Low Emission Strategies Partnership Board and Environmental Enforcement and Fleet Manager, Mid Devon District Council
Simon has represented Mid Devon District Council on the LES Partnership Board since 2009. He is currently overseeing the LES national projects, including the development of the Low Emission Toolkit. In his role with Mid Devon District Council, Simon has led the implementation of low emission approaches, through planning policy and fleet management initiatives.
What do you feel are the main benefits of the low emission strategies approach?
Low emission strategies are all about practical and effective technological and behavioural measures to reduce harmful emissions. The focus is very much on quantifying mass emissions and achieving real reductions. In this there is a clear synergy with the carbon emission reduction agenda, which works well given their mutual sources. Low emission strategies can work across local/regional areas and, where joined up or compatible approaches are developed, can help to mitigate the cumulative impacts of a range of new developments. This is much more proactive than traditional air quality assessment where the focus has been on quantifying and describing changes in ambient concentrations in isolation – often to the point of ensuring all new development is described as having negligible impact, which is plainly nonsense.
If we don’t start shifting our focus towards mitigation and action then the acute and chronic health effects we’re exposing ourselves to will not change quickly enough. Local and national case work has demonstrated LES can make a real difference by making that integrated move towards better and more sustainable travel and transport.
Mid Devon has been championing the low emission approach through the planning system. What have been the key factors in helping you to achieve this?
There are a number of key factors without which we certainly wouldn’t have made the progress we have. These aren’t particularly unique and provide pointers for any local authority to make progress. One example is strong collaboration between strategic/development management planning and environmental services – we actively talk and consult with each other. Once you understand your respective roles much better you’ll quickly realise how much you can help each other and ultimately come up with a better deal for your residents and visitors.
Another key factor has been openness and innovation. As an authority, Mid Devon has arguably punched above its weight by allowing us to spend time developing ideas, talking to other authorities and working with the LESP. This has given us the confidence to do something different and explore stronger policies than might have otherwise been the case.
What else is happening in Mid Devon on emissions? Are you moving towards a ‘low emission authority’?
As a Council we face some real challenges in delivering a range of services across a wide, dispersed population. Despite this, we’re keen to set a good example and have at the highest level corporately, been making a commitment to reducing our emission footprint. This has created positive headlines and made us leaner and fitter. Even where we’ve had to spend to save, we’ve done so because it’s strengthening our position for the future.
At Mid Devon, we have introduced a corporate goal to reduce our energy use by 5% year on year. This has been in place for nearly five years and a whole host of practical technological measures have helped us to meet or even exceed this target every time. Very recently we’ve installed solar power on all our housing stock and all our major public buildings, including our leisure centres – a massive undertaking. In addition to our LES planning policy work, we’ve introduced the ECO Stars vehicle fleet recognition for all fleet operators in the district, including our own vehicles. Related work has involved introducing minimum emission standards for our licensed taxi operators and we’re currently developing and looking to pilot an extension of the ECO Stars scheme for taxis – work we will share nationally with the burgeoning national ECO Stars group, LESP and Defra.
In the pipeline is the development of carbon emission reduction and fuel efficiency targets for our vehicle fleet which could bring forward the use of electric vehicles, especially if technology gives the range and fast-charging we require. We’ve also taken steps to reduce our ‘grey’ fleet and move much of our business mileage into corporate tax-free, Euro V EEV vehicles with low fuel consumption.
A lot of these measures are not just beneficial in terms of emissions reductions but they make sound business sense, especially in the current budget climate.
What made you want to be a part of the LES Partnership?
Partnership is the key. By working with like-minded, enthusiastic colleagues from other authorities, combined with dedicated and skilled programme managers I’ve gained so much more for Mid Devon than if I’d approached it alone. There have been real opportunities to shape projects, outcomes and new guidance. In addition there is the sharing of knowledge and being able to draw upon a wide support network when you hit that metaphorical brick wall!
What is the LES Partnership doing to help local authorities? Now, and in the future?
We’ve achieved a lot already in terms of new LES guidance, which is embedded in the Defra LAQM support documents, in addition to helping to shape central policy whilst supporting LES as a genuine approach for local authorities. This has just been the start and coming soon is the newly enhanced Low Emission Toolkit which helps LAs and developers to devise and test low emission strategy measures. Future projects with committed funding include, but are not limited to, procurement guidance and an LES hub for best-practice and case-studies.
What advice would you give to colleagues keen to adopt low emission strategies in their areas?
If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the LESP website and guidance. Better still, talk to any one of the LA contacts or the programme managers involved with the LESP. We’re open and friendly and want to support other LAs. Internally or locally, I’d also advise my colleagues to go and spend some time with your development and transport planners – make a nuisance of yourself if you have to! I go back to my earlier point about the benefits of understanding the roles of your colleagues across services so that policies and strategies are not developed in isolation. This includes making that link between local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.