Last Updated on 13 April 2023
Merton Council (LBM) adopted a long-term climate change strategy and action plan in late 2020. Key aims are to be a ‘net zero council’ by 2030 and to be a ‘net zero borough’ by 2050.
They reported on the first year’s progress a year later and, in early 2023, prepared a second progress report covering 2022, including priorities for the third year of implementation in 2023.
Overall, this progress report shows a great deal of honesty about the serious challenges in meeting the objectives of the strategy. The delivery has been divided into 8 workstreams, and a risk assessment (red/amber/green) has been assigned to each, as follows:
1. Sustainable consumption and low carbon economy – RED
2. Retrofit of the residential and non-residential building stock – RED
3. Future new build and regeneration – AMBER
4. Transport infrastructure and modal shift – AMBER
5. Green infrastructure – AMBER
6. LBM estate and fleet management – RED
7. LBM procurements and investments – AMBER
8. Communication, outreach and LBM corporate procedure – AMBER
The document suggests, understandably, that most progress has been made on some of the basics, especially on recruitment of key staff and wider engagement, with much of the work on major delivery milestones still to come. So, with the exception of Workstream 8 above, where progress has been rather more marked, the distinction otherwise between progress on the red and amber markings is perhaps slightly arbitrary.
That said, even on communications, they have not found it easy to engage with businesses and residents who are not already engaged; and they acknowledge that the majority of LBM’s own staff do not feel empowered or equipped to take action, even though the vast majority of staff consider it important that action is taken. But there clearly has been some progress on outreach, for example in helping to develop a green skills adult education programme.
Across the workstreams, not surprisingly funding has been a major issue, with only about £2m per year dedicated to the workstreams in total, well under 1% of the council’s total budget. The council is clearly putting effort into securing additional funding; but this has not been easy; and the report notes, for example, that they have failed so far to secure the level of funding that they hoped from TfL’s local implementation plan (LIP) funding pot for transport projects.
Other key challenges that are noted, out of a longer list in their report are:
– The difficulty, complexity and lack of full understanding by outside groups of what is involved in retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient;
– Complexity of making new build more energy efficient, including interaction with the building regulations regime;
– The limited reduction to date in car mileage across the Borough;
– Securing funding for transport infrastructure schemes (public transport, walking and cycling), and finding sites for electric vehicle charging points (though some funding has been secured for this);
– Getting more trees on private land, where the main scope for more tree planting is (though the borough has planted some more trees on public land);
– Funding for decarbonising the council’s vehicle fleet;
– Limited capacity for prioritising greener procurement by the council.
Despite these major challenges, it seems clear that the council, and especially its Climate Change team, are determined to make more progress in the coming year. They will be helped by some senior posts becoming fully filled over the first half of 2023. But they will have their work cut out; and, in addition will have to face likely political and financial obstacles. An example of the first is the leadership of the council deciding, during 2021, not to proceed with emissions-based parking charges, despite its adoption in some other London boroughs, as a means of encouraging lower emissions vehicles.
The Wimbledon Society is stepping up its engagement with the council on climate change and other environmental issues; and has offered to support the climate team in their efforts. At a meeting in March 2023 it offered such support as it could in a number of areas, including in relation to buildings (new build and retrofit). There are likely to be other areas where the Society can help, including on transport and local air pollution, and through its Newsletter; and over the next few months more thought will need to be given on what more specifically its contribution can be.