross Government Departments to advance the case and mechanisms for collaborating on the delivery of our climate ambitions, and to resolving the gaps in powers, policy, capacity and funding are holding back what councils can achieve in places.
  • The reports raise concerns with the funding offer to councils. Access to finance is key to the delivery of a comprehensive response to the climate emergency and the Spending Review must address the concerns set out in the LGA’s Build Back Local paper around issues of financial uncertainty, spending power and fragmentation.
  • The report also states that ‘progress has fallen short on ensuring that building standards are fit for purpose and properly enforced’. New proposals set out in the Future Homes and Future Buildings Standards, along with legislation in the Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill will impact on councils’ ability to implement and enforce new standards. There is a bigger opportunity to deliver change if the Environment Bill is properly aligned to the Agriculture Act and awaited Planning Bill.
  • We agree with the report’s findings that there must be ‘an agreed framework incorporating local and national action’. This is why we have repeatedly called for Ministerial/local government climate taskforce to be set up, bringing Ministers and local leaders together to drive co-ordinated and cross cutting action on climate change. We propose that this is led by the Ministry of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and provides a forum for a greater national-local government partnership.
  • We have also been calling for central Government to work with the local government sector and businesses to establish a national framework for addressing the climate emergency.

Local government funding

  • Surveys suggest that councils managed over £8 billion of additional cost pressures and £3 billion of lost income, excluding business rates and council tax, since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
  • Early analysis by the LGA ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review shows that councils face average annual cost pressures of £2.5 billion to maintain services at their current level of access and quality.
  • For the fourth year in a row, councils are facing significant uncertainty over funding for next year, both nationally due to one-year spending reviews and local government settlements, and locally due to the uncertainty around the future of further business rates retention and fair funding review reforms.
  • We know that the transition to a low carbon economy will require both public and private sector investment. Long-term certainty and clarity will be necessary to create an environment for businesses to invest in net zero, for example, in green apprenticeships or courses in the further education sector. With long-term certainty and local flexibility of funding for councils, local government can stimulate the low carbon market by being able to plan a holistic pipeline of activity.

Planning and building regulation

  • The report states that the Government must “reform the planning framework to enable delivery of low-carbon and climate-resilient measures”. Councils are committed to ensuring new, sustainable homes are built and communities have quality places to live.
  • It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart, which gives communities the power to participate and engage in our national shift to a carbon neutral future. 
  • We welcomed the recently expanded definition of sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which now includes the 17 UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Through the planning system, local government plays a vital role in leading the way to address climate change, reduce carbon emissions, and create the sustainable places we need.
  • Councils need the tools to become exemplars for using new smart technologies and sustainable construction methods supported by appropriate investment.
  • Any changes to the planning system need to have sustainability at the heart and therefore must consider the improvements and strategic interventions necessary to support our shift to a carbon neutral future.

Contact

Jonah Munn, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

jonah.munn@local.gov.uk