Delivering Clean Growth: a pathway to sustainable development in the UK

By on 03/08/2022 | Updated on 03/08/2022

The science is clear. With the effects of climate change already biting, we urgently need to transform the way we live and work.  And to successfully transition to a green economy, we need to think holistically about how we create resilience within our towns and cities towards a prosperous, sustainable future.

But a standard, one-size-fits-all solution won’t work. Indeed, while most councils in the UK have made various climate pledges, only a quarter have actually begun delivering their net-zero transition plans. Local authorities recognise that sustainable development is essential, but they often struggle to get their plans off the ground or understand how these plans can be aligned with the demands of their communities.

The urgency of the climate crisis cannot be understated. To adequately deliver the UK national target to reach net zero by 2050, local and regional solutions must be implemented, which are relevant to each area’s specific needs, and decision-makers at these levels must plan and invest strategically.

Piecemeal approaches to sustainability simply do not work in this context and cannot be adequately measured long-term. There needs to be a holistic approach to growth planning. Ultimately, we must move away from adopting individual clean initiatives and commit to implementing a comprehensive Clean Growth agenda.

Creating opportunities for investment in Bradford

Solutions in this context are best sourced through a singular mindset. For example, a local authority set on driving down carbon emissions whilst driving economic growth must come up with a plan that delivers these outcomes, but which is also affordable beyond the next budgetary cycle.

As such, a Clean Growth implementation plan is not merely a list of what a local authority wishes to achieve, but also enables an assessment as to whether the local authority is fit for purpose to achieve these goals, and if not, what its constraints and challenges are in meeting its objectives.

For example, WSP has helped Bradford develop its Clean Growth plan, which encompasses the city’s drive to create new jobs, bring forward innovation, enhance community wellbeing and deliver low-carbon systems.

Of course, the crux of any local authority’s sustainable development strategy hinges on to what extent their economic and net zero goals are aligned. To incentivise investments, local governments must first understand their unique challenges. For example, Bradford is two-thirds rural. This impacts what industries should be prioritised for growth in the city, what infrastructure should be developed and how the energy transition is achieved.

Ultimately, by identifying and treating the root of its challenges, as opposed to merely managing the symptoms, an ecosystem of action can be developed, where each element of the economy works together to reduce emissions – and vice versa – with plans and projects that help Bradford reduce its emissions whilst accelerating its economic growth.

Elements of a successful Clean Growth agenda

Adopting a focused Clean Growth agenda enables local authorities to prioritise a more holistic view of the enviro-economic and social measures needed to deliver development projects. And Clean Growth outcomes will help places, towns, and districts initiate economic transformation that is more than the sum of its parts.

The example of Bradford demonstrates that there are three aspects to ensuring successful and lasting clean growth: decarbonisation of place and infrastructure; measures to promote economic development; and innovation, technological and systems transformation.

  • Decarbonisation: active mobility; green infrastructure; pollution reduction; protecting nature; decarbonising utilities and transport
  • Economic development: improve access to innovation industries; education and skills growth; improve welfare services; bring forward placemaking opportunities
  • Systems transformation: advanced innovation and digital technologies, to improve attractiveness for business investment

To successfully achieve these goals, local authorities must actively engage both private and public sector stakeholders in the process of change – reducing over-reliance on public resources and funding and encouraging private sector investment.

Ultimately, the climate crisis cannot be solved by one party. Everyone and everything must feed into reducing emissions. While a holistic approach to Clean Growth might seem limited in its applicability to single areas of the UK, the true measure of success will be our ability to adopt this approach more widely until it is embedded in the mindset of regional and national policymakers and businesses.

Ashley Dunseath is Director of Development Advisory at WSP, a leading engineering professional services and environmental consultancy.

To find out more about how WSP’s Development Advisory team is supporting communities across the UK, including Clean Growth, please visit our Strategic Advisory webpage here or get in touch via [email protected].

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