Councils need government funding to kick-start green ambitions
Leeds case study shows how lack of resources is thwarting sustainable initiatives, say researchers
UK local authorities may have a vision of making their cities sustainable in terms of energy use, but their constrained resources are making it difficult for them to act. That is the conclusion of a study by researchers at the University of Leeds, published in the latest issue of the journal Energy policy.
Researchers used the city of Leeds as a case study to represent typical local city government in the UK. They interviewed senior Leeds City Council managers and other stakeholders involved in energy-related projects across the city to find out if there was a will and a way to think strategically about energy use, from street lighting to the fuel consumption of waste collection vehicles.
They found that key stakeholders across Leeds recognised the advantages of thinking strategically about energy, and showed a strong desire to realise these benefits. But the study also found that like many city councils in the UK, Leeds is struggling to turn its vision into reality. This is largely because it lacks the human resources and start-up funds needed for such a strategic effort.
Central government support
Study co-author Professor William Gale from the University of Leeds’ Centre for Integrated Energy Research and the faculty of engineering’s Energy Research Institute, said: “It seems dangerous to assume that local action in support of UK energy sustainability targets will happen without at least some level of national guidance or support from central government.”
The researchers suggest that although strategic approaches to energy can become self-sustaining in time, there is a limited, but important, need for start-up financial support. Local authorities also need help from central government, the study suggests, if they are to help the country achieve national and European targets on energy sustainability. For example, it could be cost-effective for central government to create ‘how to’ guidance sharing best practice among local authorities to prevent duplication of effort.
"Local authorities need support because energy touches on every aspect of a council’s responsibilities; they are not used to this role and it will require quite a cultural change,” says first author of the study Dr Catherine Bale, adding: “Receiving revenue from energy generation, for example, is quite new and a little beyond their comfort zone.”
The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The paper, Strategic energy planning within local authorities in the UK: A study of the city of Leeds is published in Energy policy, which is available at www.sciencedirect.com.