New Clause 14 - Parish councils: power to set up local energy schemes

Part of Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 9 Chwefror 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:15, 9 Chwefror 2006

New clause 14 would give an enabling power bringing 10,000 parish councils into the national efforts to reduce climate change and to alleviate fuel poverty. We need their efforts and their local knowledge. As a sponsor of the Local Communities Sustainability Bill in 2003, and as one of the cross-party advisers to that campaign, I feel strongly about the issue. We need to mobilise an army of opinion throughout the country, and parish councils are the linchpins of rural and suburban communities.

I emphasise that we must unleash the local knowledge of thousands of councils. Here at Westminster, we cannot possibly know everything that they may wish to do. That is the beauty of the new clause: it would confer enabling powers to bring forth new ideas and fresh thinking based on the local circumstances and particular needs of individual communities throughout the country, empowering local people. It would involve communities everywhere.

I emphasise, too, that nearly 700 such councils signed up for the Local Communities Sustainability Bill. Almost all the public meetings on that Bill were   attended by 100 to 400 people. During those meetings in towns and villages throughout the country, local energy was invariably one of the first topics. People are interested in what they can do locally. They worry about climate change, absolutely, but there is also a sense of powerlessness among the public at large. The clause is designed specifically to address that, enabling people—individuals, families, communities, neighbours—to get involved and to feel that there is something that they can do.

Let me inform the Committee about some of the initiatives that could result from this enabling clause. The Sustainable Energy Partnership very helpfully did a phone-around of some parish councillors. I do not pretend that the list is comprehensive or that it should be seen as a rigorous survey; it is just a selection of a few ideas that have been suggested by parish councillors who are supporters.

One suggestion was to appoint a microgeneration or local energy officer to promote and work with area power companies. Obviously that is something that most parish councils would not be able to do on their own, but they could co-operate in informal networks to do it on an appropriate scale. In appropriate parts of the country, certainly in Scotland, there could be hydro-site surveys to find the best areas for local companies and community schemes. There could also be wind power surveys to find the best areas for local companies and community schemes. If there is going to be an extension of onshore wind power, it has to be with community consent. It has to be at the instigation, and with the co-operation of, local people; not, as has sadly happened in certain very notable cases, over their heads, giving the renewables energy movement a bad name. Local buy-in to wind power is important and parish councils are an ideal way to facilitate it.

Other ideas include promoting biomass to, and with, local farmers; small kick-start grants for microgeneration; installing trainer schemes for local young people; opportunities for parish councils to receive information on public-private partnership schemes; and opportunities to endorse local energy and energy efficiency schemes, with leaflets and advertising. It is so much more effective if there is local buy-in to those promotions, rather than if people receive standard, centrally distributed information from Whitehall.

Further suggestions include competitions for suppliers, such as “Give us the best deal, and we’ll promote your product in return for a discount on equipment.” Companies could be persuaded to take opportunities to deal with fuel poverty, by using innovative technology. There could be bulk purchase opportunities, particularly in relation to energy efficiency and microgeneration, to get discounts and resell what can often be quite prohibitively expensive technologies to individual householders.

Not all parish councillors have an officer, but there could be someone—the clerk perhaps—who could volunteer to attend the Home Energy Conservation   Act 1995 regional forums to disseminate latest best practice and innovation in the all-important area of energy conservation. Inter-parish energy forums could be established to bring together and promote good ideas and best practice, so that people can learn from the practical experiences of other communities who have tackled the problem. That would underline the whole notion that we are all in this together.

There is a host of good ideas that the new clause could help to make happen. Why is it so important? I shall not labour the point but I shall give one reason. Not so long ago, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that as regards the Government’s manifesto commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, based on 1990 levels, on current policies:

“Instead of a 20per cent. reduction, we will achieve one of 14per cent.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1161-62.]

By January of this year, however, the Government’s energy review announced that, on current policies:

“Our latest projections suggest that the UK will have reduced CO2 emissions to around 10 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010.”

In other words, the target is falling, and we are going backwards, not forwards. So it is clear that a lot more needs to be done and that the Government in Westminster and Whitehall do not have all the answers. We need to mobilise the parish councils and involve the rest of the nation. The problem of climate change cannot be tackled in Westminster alone, so let us take the campaign local. I urge the Committee to support the new clause. It will involve up to 10,000 new councillors in striving towards an objective that we all wish to see achieved.