Powys may well be mainly associated in sustainability terms with the wind farm debate, where forces of local opinion have given the Councillors little option but to oppose development. There is still a lot to learn from the process that has led to this position but it was good to have the opportunity to contribute to the local authority’s Sustainability Day.
The Sustainability Day is an annual feature in the local authority calendar, bringing members, officers and key partners together to review progress and set priorities for the next year. It is a process that many other authorities could learn from as the Chief Executive presents the annual review, before taking questions alongside the Leader of the Council. Sustainable Development is the core of the Powys Change Plan with a Sustainability Integration Toolkit providing a mechanism by which decisions are evaluated in terms of sustainable development outcomes. The tool kit has been piloted with the Families First Programme and the Local Development Plan and will potentially provide a basis for complying with the requirements of the planned Sustainable Development Bill
Chief Executive, Jeremy Patterson, was able to highlight external recognition with achievements such as retaining Green Dragon Level 5 and the Healthy Lifestyles Platinum award; a 4.5% reduction in carbon emissions, including significant reductions gained through the corporate travel plan; improvements in resilience planning for severe weather events, with a focus on care and support for most vulnerable groups; and the impact of incorporating a community benefits approach with contractors with the example of Ysgol Gynraeg Dyffryn y Glowyr in Ystradgynlais
The Authority’s approach to energy efficiency in private energy stock has been shortlisted in the Welsh Housing Awards as an example of outstanding leadership by a local authority and provides a model for others. The ‘Greener deal from Powys’ pre-empts the UK Government’s Green Deal, as an innovative, interest -free loan product specifically designed to capitalise investment in green technology designed to alleviate fuel poverty while simultaneously bringing local economic benefits. The scheme has been developed with Robert Owen Community Banking Fund, the Energy Saving Trust and British Gas. Over the last year the scheme has completed 80 installations, reducing CO2 by 4000 tones, increased turnover for 76 local firms and leveraged £15 of private investment for every £1 invested by the local authority.
Looking forward, the day included contributions from experts on the priority areas of community-scale renewable energy, delivering and maximising the sustainability impact of next generation broadband coverage and further extending the role of procurement to drive sustainable development.
All in all it was an impressive review of performance and forward commitment by the leader, the cabinet members, Chief Executive and his team. It may be that the ‘anti wind’ stance itself has provided a positive stimulus to prove a commitment to sustainable development. However it is a shame and a waste that we have not been able to harness this creative local commitment in a more positive partnership for the development of the renewable energy in mid Wales. There are lessons for all of us in the history of this development , which is now in the hands of public enquiries and decision makers outside of Wales– but perhaps the key message now is that we need to move on and focus on the positive change taking place in the largest county in Wales. I am looking forward to being able to review progress at next year’s Powys Sustainability Day – October 13th 2013.