A pilot scheme to retrofit social houses, a world first for energy storage and a significant property upgrade with greener buildings are among the measures currently being taken by Nottinghamshire County Council.
The Government has a Committee on Climate Change which advises on emissions targets and reports to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But the outgoing Conservative leader of the council, Kay Cutts, said although she remains to be convinced as to the existence of climate change, she wants more action to tackle ‘filthiness’.
“People say I’m a climate change denier, well I don’t know. I’m a skeptic until proved otherwise,” she said.
“I don’t know whether there is climate change or not, and in a way I suspect the climate has always been one of those things that has fluctuated.
“What I’m concerned about is how filthy everywhere is. The amount of rubbish in the hedgerows and in the gutter is absolutely disgraceful.
“Everywhere is filthy dirty, and it’s got to stop. We need to be cleaner in our habits.”
“I think generally speaking this has been lifting up the agenda for the whole world, not just in Nottinghamshire. We’re in an environment which is damaging our whole way of life and therefore I think there is the collective will to change.
“We must not minimise the progress that has been made in the 20th and 21st century and that’s important but sometimes we’ve done that at the expense of the environment and I think this is now the opportunity to try to turn that around to take care of the environment while still delivering for people who in the end are what it’s all about.
“We can’t grow everything for ourselves, but we could grow more of our own food.
“I don’t believe in becoming a vegan, I think that’s a ridiculous thing to do, red meat actively enhances the countryside because of the grazing of animals.”
To monitor progress, the council has a 59-point action plan. By its own measure, it has made ‘good progress’ on 13, and ‘no further progress’ on 18, in the nine months since it was introduced.
Councillor Cutts, who represents Radcliffe on Trent, said: “I’m sorry that things have been blown off course but no one saw the pandemic coming and no one thought it would last this long
“Those that would have been delivering on this have had to be redeployed elsewhere.
“We’re now on the home straight (with the pandemic) I think because we’re going to get the vaccine rolled out so we will now be able to turn our attention to what we learned, but I think it has set us back by about 12 months.”
Asked whether she was satisfied with the speed of change towards sustainability at the council, she said: “I always want everything yesterday.
“But I think the council is moving at quite a pace now.
“We spent quite a lot of time working out what it is we need to do.
“So I think it was long in planning, and I hope it is short in execution.
“But I think our council has good plans, and those plans are well embedded.”
Environmental groups including Extinction Rebellion have consistently lobbied Nottinghamshire County Council’s pension fund to divest away from fossil fuel-based investments.
It says there are currently £250 million of investments in companies which have involvement in fossil fuels.
Asked about this, Councillor Cutts said: “I think it’s quite short-sighted, because until we have replacements for these things, fossil fuels will still be needed.
“These companies are already developing themselves as well, because they recognise that drilling for oil and producing oil-based things is not going to go on indefinitely.
“So they recognise it’s best to invest in new technologies as well.
“If all of a sudden everybody pulls out of that, it would damage the pension funds, and it would probably damage the investments of those companies in research and development (R and D).
“Battery storage has come to be one of those important things, but that uses lithium.
“We produce an awful lot of wind power, but you can’t control it very well, and not everyone likes the sight of windmills, I certainly don’t, I think they’re a blight.
“So all that R and D will need to go into how we find ways forward to protect the environment and also produce the things we need.
“Solar panels have been a real revolution, and they will just get better. I’m quite sure of that, and it will probably get to a stage where we are all storing energy in our own homes.
“But until you’ve reached that stage, you have to continue with the old technology and gradually phase it out.
“I think we need to be working with these companies, not having a go at them.
“Protest is cheap and easy, it’s much harder to come up with new ideas.”
The county council is currently bidding for a Government scheme to retrofit up to 25 social housing properties in Bassetlaw and Mansfield, at a cost of £800,000 – around £32,000 per property.
Asked about the scheme, councillor Cutts said: “It is a lot of money. The idea is to make all of the houses warm and comfortable. It’s retrofitting, and because it’s retrofitting none of us really know what the best way to achieve this will be, so I think this will be a bit of a learning curve.
“This is going to have to be rolled out to thousands of houses across Nottinghamshire, and millions across the country.
“Most of our environment is the built environment, and in order to get to carbon neutral you’ve got to start thinking about how you deal with older houses.
“The idea of knocking the whole of England down and rebuilding all over again is just ridiculous, and of course a lot of the architecture is lovely.
“But we need to bring it back so that it can be warmer.
“So it will be expensive to start with, but I think it’s a learning curve.
“I don’t think £32,000 is too out of the way, there are plenty of people who spend £10,000 or £15,000 on a new kitchen, which I always think is an extraordinary amount for a new kitchen, so families do have money to spend, so this is helping people make up their minds how they can spend it more efficiently for themselves.
“It’s taking care of the environment we all value, looking at how we can live more comfortably in our homes, save money and save the environment at the same time.”