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Nottingham City Council Wants the City to Be Carbon-Neutral by 2028

29 July 20 interview: Emily Thursfield

Since 2005, Nottingham has reduced its carbon emissions by more than double the target goal first laid out by Nottingham City Council. But now there is a new target – to become the first carbon-neutral city in the UK by 2028. Ahead of the launch of their 28 day challenge, taking place on social media throughout August, we speak to Sally Longford, Deputy Leader of the Council and Portfolio Holder Energy, Environment and Democratic Services about how they intend to make it happen… 

How did the plan for Nottingham 2028 come about?
During a full council meeting in 2019, I made the pledge that Nottingham would become carbon neutral by 2028. We spent a few months preparing a draft action plan outlining how we would achieve this goal and then, in January of this year, I formally declared a climate and ecological emergency and launched a consultation on the plan we had constructed. We've since spoken with lots of organisations and individuals, and received a lot of support – we had more than 1000 contributions and amendments. We've recently published the new, revised plan responding to this feedback, which we’ve gained national recognition for. 

At the heart of Nottingham 2028 is a desire to ensure that we not only play a part in reducing the threat of climate change, but also that our citizens can be protected from the impact and made more resilient. It's important we contribute to the global effort to tackle the climate crisis, and it's absolutely essential for everybody to play a part. 

The action plan mentions that Nottingham has “always been at the forefront of climate leadership” – what are some steps the city has taken against the climate emergency previously? 
We've been doing lots of things in the background – not necessarily using climate change and carbon reduction as the main reason for doing them, but to provide good quality services for our citizens, give people lower bills and ensure that they're safe and comfortable in their homes. We’ve installed lots of solar panels and several years ago implemented a district heating scheme using energy created from the burning of waste to heat nearly 5000 homes and offices in the city. We’ve got a huge fleet of electric buses and have had a lot of investment in electric vehicles. There was concern when we installed a high-end cycle route on Castle Boulevard, but it’s actually doubled the amount of cyclists using that route. 

We've also had a big retrofitting programme of homes which is ongoing at the moment. If you go to some of our council estates such as Clifton, you'll see that they’ve have had additional cladding on the outside to keep them warm, and we're now in the process of introducing very efficient homes under the Energiesprong programme, which started in Sneinton and is being rolled out across the city. 

The most recent figures show that Nottingham has had a carbon emissions reduction of 41% in the city and 49% per person since the levels recorded in 2005. The Council’s target for this was only 26% – do you think this demonstrates that residents are willing to work towards the carbon-neutral goal? 
I think there’s been enthusiasm because, in a lot of ways, reducing your carbon reduces your bills. If people can access advice about how to reduce their carbon, it has an impact on how much money they've got at the end of the month, so it's often not difficult to persuade people to take those steps. But in many ways, we have the more difficult things to come. We need to get people to actively choose lower carbon choices. You can see that during the lockdown there's been a lot less traffic on the roads – we need to ensure that when people go back to work they think about using more sustainable means to get there. People will have to make active choices in order to continue on this route. There's a lot of pressure on councils at the moment to have a green recovery from COVID and we're joining with other Councils and organisations to put pressure on the Government to provide funding.

To ensure we meet the target, emission reduction rates would have to be in excess of 22.3% per year. The Action Plan lists five sections in which to do this – transport, energy generation, the built environment, waste and water, and consumption. How do you plan on reducing emissions in these areas?
Something I’m very excited about in terms of energy generation is the use of deep mine water to heat homes – as many people know, there were a lot of coal mines under the city and in those mines is a lot of warm water we can use. We’ve got a small pilot project about to start in Bulwell and we’re hoping that we'll be able to increasingly use that method. In terms of transport, we’ve recently secured funding to reduce air pollution, and Nottingham City Transport have been switching their buses to bio-gas and upgraded the remaining diesel engine buses to make them much more efficient.

