Note progress in the first year of delivery of
the Council’s Net Zero Action Plan and consider the Net Zero
Action Plan Annual Report 2021/2022
The Net Zero Action Plan (NZAP) Annual Report 2021/22 provides a narrative on Solihull’s progress in delivering the NZAP, interprets the KPI data and details how the Council is performing against the actions in the plan. The report also details key challenges in delivery and future focus. The report was presented by the Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability. The Scrutiny Board was informed that:
· All KPI data was focussed on 2021/22.
· The annual report addressed year 2 of a 3-year timeline for this iteration of the NZAP.
· The reported 19% CO2 reduction in 2019/20 coincided with the Covid Pandemic period and should be treated some with some caution.
· Solihull Councill had halved its emissions since 2017/18.
· The annual report data showed a scale up in many NZAP areas, such as roll out of EV charging infrastructure, tree planting activity and reaching towards net zero objectives. However, there was a recognised need for more renewables energy generation in the borough.
· Council activities accounted for less than 1% of borough wide emissions.
· Key challenges on delivering the NZAP were funding, national policy, energy costs and delivery of net zero.
· Focus towards 2024 was centred on actions such as retrofitting of properties and encouraging sustainable travel, funding, public engagement actions and the on-going reduction of Council emissions.
Having received the report presentation from the Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability, the Scrutiny Board raised several questions pertinent to the report, which in summary included the following matters:
Councillor Thomas clarified that on page 19 of the NZAP Annual Report 2021/22 (5.4.1 Cycling Infrastructure), the 2 cycle lanes referenced were not new, but rather had been subject to various improvements. Councillor Thomas noted that the biggest gaps and challenges found within the NZAP were found on page 16, which referenced 11,000 households as being in fuel poverty and questioned whether the Council could bring them out of fuel poverty, and on page 25 (Section 8: Energy Supply), asking why the Council was not seeking to accelerate renewable energy capacity as originally hoped for.
Members were advised that there were several underlying issues in relation to addressing fuel poverty in the borough. Current energy costs would have a significant impact on achieving fuel poverty goals, as did the current cost of living crisis. Energy efficiency had a role to play via retrofitting policy and programme for properties across the borough. In terms of renewables, a 20%increase in capacity in the borough had been achieved. There were some technical issues in Solihull with some of the renewables schemes. However, a renewables energy feasibility scheme had been undertaken looking at models to encourage further uptake in renewables.
In terms of gaps and challenges facing successful achievement of the NZAP Action Plan objectives, further detail would be included in future. However, Members were advised that consistency of policy application was key, as was provision of funding and wider finance.
The Head of Stronger Communities noted that the provision of a renewables programme was the start of a new industry from a demand perspective. Expressions of interest were increasing, as was understanding of what was involved with renewables by householders. Government funding for low-income households to uptake renewables opportunities was currently limited. Banks were considering releasing equity against householders mortgages to fund renewables work on properties. Furthermore, there was a need for massive growth across SME’s and skilled people in the renewable supply chain to support its continued development and growth.
Members were advised that much of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) data applicable to Solihull was found to be outdated, resulting in the housing stock being in better condition than was originally thought to be the case. The Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability further noted that residents in the borough had been upgrading their properties over the last decade, with installation of solar panels, improved double glazing etc, which had yet to be fully captured and reflected in the Council’s EPC data.
Councillor Qais questioned whether there were any plans to extend the retrofit scheme across the borough and secondly, to what extent were private properties included as part of the Councils plans for introducing EV charging infrastructure and was Council support available if so.
Regarding page 20 of the NZAP Annual Report on Sustainable Travel Education and Road Safety Training, Councillor Qais noted that both services should be co-ordinated together with schools.
The Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability clarified for the Scrutiny Board that the Councils EV Charging Strategy was focussed on access to charge points regardless of location. The Sustainable Travel Team did currently co-ordinate with Road Safety Training Team and schools.
Councillor Mrs Holl-Allen questioned whether the Council able to conduct a survey of the cycle routes in the borough. The Assistant Director, Growth & Development advised that cycle lane usage had been monitored but would confirm outside of the Scrutiny Board meeting whether a full-scale survey had yet taken place.
