Whitehall should get out of local government’s way on net zero, say campaigners

Campaigners are calling for local authorities to have more support in pursuing net zero even if the Government has watered down its own plans (Tom Leese/PA)
Campaigners are calling for local authorities to have more support in pursuing net zero even if the Government has watered down its own plans (Tom Leese/PA)

Westminster should get out of the way of local government if it is not willing to “step up” and deliver net zero, campaigners have said.

In a report published on Tuesday, net zero tsar Chris Skidmore and Tees Valley Mayor Lord Houchen called on the Government to introduce a string of measures to help local authorities “forge ahead” on cutting carbon emissions.

The report follows Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week that he would be watering down several climate policies, while still aiming to meet the overall target of reaching net zero by 2050.

Launching the report, Tory MP Mr Skidmore said: “In too many discussions about the UK’s net zero commitments, the vital role of local and regional government is overlooked.

“Against a backdrop of wavering central government support, councils and regions are already leading the way on climate action, with many aiming to deliver net zero ahead of national targets.”

Cabinet meeting
Net zero tsar Chris Skidmore called for a ‘local big bang’ in his review of net zero (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The report builds on Mr Skidmore’s net zero review, carried out last year, which recommended a “local big bang” to help councils and combined authorities pursue net zero.

Tuesday’s report made 30 recommendations, including simplifying funding for local net zero initiatives, reviewing the planning system to make sure it is aligned with net zero, and a “Local Net Zero Charter” to agree responsibilities between national and local governments.

Mr Skidmore added: “It’s clear that if central government won’t step up, it should get out of the way and allow local and regional leaders to forge ahead with their positive vision to achieve local net zero in partnership with communities up and down the country.

“Unleashing their ambition is the most effective way to harness the economic and regional growth opportunities that net zero can unlock.”

Conservative leadership bid
Tees Valley Mayor Lord Houchen has backed the proposals, even as Rishi Sunak announced plans to water down net zero policies (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The report also called for more support for local area energy plans (LAEPs), which have been adopted in 66 local authorities as a way to set out a comprehensive approach to decarbonisation.

Christopher Hammond, chief executive of local cross-party climate network UK100, welcomed the report, saying: “With the Prime Minister signalling a watering down of national net zero action, the ambitious local and regional authority-led climate action spotlighted in this report is only becoming more vital.

“Climate action is a responsibility that local government is ready to take on. However, with great responsibility should come great power. Or at least adequate power.

“Yet, at the moment, local and regional authorities are delivering despite a ‘kafkaesque’ net zero regulatory framework and disjointed, short-term, competitive funding.

“Net zero offers so much local and regional economic growth potential.

“To unleash it, Ministers need to heed the recommendations in this report and empower local authorities to lead the way. The future is local.”