Local government’s key role in reducing carbon emissions has been underscored by the announcement of a £3m round of exploratory pilot programmes.
Communities secretary John Denham has named nine councils, or groups of councils, that are to come up with firm proposals to reduce local emissions towards 2020 target levels.
Themes are expected to include closer working with energy suppliers; ‘greening’ homes and businesses; boosting demand for renewable energy; more use of district heating schemes; and the sale of surplus energy.
Mr Denham said that within local carbon frameworks - the new name for local carbon budgets - councils would develop a clear set of targets and a route for progress, backed up by an evidence-based strategy and delivery plan.
LGC understands no immediate funding will be made available to the authorities taking part.
However, they will be entitled to ask for financial assistance once they have submitted worked-up proposals to the Department for Communities & Local Government for meeting their targets.
Mr Denham said that only councils had the ability to bring together all the people and organisations that needed to be involved, including energy suppliers, the voluntary sector, businesses and households.
“I see councils taking on a similar leadership role within local carbon frameworks as they are within Total Place: co-ordinating effort and challenging others to deliver; achieving both greater value for money and better results,” he said.
He added that producing a prospectus of proposals and the reasons for action would be vital for any council approaching the government for money.
But he warned that they would be expected to maximise the use of their existing freedoms and flexibilities.
The announcement of the pilots was roundly applauded by sector leaders, but questions remain about whether ultimately the results of the programme will be greater freedom for local government or more centrally prescribed approaches.
Martin Wheatley, the Local Government Association’s director for the environment and planning, said that a Total Place approach was the right move.
“This is a recognition that an approach that is based on a broad freedom for councils to achieve ambitious targets is the best way forward,” he said.
Nigel Keohane, head of research at the New Local Government Network, said the response to climate change was an area that councils should be leading on, but questioned the power and funding that would come with the responsibility.
“We should be pushing this agenda,” he said.
“There is a logic about delivering these things at a local level, and challenging behaviour.
“But, as with any of these national/local dynamics, we need to ensure that we don’t have any commitments placed on local authorities that aren’t reasonable.”