Mark HoulbrookLabour Councillor and Portfolio Holder for Sustainability and Waste
Cllr Mark Houlbrook reflects on the progress made during his tenure, since becoming Portfolio Holder for Sustainability and Waste in May 2021, and the big decisions for meeting the challenge of net zero for the City of Doncaster.
It is a common misconception that we have a choice of either economic growth or sustainability, we actually have the opportunity and the potential to do both. To focus on clean, green growth whilst also decarbonising the most polluting sectors. This societal and economic shift could provide high skilled and well-paid jobs across the country. Doncaster is perfectly located, already has great transport links and has incredible logistics, manufacturing and rail businesses, making us perfect for this Green Industrial Revolution. One of the greatest challenges we face is to move away from gas usage within our homes and retrofit with improved insulation alongside a mixture of heat-pumps, solar panels and biomass heating systems. This would save residents, businesses and the public purse money in the long run alongside providing opportunities for jobs and businesses within Doncaster. We can invest to save, investing in the people, businesses and places of this great nation.
In one of the nation’s newest cities, the City of Doncaster, we have taken a balanced approach to the natural and built environment is required. We have focused on nature recovery, enhancing green and blue infrastructure, and those sectors emitting the most emissions; transport, and use of fossil fuel energy supply.
We have had to be more ambitious than ever before. We have therefore set the challenge of planting 1 million trees; committing £20m to retrofitting our housing stock; reserving £5m to initiate environmental projects; commencing a 5-year fleet replacement programme of 600+ vehicles to zero emissions; evaluating climate impact in all of our key decision making; and committing to an overall reduction in carbon emissions of 85% by 2030*.
A good start has been made, but now we face some of the biggest decisions on how to increase the scale and pace of our delivery in mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change.
Following the UK Parliaments’ declaration of a climate emergency in 2019, we have seen from government a mix of complex and competitive, short term, and unambitious funding streams that deliver very little impact, uncertainty for both the public and private sector and looking uncommitted on the global stage as we encourage other countries to honour carbon reduction targets and move away from fossil fuels whilst in this country government have just awarded new oil and gas exploration licenses and looking to open a new coal mine. From the highest tier of Central Government, it creates and promotes a misguided impression of the UK on the world stage
The private sector is ready and waiting to step into this space. They will seek certainty of returns through investment in land, buildings, homes, and transport infrastructure. Central and local government will play a vital role in ensuring the investment covers all aspects of achieving net zero; ensuring it is equitable and impactful, but with the current dithering of central government we are seeing the private sector choose the USA, Europe and even China who are investing heavily in green sectors.
A co-ordinated approach to net zero across the natural and built environment can present a balanced business case for long term investment which will no doubt need to be a blend of public and private finance.
An effective carbon reduction and nature recovery plan will need to include a range of investable assets and services, such as renewable energy generation, building and housing retrofit, community waste, zero emissions transport refuelling, and natural capital.
Private investors will see value in all of these sectors, some more than others, but all need to be included to support a balanced business case which does not result in ‘cherry picking’ the most valuable assets.
Call it ‘Green Deal’, ‘Energy Performance Contracting’, or ‘Regenerative Investment’. We face real decisions on ’investing to save’ our public and private assets in order for us to be able to meet our challenges. There will be some difficult decisions to take, but this could also be a significant opportunity to ‘Go for Growth’, for clean and green growth that provides jobs and economic prosperity, enabling Doncaster and the North to thrive.
Doncaster’s’ elected Mayor, Cabinet and I will be seeking the best deal for the city; to ensure as much as possible that ‘growth and sustainability’ is balanced; that all opportunities are taken to realise the cross-cutting benefits to health and wellbeing, finance, skills and jobs, and the economy; and that all communities are able to see and feel those benefits and no-one is left behind.
*85% reduction in emissions by 2030, against a 2005 baseline.