Climate emergency - Taking action
SWT is committed to creating a more sustainable future for everyone, putting climate and environmental responsibility at the heart of everything it does, and working towards achieving carbon neutrality and climate resilience by 2030.
The Council declared a Climate Emergency in February 2019 and reinforced its commitment by appointing an Executive Member for Climate Change.
It declared its authority boundaries as a fracking free zone in July 2019.
The Council also declared an Ecological Emergency in September 2020 giving equal importance to ecological issues alongside climate emergency actions. It will manage Council services, buildings and land in a biodiversity-friendly manner; embed ecological initiatives alongside climate action in all work areas; and ensure that addressing both emergencies are strategic priorities for planning policies and design guides for new development. A strategy and action plan is planned for formal adoption in July 2022.
SWT approved its own Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience (CNCR) Action Plan and the Somerset Climate Emergency Strategy, put together by the five councils in Somerset, in October 2020.
The Strategy provides an overview of the key issues facing Somerset in relation to the climate emergency and a strategic basis for partnership working to address these issues going forward.
The CNCR Action Plan sits alongside the Somerset-wide Strategy as the detail for how Somerset West and Taunton Council proposes to address specific issues, meet goals and deliver on the outcomes that the Somerset-wide Strategy identifies.
All Councillors and staff were provided with carbon literacy training to help support this.
The Council has an approved ‘Climate Positive Planning: Interim Guidance Statement on Planning for the Climate Emergency’. It explains that the Climate Emergency is a material consideration and provides further guidance and explanation in relation to specific adopted policies of relevance to the Climate Emergency. See Climate positive planning for more information.
The Districtwide Design Guide, approved by the Council in December 2021, also provides guidance on how carbon reduction, sustainability and climate resilience should be integral to high quality design in new developments, ensuring the level of housing growth needed to meet future demand is high quality, sustainable, and maintains or enhances the character and distinctiveness of the area.
The Council is delivering on its Zero Carbon Affordable Homes Pilot which will see very low and zero carbon new council homes built over the next few years to meet local housing need whilst responding to our declared climate emergency.
Since 2019 the Council’s housing service gained approval for two new zero carbon developments:
- North Taunton Project will deliver a total of 227 social and affordable housing, with a requirement in the contract to build these to a low carbon standard – an 80% improvement on building regulations. These properties will become zero carbon either through the use of green electricity tariffs or as the national grid decarbonises by 2050. Phase A (47 homes) is underway, with the building of phases B and C due to start later this year (51 further homes).
- Seaward Way, Minehead starts January 2022 (54 homes). Again, these will be zero carbon upon occupation in 2024.
A further 34 units are at planning stage.
A programme to retrofit 37 council properties to a low impact carbon standard will begin in Spring 2022. SWT combined with eight other registered housing providers and local authorities to submit a consortium bid for Phase 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and is preparing a larger bid for the forthcoming Phase 2.
Planning applications are being prepared for a further 40 zero carbon homes and for 180 low carbon homes (80% improvement over building regulations and 2050 compliant).
Somerset West and Taunton Council has been working in partnership with the Environment Agency to identify strategic flood risk solutions for Taunton that can both reduce the current flood risk, and appropriately mitigate against the future impacts of climate change.
The Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme (TSFAIS) outlines the risks and a number of improvements that when implemented in phases over the next 30-plus years will reduce the current flood risk to existing properties and mitigate against the future impact of climate change.
Full Council accepted the findings of the project development plan report and endorsed the recommended strategic and long-term approach to the management of flood risk in Taunton at a meeting in February 2020.
The roll-out of EV charging points is a key action within the council's CNCR Action Plan to support the reduction of carbon emissions across the district.
SWT has secured a government grant worth £136,000 to boost the roll-out of on street Electric Vehicle (EV) charge points in council-owned car parks. It has entered a contract with electric vehicle charge point supplier Swarco eVolt, to expand the number of electric vehicle (EV) charge points in its car parks. Work has started to install a number of 22kW fast EV charge points in Minehead, Porlock, Taunton, Watchet, Wellington, Williton and Wiveliscombe. The project supplements the charge points already completed and live at Deane House and Blackbrook Sports Centre in Taunton, Exmoor House in Dulverton, and Alexandra Road in Minehead. We have started the transition of the Council’s pool car fleet to EV and currently have two branded Renault Zoes, with a further 21 on order. This means our entire pool car fleet will be electric by the end of the year.
