The last cabinet meeting of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) took place just a few hours before PM Boris Johnson pronounced the full lockdown on 23rd March. No precise explanation of how it was conducted has been released. But the minutes show, among other items, a presentation by Victoria Conheady, the council’s assistant director for regeneration and culture, of a “Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan”; and a decision made by new managing director of the council, Jane Hartnell, after consultation with nine participating cabinet members – seven Labour, two Conservative – to approve it. 

The Plan sets out priority policies for the next two years, “working towards” a stated target of making the town carbon neutral by 2030 – two decades before delivery of a similar UK national target. It follows analysis and evidence developed by external consultants AECOM.

“In an ideal world,” Ms Conheady reported, the target would be hit with the following programme:
• Decarbonisation of the electricity grid;
• Banning of carbon-emitting vehicles from the town centre;
• Provision of a free and improved public transport network;
• “Retro-fitting” of all the town’s homes and non-domestic buildings;
• Delivery of sufficient locally generated renewable energy to every home and business to reduce reliance on the national grid;
• Growth of all of the town’s food needs locally;
• Planting enough trees throughout the borough to reach the 2030 target through carbon sequestration.

However she admitted that HBC has neither the political or legal power, the “financial might” or the technical expertise, not even the available land, to realise such a programme independently. 

Rather, “the Council can play a leadership role, by putting its own house in order, by considering the emissions from its operations, buildings and fleet, and implementing best practice measures in areas where it has direct control.” Apart from that, the main plank of the Plan is to “lobby government and regional stakeholders” for the levels of investment necessary to deliver by 2030.

Immediate funding projections don’t look too hopeful. “No additional revenue budget has been identified,” said Ms Conheady, “to support this work during the 2020/21 financial year”. At the time her report was written, it was envisaged that climate action would be nourished by a slice of the Towns Fund (up to £25m), for which HBC were in course of preparing its bid later this year. But this project has been “paused”, according to a council source, with HBC and other local personnel and resources diverted into setting up the community hub in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the meantime the only clearly explained practical steps scheduled into the next two years are 

(i) planned improvement works in respect of the council’s own properties to enable them to be rented or leased with increased energy efficiency standards;
(ii) a programme of rooftop solar installation, for which a budget has been allocated within the council’s capital programme. Even in this latter case, progress will be “subject to a business case illustrating the carbon savings and income generation potential”.

The truth is that, with the nation’s finances, indeed the global economy, in chaotic free-fall, all public funding bets are off. 

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