The built environment is a difficult one because planning regulations don't give us a lot of tools to stop unsustainable development, so the council is trying to put in place planning documents which encourage more energy-efficient new buildings with more biodiversity.  Alongside our pledge to be single-use plastic free by 2023, we'll encourage people to use reusable bottles and install water fountains in the city to encourage that. Also, we'll be asking people to consume more sustainably, encouraging businesses to procure locally and showing individuals how to grow their own food. It's not going to be easy, there's a lot of quite significant changes we'll have to make if we're going to reach the target, but in many ways we'll be creating a cleaner, more attractive environment for ourselves.

At the heart of Nottingham 2028 is a desire to ensure that we not only play a part in reducing the threat of climate change, but also that our citizens can be protected from the impact

The plan also mentions the use of nature to take carbon from the atmosphere and store it. Can residents expect to see any ‘noticeable’ changes to the city? 
We’re hoping to have a very attractive environment in the future. We’ve got a massive ambition to plant trees – it started with the idea of planting 10,000 in four years but now we’re aiming for 50,000. Although we’ve got a lot of open spaces already, we’ll be replacing trees that have disappeared from the city centre, and we’re creating a nice, relaxing linear park on Collin Street which in the future will hopefully lead up to the castle. We've got a lot of unused allotments too, and I'm really keen to create spaces where we can produce food or plant orchards where people can collect food from. So, all sorts of nice things which will be beneficial to people and will help cool the climate, cool the local environment and give people a nice shady place to relax on a hot summer's day. 

During lockdown, I’ve never seen the city centre parks so busy with people desperate to get out of the house. Section 4 of the plan mentions the improvements that will be made to residents' physical and mental wellbeing – do you think the importance of green spaces is something that residents will be more sympathetic to after this lockdown experience? 
I'm sure it is. There's a huge amount of evidence that being in touch with nature helps people's mental health and, as you say, during lockdown it's been absolutely crucial that people could get out and just be in nature, and that's why this plan is so important. We're very fortunate in the city that we've already got some lovely parks and a very active Friends of Parks group who are very supportive of what we’re doing.

Who are some of the funders of Nottingham 2028? 
The Council has spent a lot and lost a lot of income during the COVID crisis, and that has left us in a pretty difficult position financially. At the moment we don't have a Council budget for Nottingham 2028, but we do have opportunities to bid for money and we've been very successful recently in obtaining funding for a range of new measures. Hopefully, if the Government stands by their pledge to fund us for all our COVID expenses, we will be in a better position to put some money aside. Unfortunately, we're pretty strapped for cash at the moment and are using every means that we can to work with our partners to get there. But I think we will – I'm optimistic, we've got a huge number of people working towards this, from our green partnership to young people from our Primary Parliament, and there are lots of individuals who are offering help and support. 

Tell us about the 28 day challenge...
The idea is to raise awareness of the carbon-neutral goal and get individuals and families on board, to encourage them to take actions they might not have tried before which will hopefully lead to a more sustainable way of living. Some of them are educational, some are about engaging with nature or reducing waste, and others are just a bit of fun. It won’t cost them any money, they’re things they can do from home or in their local park, something that families can engage in during the summer holidays. The original idea was to be out at events all summer long talking to people and spreading awareness of the 2028 goal. Unfortunately, as we all know, events have been cancelled, so this will hopefully be a way to reach people that haven’t given the climate crisis much thought so far. The Council aren't organising any of the events – we’ve got all sorts of different local organisations involved in the different activities. 

This carbon-neutral goal needs to involve everybody, and I think we should all see this as a very positive thing for the city. A level of enthusiasm and commitment from residents can drive us forward to a much more pleasant way of living, a more sustainable life, one where people have access to nature, clean air and lower bills. What's not to like about that? 

Keep an eye on @MyNottingham to get involved with the Nottingham 2028 28 day challenge, beginning Saturday 1 August.

Nottingham City Council website

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