Progress continues on tackling climate change in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council is proposing to put carbon emissions at the heart of all key decisions as part of its action to combat climate change.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 12th October 2020, 2:28 pm
Northumberland is rich in natural resources, which chiefs think will help the county work towards tackling climate change
Northumberland is rich in natural resources, which chiefs think will help the county work towards tackling climate change

Northumberland’s climate action plan was signed off in January 2020 following the declaration of a climate emergency last summer, with pledges to reduce the authority’s emissions by half by 2025 and make the county carbon-neutral by 2030.

Since then, plenty of progress has been made, despite the coronavirus pandemic, with a detailed update being presented to councillors this week, seeking endorsement of seven priority action areas.

At the Monday, October 12, meeting of the council’s corporate services committee, cabinet member Cllr Nick Oliver said: “Covid is impacting every part of the council’s business, but we are determined we will continue to pursue this climate-change agenda with vigour.

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“It’s probably even more important now, because this is part of our economic recovery. We have a real opportunity to position ourselves as a national and even international leader on climate change.

“We’ve got the development of the offshore industry in Blyth, we’ve got amazing forestry opportunities, great natural resources and we need to grasp this wholeheartedly, because it’s about creating an economic recovery as well as achieving our climate-change ambitions.”

The first priority action area is that all new council policies should be carbon-neutral or should reduce Northumberland’s emissions from their current level, ‘unless there is significant justification in terms of other benefits to the county’. This would be supported by a carbon assessment for each policy decision, provisionally to be introduced from April 2021.

The second is continuing to engage and partner with residents, visitors and businesses, as the council cannot achieve its ambition of a net-zero county by 2030 in isolation.

The third action area relates to heating buildings, both new and existing, and as part of this, cabinet members are being asked to approve £70,000 to develop proposals for district heat networks in Blyth and Cramlington, while starting the feasibility work on similar schemes in Alnwick, Ashington, Berwick, Hexham and Morpeth.

Transport is another priority with key areas of focus being electric vehicle charging infrastructure, improvement of walking and cycling routes, and the Northumberland Line project to restore passenger rail services in the south-east of the county.

Renewable energy is action area number five, building on schemes already underway such as the solar carport at County Hall, the proposed hydroelectric project in Hexham on the River Tyne and the heat schemes in Blyth and Cramlington.

It will also tie in with schemes like the Energy Masterplan, which is part of the Borderlands deal and was discussed at the meeting as part of another agenda item. It is being funded to the tune of £1.1million by the Government.

Priority number six relates to carbon capture, with the Great Northumberland Forest a prime example, while actions in this priority area will also be pursued in line with the recently awarded Local Nature Recovery Strategy pilot.

Finally, reducing waste will continue to be a focus, with recent updates including a proposed trial of a kerbside glass collection scheme, which is set to start next month.

Praising the efforts of council officers, Cllr Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member for business and tourism, said that plenty of authorities are declaring climate emergencies or adopting policies and motions then ‘sitting around in a council chamber feeling heartily good about ourselves’.

“But these guys have pulled together a real detailed set of proposals and are starting to put them into action,” he continued. “That’s a credit to everybody in this council, members and officers, that we’ve been able to do that.”

He also pointed out that Northumberland is likely to need to become carbon-negative given that neighbouring urban authorities will find it much more difficult to get to carbon-neutral, adding that he would welcome approaches from other councils or the North of Tyne Mayor to ‘get behind the county’s plans and bring something to the table’.

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