The government is missing an opportunity to embed climate and nature recovery into its levelling up agenda leaving a serious hole in its flagship Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill currently passing through Parliament.
According to the Blueprint Coalition – an influential coalition of local government organisations, environmental groups and research institutions – the omission seriously compromises the health, wellbeing, pride of place, education, housing, transport and skills missions that are among the core principles outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper.
The latest report from the Coalition, Blueprint Coalition Position on Levelling Up, provides an analysis of where, and how, the levelling up agenda must align efforts to tackle the climate and nature emergencies with the need to reduce inequalities through infrastructure, homes, transport, green spaces and new skills.
The Coalition welcomes the government’s commitment to ending regional inequalities, the importance of place, greater devolution and providing more funding certainty for local authorities. However, the group believes that levelling up can only succeed if climate action and a healthy environment are embedded throughout.
This must include urgent action to insulate the UK’s heat-leaking homes, targeted at those most in need first as well as plans to improve access to green space for millions of people, and a fair transition for workers in high carbon industries to long-term, quality jobs in low carbon fields.
Without aligning the aims of levelling up with climate action, the Coalition also believes the government’s new Bill could limit the ability of local authorities to deliver on climate change, environmental justice and a fair transition to a low carbon future. The Levelling Up Bill presents an opportunity to put climate at the very heart of the planning system yet it currently fails to do so.
Setting out how the climate and biodiversity crises are intrinsically linked to levelling up, the Coalition makes three key points:
- Local government will have a critical role in delivering net zero, and can only fully deliver on this role with long-term investment and financial certainty.
- Place-based, strategic investment in net zero will create huge numbers of new jobs and help level up local economies and places.
- There is a strong relationship between local environmental factors and social, health and economic inequalities.
The Coalition has long maintained that local authorities are key to addressing the climate crisis, and considers the same to be true for levelling up. However, funding uncertainty, lack of joined up strategy, the increasing burdens placed on local authorities and inconsistency in resources and powers across the country mean that there is a real risk of inequalities being exacerbated, not reduced.
Finally, as part of its analysis the Coalition has outlined a number of ways the government can enable and empower local authorities to take climate action which will also further plans to level up the country in areas such as housing and retrofit, travel, planning, green space and nature.
Mark Kemp, President of ADEPT said: “There is so much that local authorities can do to support the government’s levelling up agenda, particularly when we bring it together with addressing the climate emergency and meeting net zero targets. Investing in green skills and jobs, local renewable energy, the circular economy, retrofitting, public transport, green and blue infrastructure can all aid the transition to a green economy at the local level, while boosting our local communities and places and supporting health and wellbeing. But we cannot do it in isolation or without joined up policy and funding. We are ready to take action - indeed we have already started - but our ambitions are limited without meaningful support from government.
“At this stage in the Conservative party leadership race, it is disappointing to see so little focus being given to addressing climate change and meeting net zero targets. It’s not a nice to have. We need the levelling up agenda to have climate change at its heart and a government with the vision to see how the transition to a green economy can support new jobs and energy security.”
Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden said: “Local climate action can level up different parts of the country by improving air quality, improving access to green space, creating warmer homes and better jobs – all of which contribute to the missions that government has set out. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must be much stronger in supporting councils to act on local emissions and climate adaptation, otherwise regional disparities will surge, not shrink.”
Sandra Bell, Senior Sustainability Analyst, Friends of the Earth, said: “Right now, we have millions of people struggling to pay soaring energy bills, massive inequalities in access to green space and a serious skills shortage threatening our climate ambitions. Pursuing separate policies to level up the country and meet our climate goals makes little sense when they can be solved simultaneously.
“Councils have the local know-how to deliver the best solutions for their communities, whether cutting emissions or reducing inequality, but they can’t do so without long-term, stable funding and good policymaking from central government.
“Planning is the foundation on which thriving and healthy neighbourhoods are built. Current proposals for planning reform won’t enable councils to act in the best interests of their communities – that’s why the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must be amended to put climate and nature at the heart of the planning system.”
The report calls for specific actions from government across Coalition priorities including:
- Green skills – use Shared Prosperity Funding to prioritise the development of green skills, a sharper focus on green skills in Local Skills Improvement Plans, a restoration of the adult education budget to 2010 levels and a strong voice for local government on the Green Jobs Delivery Group.
- Retrofit - long term funding for councils to undertake the retrofit of homes for people on low income, regulation on energy performance of private rented homes to be EPC ‘C’ by 2028, a retrofit skills programme to train hundreds of thousands of installers by 2028, all underpinned by a national retrofit strategy.
- Decarbonising transport - more funding to optimise delivery of Bus Service Improvement Plans, a requirement that all infrastructure investment demonstrably delivers carbon reductions, and greater focus on local renewable energy generation.
- Active travel - a stable funding formula that prioritises places most in need of better walking and cycling infrastructure, planning reform that delivers new housing that is not dependent on owning a car, and for the Health Disparities White Paper to explicitly recognise and act on the links between active travel and better public health.
- New homes and planning - better reform of the planning system so that all planning strategies, policies and decisions are in line with the Climate Change Act 2008, the 2050 net zero carbon target and the detailed provisions of the Sixth Carbon Budget, and for local authorities to be able to set higher than national standards, including energy efficiency and biodiversity net gain.
- Green spaces and nature - the integration of natural capital into the capital frameworks underpinning levelling up including clear targets for addressing inequalities in access to quality green space; a shift to more sustained strategic funding approaches for parks, green spaces and green infrastructure; and adequate capacity and upskilling of local authorities to deliver Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
About the Blueprint Coalition
- The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) represents ‘Directors of Place’ from county, unitary, metropolitan and combined authorities along with directors of local enterprise partnerships, sub-national transport bodies and corporate partners drawn from key service sectors. ADEPT members are at the very heart of maximising clean sustainable growth, delivering the projects that are fundamental to creating more resilient communities, economies and infrastructure.
- Ashden is a registered charity whose mission is to accelerate transformative climate solutions and build a more just world. Our annual Awards showcase pioneering organisations working across sustainable buildings, transport and energy, and our Liveable Cities programme works with UK towns and cities to help them realise their sustainability ambitions.
- Climate Emergency UK exists to provide the tools and data needed, via the Council Climate Scorecards and Climate Action Plan Explorer, for campaigners and councils to take action on the climate emergency.
- Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/ follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page.
- The Grantham Institute is Imperial College London's hub for climate change and the environment, committed to driving forwards research and translating it into real world impact.
- Green Alliance is an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment
- Greenpeace is an international environmental campaigning organisation that has worked on fighting environmental degradation, including climate change, for decades. Our vision is a greener, healthier and more peaceful planet, one that can sustain life for generations to come.
- London Environmental Directors’ Network (LEDNet) is the membership association for London boroughs’ Environment Directors. They work together to deliver more effective and efficient environmental services.
- The Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) is a collaboration between the London School of Economics, Queen’s University Belfast and the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds. The aim of the network is to translate climate policy into action ‘on the ground’ and bring about transformative change. The network brings together the research community and decision-makers in the public, private and third sectors through five innovative platforms: three city-based climate commissions (in Leeds, Belfast and Edinburgh) and two theme-based platforms on finance and business. PCAN is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
- Solace is the UK’s leading membership network for public sector and local government professionals. They currently represent over 1600 members across the UK, and have regional branches across the country which play host to a number of events such as regional development days, skills days and networking opportunities.
- The work of the Blueprint Coalition is also supported by the LGA and London Councils.