UK: Tackling The Global Challenge Locally

Last Updated: 1 December 2008

By Stephen Weigel and Stephen Cirell

Environmental issues have been thrust to the fore in local government.

The press is full of news with an environmental or climate change theme: from recycling and reuse, to landfill and pay as you throw pilots, from flooding to flood prevention, from Local Area Agreements and inclusion of climate change indicators to carbon trading.

The urgency of the climate change message has been reinforced by rapid increases in gas and electricity prices, which have rightly been viewed by the public with increasing concern.

Councils have a pivotal role to play in tackling climate change and this has increasingly been recognised by the government. The Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, recently commented that many of the solutions lie at local level and local authorities are ideally placed to lead on them.

Climate change is one area where unitary councils are not necessarily taking the lead. Many district councils are developing a strong track record in this field, without the benefit of large financial resources. In many ways this reinforces the message that every little helps and it has to start somewhere.

There is no doubt some of the technologies for renewable energy may not always be appropriate, but it is important local government is seen to be moving forwards. This is the case, even if the investment now reaps lower rewards and solutions will need to be updated fairly rapidly. The notion of setting an example for the community cannot be overstated.

Tandridge District Council in Surrey is one council pushing back the boundaries. It has a number of ongoing initiatives and recently had an in-depth debate on climate change which Eversheds and Sgurr Energy contributed to.

This debate aimed to challenge the Council's progress to date and examine whether further progress could be made. But Tandridge has already introduced extensive use of photovoltaic panels (PV), thermal solar systems and combined heat and power schemes.

Its PV system is located on the roof of the Council's offices in Oxted. The panels attracted a hefty subsidy from central government and a further contribution from EDF energy, meaning the Council only funded 20% of the cost. The system produces 25kWp production at around 24 MW hours per year. There is a gauge in the Council's offices illustrating the energy consumption and saving at any point in time.

On a similar theme, a ground source heat pump has been installed in Queens Park Pavilion at Caterham. The system offers an energy efficient sports and community centre with modern facilities.

At the heart of this is an Eco Thermia Duo 16 ground source heat pump that extracts energy from the ground through three 200m loops of pipe work containing a water - glycol mixture.

The equipment has the advantage of not suffering any drop in efficiency over its life cycle and provides most of the energy required to run the centre. The remainder is provided by an electric heating element which can be manually operated.

The need for the benefits of modern technology to be integrated into the country's housing stock is also well documented. The Council and Raven Housing Association have just built two houses under the EST Low Carbon Building Programme to the impressive level 5 under the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Offering an example of the best building practice and incorporating numerous leading features, the houses include insulated panels, upgraded insulation in the roof and water tank, triple glazed windows, air leakage sealing throughout, wood pellet boiler with underfloor heating, PV panels, rain water harvesting and a heat recovery ventilation system.

These houses show what can be achieved, particularly in new build design features and encourage other developers to construct homes to higher environmental standards.

The Council has also incorporated solar thermal technology at the Douglas Brunton Day Centre, which makes a substantial contribution to its hot water demand. This is ideally suited to a day centre offering a bathing service.

In many ways, these initiatives are only scratching the surface. But as the public clamour grows for more environmental solutions to the energy crisis - as it surely will - it is work like this that will show the way.

Few can doubt community leadership in this context is exactly what is required, particularly bearing in mind the array of public stakeholders who can also have a similar effect across the public sector.

If this work is multiplied by the number of councils across the country, a very large task will become much more manageable.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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