Councillor Ryan noted that planning would have a significant role to play in future years to ensure new development would contribute to reducing emissions. It should be also questioned whether individual companies located in the borough were addressing their emissions and whether there was potential for them to be doing more to address this area of their business; for example, through the introduction of EV fleet vehicles and using green/renewable energy sources. Secondly, Councillor Ryan questioned whether the Council was taking advantage of the small parcels of land that became available post development to plant more tree. Thirdly, Councillor Ryan questioned whether residents were being encouraged to maximise the potential for further tree planting in their own gardens. Finally, Councillor Ryan stated that the Annual report should be disseminated to schools, businesses and community and voluntary groups located across the borough and that the Council should partner schools and Councils towards delivering the NZAP Action Plan targets and objectives.
The Scrutiny Board was advised that many larger companies located in Solihull have Net Zero targets established and plans in pace to decarbonise. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership also provided support to SME’s to decarbonise their businesses.
Councillor McLoughlin noted that the recent period of severe cold weather had highlighted the importance of efficient home insulation. Regarding the downward trend for reported emissions during the Covid Pandemic period and its relationship to future budgeting for 2022/23, had the Council projected how much emissions may rise again going forward.
Referencing EPC’s, Councillor McLoughlin noted that although 32% of households were reported to have attained a Category C rating, conversely 68% of households in the borough did not meet the Category C standard.
Regarding Section 7.3, page 22 of the Annual Report (‘What does the data tell us’?), it was noted that although in 2022 it was recorded there was 16.2% Canopy Cover across Solihull compared with 16% nationally, this had reduced in the borough from 17.1% recorded in 2016. Was there a definitive amount of Canopy Cover identified to be attained in Solihull.
The Annual Report detailed that ‘Almost half of Solihull’s local wildlife sites are in positive management (46%), this is similar to the national average of 47%’. Councillor McLoughlin stated that it was vitally important to engage and educate people regarding their custodial duties for the natural environment and questioned whether it was possible to seek to outperform the national average of 47%.
Members were informed that it was recognised that there would be an uprise in the number of vehicles using the road network post 2020. However, the data evidenced that continued to be on a downward trend. It was further expected data would evidence a reduction in the amount of domestic electricity and gas consumption due to current energy prices. There was no specific Canopy Cover target currently identified, but the Councils tree planting objectives would address future Canopy Cover in future years. However, the Scrutiny Board was assured that Canopy Cover would be reviewed as part of the KPI suite for 2023/24.
In terms of the local and national wildlife site management targets, it was the case that a significant number of local wildlife sites were privately owned, and it was difficult to establish whether they were positively managed or not. However, the Council did work in partnership with organisations such as the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, which positively managed their sites.
Regarding housing stock condition in Solihull, the Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability advised Members that it was better than the EPC data would indicate.
Councillor McLoughlin raised the issue of exporting renewable energy and of the consequent benefits arising for the local community. Citing instance of collective purchase arrangements of solar energy in other locales, Councillor McLoughlin highlighted the problematic issues of procurement of quality materials, associated cost and scale of provision as potential obstacles to delivering collective purchase of renewable energy. The Group Manager, Climate Change & Sustainability confirmed that there were many potential models available supporting delivery of renewable energy, including collective purchase models. The West Midlands Combined Authority was reviewing funding mechanisms. Members were further informed that the current priority to be addressed were those households experiencing fuel poverty and who could not afford renewable energy initiatives. The Council continued to take forward its retrofit programme, resident education as to what options were available to them and continued to explore further stock conditions and co-operative models.
In summary of the Scrutiny Boards consideration of the report, Councillor Pinwell noted that:
· It was important to communicate the objectives of the NZAP Action Plan and progress made to date as detailed in the Annual Report 2021/22 to be conveyed to residents and businesses in the borough to encourage self-reflection as to their role in delivering the programme.
· Some objectives and longer-term goals were in the hands of external factors, such as the status of required technology and an underdeveloped renewables market.
· The commitment of SME’s was required and needed to be recognised within the NZAP Action Plan.
· A ‘trees in – trees out’ development mind set had to be discouraged in the borough.
· All 10 sections of the Annual Report 2021/22 showed good progress to date.
Having considered the report, the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board:
i. To note the progress in the first year of delivery of the Council’s Net Zero Action Plan; and,
ii. To include the next Net Zero Action Plan Annual Report (2022/23) in the
Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board Work Programme for 2023/24.