Councillor Cammy DayLeader of Edinburgh City Council
In this second of two articles detailing council efforts to reach Net Zero, Cammy Day, Leader of Edinburgh City Council, explains how Edinburgh has become one of the top performing councils according to Climate Emergency UK, which ranks councils’ efforts on their Climate Scorecards.
Edinburgh has an ambitious target to become a Net Zero city by 2030 and continues to lead the way in this field. As Scotland’s capital and economic centre, we want to make sure that a cleaner, greener, and fairer future for everyone is at the heart of our plans. These plans are laid out in the Council Business Plan, where we are clear on how we will play our part in the global fight against climate change.
As Scotland’s capital, we need to respond to a growing population, increased congestion and air pollution, and the challenges posed by climate change – improving access to public transport is central to this. One of our priorities is to create a green and integrated transport system.
Edinburgh’s ten-year City Mobility Plan aims to transform the way we move around the city – reducing emissions and air pollution, positively impacting public health and tackling congestion, amongst other benefits.
Actions include projects like the City Centre Transformation, Trams to Newhaven, the pedestrianisation of George Street and First New Town, 20-Minute Neighbourhoods, and the extension of 20 mph speed limits, as well as behaviour change initiatives and seamless public transport ticketing.
Our Trams to Newhaven project will provide an affordable, reliable, and high-capacity transport link to the north of the city. Set to come in on time and on budget, the line will bring huge economic, social, and environmental benefits to Edinburgh North – and beyond. It will also link the city centre with one of our most important and ambitious developments in decades – the regeneration of Granton Waterfront, which will create 3,500 new affordable low-carbon homes and Europe’s largest coastal park.
Our longer-term vision for a greener, cleaner, fairer Edinburgh will only be possible through working with others. Citizens across the city, businesses and organisations in Edinburgh, and the Council must work together to achieve this goal.
We’re very proud that Edinburgh is already one of the UK’s greenest cities, with more trees than people and more green space and green flag parks than any other place in Scotland for people to enjoy. But we want to do even better, especially as we strive towards our hugely ambitious target of making the Capital Net Zero by 2030.
Over the last few years, as a result of the pandemic, we have seen just how much people value the spaces that proved to be real havens for many of us. Parks were one of the few places where we were able to connect with friends and family and taking respite in nature was a great support to many people.
One in seven people in Edinburgh don’t currently have access to a private outdoor space – for them, the local park is their back garden. We must recognise how important these spaces are to the health and well-being of our residents, as well as the significant contribution they make to the City’s Net Zero pledge.
“I’m delighted that this commitment to playing our part in the global fight against climate change is recognised by the Climate Emergency UK scorecards.”Councillor Cammy Day, Leader of Edinburgh City Council
We’re very proud to be the first local authority in Scotland to set out a vision that will ensure almost everyone in our city is within a 10-minute walk of a protected park or green space – not just now but for generations to come. We’re also delivering on our commitment to becoming a Million Tree City. We signed up to the initiative a few years ago, joining a cohort of other cities, such as New York, Shanghai, and Los Angeles. In addition to encouraging residents, communities, businesses, and other organisations to plant more trees, the Council has planted thousands of trees in public spaces.
While not a unique problem to Edinburgh, unfortunately, the Council’s housing stock has got older and upgrading costs have risen significantly. Additionally, we’ve seen significant underfunding by the Government, year on year. Despite having the biggest pressure on housing, we are the lowest-funded council per head in Scotland.
In spite of the lack of funding, as a significant landlord and housebuilder, we have committed to all our new housing stock being high-quality, low-carbon homes. We’re also making improvements to over 3,000 homes, making them more modern, comfortable, greener, and accessible, and we’re investing £173 million over the next year to bring new life into old council homes.
We’re one of the first local authorities in Scotland to pilot a ‘whole house retrofit’ approach to council buildings, which means that we’ll be able to upgrade lots of our older homes and make them much more energy efficient in the coming years. In turn, this will help in the longer term with issues of damp and help us lower tenants’ fuel costs.
We’re also looking at improvements we can make across all of our assets – from homes to offices, schools and libraries. We know that the energy used to heat our buildings is a major contributor towards carbon emissions, so decarbonising our building stock is a crucial part of achieving this goal. Our Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy (LHEES) will provide us with a route map for achieving this. I’m looking forward to working with our partners as we head towards becoming Scotland’s sustainable capital city.
Whilst the Council needs to play a leading role in this plan, we know that a just transition to Net Zero needs to be a collective effort across society, involving public bodies, businesses, universities, and our communities.
Time Out has also ranked Edinburgh as the best city in the world to visit – so with this latest research, it’s clear that we have struck a strong balance between the needs of those visiting the city and those who live and work here.
Climate change is the greatest threat of our lifetimes and whilst there are many challenges ahead, I am confident that the Council and the citizens of our great city will rise to meet them, as they have done so often in the past.