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Gloucestershire councils trailblazing commitment to decarbonise transport

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader at Gloucestershire County Council, writes for Environment Journal about Gloucestershire’s county-wide project to tackle transport decarbonisation and reach net zero by 2045. 

In January myself and council leaders in Gloucestershire signed a collective statement of intent to achieve the immense challenge of decarbonising transport in our rural county.

This ground-breaking commitment acknowledged that if we are collectively going to achieve net zero by 2050 (or sooner), then action must be taken now to reduce emissions caused by transport. This is no small feat given transport emissions are much higher in rural areas and public transport is often unreliable at best.

The agreement was signed by Gloucestershire County Council, as the local transport authority, along with the six district councils who are each responsible for planning: Cheltenham Borough Council, Cotswold District Council, Forest of Dean District Council, Gloucester City Council, Stroud District Council, and Tewkesbury Borough Council. It acknowledged that a strategic and collaborative approach is needed to ensure that Local Plans and Local Transport Plans are updated in ways that support the ambitions and delivery of the countywide transport decarbonisation strategy. This includes creating sustainable neighbourhoods that are within walking distance of local services, that promote active travel and have public transport available.

This shared statement is the next phase in our ambition to decarbonise our county. It builds on work done last summer when we held an event that brought together over 100 stakeholders from across Gloucestershire including all seven councils as well as other public sector bodies, local organisations, and businesses with the aim to build consensus on Gloucestershire County Council’s transport decarbonisation work. Delegates fed into the vision of what transport will look like in Gloucestershire as part of the transition to net zero.

There is a lot of work to be done: currently transport accounts for 34% of CO2 emissions in Gloucestershire, with cars responsible for 58% of transport-related emissions. To meet the region’s goal of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2030, we need to make dramatic changes to the way we travel. An illustrative scenario indicates that we would need changes equivalent to a doubling of car km by EV compared to current forecasts for 2030, in addition to shortening and reduction car trips and a significant shift to more sustainable modes of transport which may require a 300% increase in cycling and a doubling of public transport use. The statement of shared intent codified the commitment to achieving these ambitious goals. Both the January and July events were facilitated by UK100, an organisation that supports a network of local leaders who have pledged to help communities lead a rapid transition to net zero ahead of the government’s legal target.

The statement of shared intent says: ‘Gloucestershire County Council and the six district authorities recognise the need to reduce emissions from surface transport in line with science-based targets and the commitments of the Climate Change Act 2008, which require an 80% emissions reduction by 2030, and net zero by 2050. Gloucestershire aspires to become a leader and exemplar of best practice for transport emissions reduction in the UK. We commit to working together as a diverse county with rural and urban character to develop a countywide transport decarbonisation strategy, that encourages shifts in travel behaviour to achieve the necessary carbon emissions reductions to reach net zero. As local plans and local transport plans are updated, we will seek to support the ambitions and delivery of this countywide transport decarbonisation strategy. The partners will support local efforts to create sustainable neighbourhoods within acceptable walking distance of local service centres and build in active travel and public transport availability to make these the most attractive travel options. We acknowledge our roles and responsibilities in reaching our demanding targets by encouraging people through education, engagement, and action to choose to avoid the need for some journeys, to shift to more sustainable transport modes and to improve the sustainability of those journeys that still require the use of private vehicles. We will work through Climate Leadership Gloucestershire to implement this statement.’

It has been great to work with UK100 as one of their Local Power in Action Partners for 2022, to facilitate this collaborative approach to local government’s leadership in the fight against climate change. They have also been very supportive of the approach to align transport and development plans in the aims to decarbonise journeys across the county. I am very grateful to them for their continued support and encouragement that has set us up in good stead to continuing building on the foundations they helped us lay.

We now look to the next steps and as set out in a statement, together with communities and businesses, we will work to establish land use patterns that support short journeys and sustainable transport options that feed into the wider public/active transport network. District councils will also seek to prevent social isolation and prioritise new development in areas of existing or future high accessibility to local services.

We have also recently launched a survey for residents, businesses, and community groups, to understand what they think are the best methods for reducing transport emissions and tackling the climate emergency. We want to hear from as many voices and viewpoints as possible to ensure that everyone in our communities are working together for a shared practical understanding to achieving this ambitious goal.

Pictures by Clint Randall www.pixelprphotography.co.uk and provided by Gloucestershire County Council

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