To receive an update on the Environmental Sustainability Strategy and that:
(i) the Committee considers the Environmental Sustainability Strategy and makes any observations
(ii) any observations be reported to the relevant Executive Member with a request that they be taken into account as the Strategy is implemented and through the annual reporting and review process.
Members reviewed the Environmental Sustainability Strategy update report. Portfolio Holder for Corporate Policy and Resources, Councillor V. Lewanski, reported technical problems so did not take part in the agenda item until towards the end of the discussion. Head of Corporate Policy, Cath Rose, introduced the item.
The commitment to produce a new Environmental Sustainability Strategy was included in the Reigate & Banstead 2025 corporate plan in January and the strategy, action plan and performance measures was approved by the Executive on 28 July 2020. An Overview and Scrutiny Committee call-in took place on 27 August 2020 and confirmed that the strategy should be implemented without delay and then a report would come back to this Committee in December for scrutiny. Strategy themes and priority areas of focus included energy and carbon use, low impact consumption and natural environment and biodiversity. The action plan sets out the 24 objectives and 100 plus activities with a timeframe for delivery. The strategy emphasised communications and engagement with local residents and businesses as it was not in the gift of the Council on its own to deliver carbon reduction across the borough as a whole. It needed to work with Surrey County Council as well as respond to central Government targets and funding. There would be formal reporting annually to consider progress and any changing and new priorities and the main strategy would be updated every three to five years. It was noted that there was a cross-party Member task group on this issue which could feed into and comment on work and progress.
Members discussed the item and had the following questions and comments:
· Energy minimisation – Members asked how the Council would approach this and would the Council create its own power through wind or solar means? It was noted that a key element of the strategy was to minimise the energy used (for heating and lighting Council buildings etc) and reduce the fuel that was used. The facilities team was looking at the estate – some measures could be implemented quickly, and others would take longer (such as generating renewable energy). The strategy makes a commitment for the organisation to be carbon neutral by 2030. A website was being produced to provide advice to residents.
· Government updated targets – it was noted that the government had set new higher targets this week for 2030 and the Committee on Climate Change had just produced a report on the Sixth Carbon Budget and what it could achieve from 2033 to 2037. Members asked at what point would the Council updates it plan for the next 10 years. Officers confirmed it would look at this report and keep what it was doing under review to reflect policy and guidance. Members also asked for clarity on which areas were a Borough Council response and which the County Council led on.
· Council buildings – it was noted that that in the 2050 vision it did not mention what would happen to Council buildings. It was confirmed that the Council’s direct emissions are very small compared to the borough as a whole. It does not have direct control on those borough-wide emissions, but it was leading by example and helping residents and businesses to change behaviour and work with partners in those areas. The Council also did not own housing stock itself, but it was working closely with Raven Housing Trust on plans to decarbonise their houses and flats. It was also promoting the Green Homes grant that had been announced for residents as well as funding for the hardest to heat homes in the Borough. Members considered that Reigate and Banstead Borough Council should be the local authority to lead on the home retrofits and as it was responsible for planning policy. Members felt this had a low profile in the Council’s strategy, although officers confirmed that the Council does not currently have the powers to intervene when it comes to the majority of the borough’s housing stock.
Committee Chair, Councillor N. Harrison, asked if Members could follow the Advance Questions procedure to ask some of these detailed questions as this would enable the detailed answers to be produced before the meeting.
· Action plan – Members asked if there could be more target dates set out in the action plan to help give clarity on which actions needed resources and to help set out progress more fully. It was noted that officers were working on a more detailed action plan which included more information on resources and delivery of goals. A new Sustainability Project Officer had just joined the Council and was working on this action plan. Progress would be reported to the cross-party Member working group.
· Surrey Joint Plan – Members asked about reference to the Surrey Joint Plan and if the joint planning had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic response. It was noted that Surrey County Council has a climate change strategy and the Council was working closely at officer level with the county council and other boroughs and district to make progress. One example was the successful bid for funding for the Green Homes grant to make positive change to the hardest to heat homes.
· Performance indicators – Members asked about performance indicators and targets that had been set, pointing out that targets for cutting vehicle emissions should be 2030 rather than 2035. Also, Members felt that the recycling target should be consistent with Surrey County Council. Members noted that proposals must be realistic and balance sustainability considerations alongside the need to provide cost effective and reliable services for residents. It was agreed that further detailed questions would be submitted as written questions for a written response from officers.
During a short discussion, Councillor J. Essex said he felt the Committee did not have enough information in the agenda pack, important papers were listed as background papers and there was not enough time in the meeting to scrutinise this topic. The Monitoring Officer responded that she was satisfied that the scrutiny function in this case had been met.
RESOLVED that –
(i) the Environmental Sustainability Strategy and the observations set out in the Minutes be noted;
(ii) the observations set out in the Minutes be reported to the relevant Executive Member with a request that they be taken into account as the Strategy is implemented and through the annual reporting and review process.