Cllr David Renard is the Leader of Swindon Borough Council.
Most people have realised that our climate is changing…and some are even worrying about it.
A group of young people recently came to the Civic Offices to give voice to a cause they care passionately about – namely, protecting the environment. Around two dozen young people held aloft banners and placards to raise awareness of Climate Change and ask that more be done to conserve the planet. The protest was one of thousands worldwide and part of a global movement called Schools Strike 4 Climate.
Both as a community leader and a father, I am always happy to see young people getting involved in politics. Climate Change is indeed one of the major issues of our time and it is inspiring to see it firmly on the agenda of the next generation.
In Swindon, we have a really positive story to tell about becoming more environmentally friendly, and as a Council, we are doing a number of things to play our part in protecting the planet.
A motion was passed recently at Full Council which recognised the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. As a Council, we called on the Government to give us more resources to help it achieve its targets, and we agreed to establish a Climate Change Working Group to consider what additional measures the Council could take to combat Climate Change. If our inaugural meeting was a barometer of how passionate councillors are about being better and doing more, then I am really hopeful that Swindon will indeed be at the forefront of sweeping changes in how we tackle Climate Change. We know we can achieve much through the planning process – especially infrastructure planning – in order to secure a drastic reduction in emissions. Our Town Centre Movement Strategy is aimed at the efficient movement of people and vehicles around the Town Centre, to avoid unsustainable and polluting queues. Elsewhere, work is being started on what we need to do to help businesses and partner agencies step up to the challenge, and how we can support climate-smart agriculture in the area.
The production of energy to meet rising consumption is a massive contributor to carbon emissions, and to counter some of that, we have in recent years taken big steps in harnessing solar energy. There are a number of solar farms in Swindon and they are playing an ever bigger role in providing us with the energy we need. Last year, the BBC filmed their national Breakfast TV Show from Chapel Farm Solar Farm in North Swindon as an example of what councils can do. Equivalent to 17 football pitches, Chapel Farm takes our total renewable energy capacity to within 80 per cent of our target of 200 megawatts by 2020.
Swindon Borough Council has its own sustainable energy company, Public Power Solutions (PPS). Some of the work that we are doing through PPS includes committing to a challenging vision to help deliver “A world of zero waste and clean, smart power”. PPS are currently developing 160 MW of solar PV nationally, enough to power 40,000 homes – half the houses in Swindon and saving 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Our goal is that all Swindon’s electricity should come from low-carbon sources by 2030.
The Council is an executive and founder member of the Hydrogen Hub, which launched in Swindon and Wiltshire in January 2016, and has driven external investment in hydrogen and fuel cell projects in the region. With PPS, we are developing 50 MW of battery storage in Swindon, to help balance demand on the local electricity network and enable the delivery of more renewable energy projects.
Running a unique waste to fuel facility, also powered by solar energy, we are able to treat all of Swindon’s municipal waste locally, creating a useful fuel for industry. The facility not only ensures that 97 per cent of Swindon’s waste is diverted from landfill but also helps avoid the commercial use of primary fossil fuels.
Upgrades have recently been made to Swindon’s much-loved cycling network, and we would always encourage people to think about greener ways of getting around the town. By refreshing grants for wildflower areas and environmental improvement, and engaging in Community Forest and tree planting activities, to offset CO2 emissions, we hope to create an environment where people want to be out walking and cycling.
In an attempt to further engage young people, we are planning to hold a meeting of the Climate Change Working Group at a college to ensure we engage with those who have a vested interest in the ongoing health of the planet. The Earth’s resources are immense but limited. As a global community, we need to stop looking to the short-term for solutions and start seeing the bigger picture.
It is great to see young people being passionate advocates for protecting the environment, and we look forward to working with them, and others, as we continue to develop more sustainable ways of living. Action against Climate Change must be embedded in all areas of the Council and we will work towards developing a greater awareness of the impact of Climate Change and making the adaptations necessary to mitigate against the single biggest challenge of our collective generations.