SWT has also been encouraging the installation of electric vehicle charging points in communities throughout the district. It offered all parish and town councils the opportunity to apply for grants of between £500 and £1,500 from a one-off budget set aside to support community led action to tackle the climate emergency.
Somerset West and Taunton is running e-scooter schemes to provide a sustainable option for travel in Taunton and Minehead as part of the official Department for Transport trials. It has appointed Zipp Mobility to manage the e-scooter trial schemes which went live in Taunton on 30 October 2020 and in Minehead on 5 June 202. both schemes will run until end of March 2022.
The Council has commissioned contractors to produce full decarbonisation strategies on its main offices at Deane House, Taunton, as well as its operations depot at Westpark, Wellington, and its Crematorium. The Council has already installed solar PV on the Deane House offices and is in the process of installing more at the Westpark depot as well as replacing ageing air handling units at local leisure centres, which will reduce energy consumption by 60%. A Phase 2 of decarbonisation strategies, focussing on the Council’s smaller buildings, is now under way.
Over the last two summers, the Council’s grass cutting teams have sown 60kg of wildflower seed, and left areas of grass to grow longer in across all open spaces to help create a better habitat for local wildlife. While there are areas across the district that must be cut to specified standards in line with maintenance obligations, SWT recognises the habitat and wildlife benefits of long grass in providing vital shelter for invertebrates to breed, protecting and improving biodiversity and supporting pollinator species.
The Somerset Wildlife Trust were engaged this winter to help the Council formally adopt a new grass cutting strategy, which will be in place for the new cutting season, so that council-owned land is managed with both people and nature in mind.
Over the past two winters, £200k has been made available to support tree planting within the district. This has included grant schemes to provide parish councils with free trees, 2 phases of tree planting on Council open spaces, and the introduction of a 3-1 tree replacement strategy when diseased or dangerous trees are felled. The Council is also working in partnership with other Somerset organisations including Exmoor National Park Authority, the Somerset Wildlife Trust and the county’s AONB services to identify opportunities for large scale planting within the district, including as a partner in a ‘Forest of Somerset’ bid to the DEFRA Trees for Action fund and supporting the national park’s Bye Wood planting project.
The Council’s in house nursery, where circa 500,000 plants are grown annually for its open spaces, has committed to going peat free from this Spring.
Somerset West and Taunton has been working with industry leaders in waterless urinal technology, WhiffAway, to save water in public and private conveniences. Special plumbing outlets, housing chemically impregnated filters have been installed onto existing urinals at West Somerset Railway Station in Bishops Lydeard, Canon Street, Paul Street, Victoria and Vivary Parks in Taunton, and North Street, Wellington Park and Deane Depot, Westpark, in Wellington. The filters rapidly neutralise any odours without the need for flushing.
The Council is also helping to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from the waste stream. It is working with Wessex Water to install water refill points in Taunton, Minehead and Wellington, to give people more easily accessible options and help break the habit of reaching for the single use plastic.
The Council has been encouraging people to go green and sign up for paperless billing. Paperless billing is a faster, more efficient and convenient way for customers to receive and check their council tax or business rates bills. It also helps SWT cut down on printing and postage costs so the Council has more money to spend on services.
The Council has teamed up with neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council to offer free energy efficiency improvements worth up to £10,000 to residents after receiving a share of a government-funded programme, led by West of England Combined Authority, working with E.ON and Happy Energy Solutions. Under the Green Homes Grants Scheme, owner occupiers will benefit from energy efficiency installations up to the value of £10,000 with nothing for them to pay towards the costs of works. Tenants of rented properties can also access grants of up to £5,000 for energy efficiency upgrades, but the landlord will be expected to contribute at least one third towards the cost of works.
SWT together with the district councils in Mendip, South Somerset, and Sedgemoor, has been working with the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) to secure funding to deliver energy efficiency improvements to park homes across Somerset. The scheme resulted in 28 park homes receiving fully funded external insulation measures and ventilation enhancement, improving their Energy Performance Certificate rating, making their homes easier to heat and keep warm, which will reduce carbon emissions and their energy bills.
Working in partnership with Social Enterprise lender, Lendology CIC, Somerset West and Taunton Council provides accessible finance in the form of low interest loans to homeowners wishing to increase their energy efficiency. Lendology always encourages applicants to explore grant funding in the first instance. For those unable to access grants, flexible loans delivered by Lendology could be the solution in funding energy efficiency work to their homes, helping to lower their carbon footprint and save money on their energy bills.