Climate change plans for Essex a “mammoth task”

Solar panels should be installed on every available roof on domestic, industrial and commercial buildings by 2050, to help Essex meet its environmental targets.

That’s according to a report from the county’s climate change commission, finalised just six months ahead of the critical UN climate change conference COP26.

It is one of several recommendations by the climate change commission for Essex move to net zero by 2050, that needs to be ratified by Essex County Council next week.

These also include retrofitting all buildings and homes to see domestic gas boilers replaced by carbon neutral alternatives such as heat pumps by 2040.

This alone is a mammoth task – around 85 per cent of homes are heated by gas boilers.

And given within Essex there are more than 600,000 existing homes the cost of replacing the heating system could cost significant sums in itself.

This is complicated by assessments suggesting hydrogen will only be able to heat around 11 per cent of homes, due to limited supply.

The remainder could be warmed by heat pumps, which cost as between £6,000 and £18,000.

Cllr James Abbott, a Green Party member of  the climate change commission, said: “It is a monumental task and a lot of these targets are things the council cannot do on its own and  which will require a lot of cooperation across multiple platforms.

“There are some very ambitious and radical proposals in there and it will be very interesting to see what the response of the county council cabinet will be.

It says all new build houses, industrial and commercial units should have solar panels fitted immediately, the whole housing stock retrofitted by 2040, and solar panels installed on every available roof on domestic, industrial and commercial buildings by 2050, with a target of 25 per cent by 2030.

Cllr Abbott added: “This one is particularly difficult because the government are going in the opposite direction.

“We have watched in Braintree the ability of planning authorities like Braintree to require sustainable features like solar improve until this government came n and then they changed the rules.

“We can no longer require developers of that.”

The issues of climate change for Essex is especially acute given that flooding alone could risk twice the number of homes by 2050.

Transport is responsible for 27 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the largest, single contributor to the climate crisis.

The commission has stated it is essential travel is decarbonised if we are to meet the UK’s climate commitments.

Congestion on Essex roads is an “environmental disaster”, it adds and is costing local businesses billions.

In 2017, more than £37.7bn in the UK was lost, directly and indirectly, through traffic congestion. This amounts to an average of £1,168 per driver.

By 2030 it says city centre and town car congestion should be reduced by introducing dedicated, well-planned cycling and walking routes across all urban and rural locations and to all railway stations, while upgrading and expanding the National Cycle Network.

It also says three new subsidy-free Park & Choose (pedal, scoot, stride) sites, using park and ride as a stepping stone to more widespread public transport use, should be introduced by 2030.

Development campaigner Rosie Pearson:  added: “The report is very ambitious sand that is a good thing and if you aim high that is a good start.”

But she added: “There is lots of positive talk about sustainable transport but they are ominously quiet about road building

There are two projects in Essex – the A120, A 133 link road and the other is the A12 widening project

“I would have expected them to have a position on roads and to say we should be encouraging sustainable transport instead of roads, not just talking nicely about sustainable transport”, she said.

“All this will be meaningless if roads go ahead all over Essex.”

Speaking about the Essex Climate Action Commission’s recommendations, Cllr Kevin Bentley, leader of Essex County Council, said: “Climate change is the biggest issue we are facing both globally and in Essex, because it’s not just about us, it’s about the generations to come.

“Essex County Council is proud to be on the forefront of combating this alongside the commission, and we look forward to working together with everybody who lives and works in Essex to help make net zero a reality.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter