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Judith Blake: Councils needs support to embrace green finance

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In Leeds in January, more than 100 people came together to grasp the fantastic opportunity that green finance offers to transform our towns, cities and communities.

Clean energy initiatives can reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels, cut the costs of heating our homes, and ensure our towns and cities have clean air to breathe. The science tells us we must act immediately if we are to avoid climate breakdown.

I and my fellow local leaders must grasp this opportunity. It is crucial for the health and well-being of the millions of people we represent and it can save money that could go back into public services and into people’s pockets.

But this goal can only be achieved by local government working alongside national government, showing the private sector just how investable these smart, clean energy projects are.

In my own city of Leeds, we have led on a pioneering clean, local energy project known as the Leeds Pipes district heating network. It will use heat generated by processing waste at the council’s recycling and energy recovery facility and is projected to reduce energy bills by at least 10% each year for every household connected to it.

Another way we have made giant leaps forward in Leeds is by launching the pioneering Leeds Climate Commission to encourage investment in low-carbon, climate-resilient developments, saving millions of pounds as well as countering climate change.

We are among the local authorities playing a more prominent role in local and renewable energy. Among those authorities attending the conference, UK100’s own research found a pipeline of low-carbon projects on the table worth over £2bn. UK100 found that among those attending this event who were representing local authorities, 45% said low-carbon was the authority’s priority or strong priority.

That is welcome news, but that number needs to increase.

It was clear from investors attending that they have hundreds of millions of pounds ready to invest in these future-proofing projects. Accessing finance to deliver integrated local clean energy at scale remains a challenge for many, and that is why a partnership of local and national government and public and private investors is so important.

Our conference in January was the first step on the journey to make sure green finance flows to places here in the UK. Having the support of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry giving the keynote speech showed the government takes this issue seriously.

Our energy system is changing from a centralised system to one where local technologies are becoming more important. But local leaders need more help to navigate this maze.

UK100’s research shows authorities would value a single gateway to apply to for support; right now there are too many government departments to go to for different pots of money. We know also that many authorities need smaller amounts of development capital to get their schemes from the conceptual or feasibility stage to full commercialisation.

If we are to capture the full potential of low-carbon and clean energy, my fellow local leaders must also have expert help and assistance to bring these projects to fruition.

Post-Brexit there is also the need to replace the European funding that has previously gone into many projects of this type, for example from Horizon 2020 and £1bn between 2014 and 2020 from the European Regional Development Fund.

These schemes are vital for the future of our towns and cities, offering us the chance of a new smarter, cleaner future in energy use to power our homes, our factories, our shops, our industry and our daily lives.

Not a moment can be wasted if we are to make the most of what is available to us and that is why I hope that following the conference, the conversations, connections and co-operation that we help fuel between all stakeholders will continue to grow stronger and lead us to a cleaner, greener UK.

Judith Blake (Lab), leader, Leeds City Council, and co-chair, UK100

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