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LOCAL COUNCILS & RESIDENTS' ASSOCIATIONS

This page is mainly geared at parish and town councils and residents’ associations, offering ideas and guidance to help you bring sustainable development and climate action into your work and decision-making. County, district, unitary and combined authorities may also find the sources and tools helpful, especially for reviewing and refining your approach, and helping you engage at a local level.

 

We have kept the contents broad, hoping it will be relevant to different councils in varying locations, and signposting wider tools and sources. If you have feedback, additions or examples for this page, please contact us.

KEY STEPS TO SUSTAINABILITY

1. PUT SUSTAINABILITY ON THE AGENDA

A crucial first step, and important on an ongoing basis, is putting sustainability and sustainable development on meeting agendas. Try basing this on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Consider making it a standing item and bringing in local/topic experts to inform and stimulate debate. Consider partners you can work with, and other tiers of local government, and invite them to feed into your discussions or ask to attend their meetings, to explore working together.

 

Keep the conversation going within your council and with partners and other tiers of government, and continually draw on local people’s ideas and input (see point 3), feeding this in to your own and others’ plans and decision-making.

2. DECLARE AN EMERGENCY

Hundreds of councils have declared a climate emergency (see list): a formal motion recognising the evidence on the climate and ecological crises, the threat and relevance to your locality, and urgency of action. This should include commitments for you to take associated steps via an action plan (see below), and integrate and reflect your declaration into deliberations, decision-making and wider activities.

3. SHARE AND COMMUNICATE

Use your communication channels to bring sustainability, inclusivity and climate action into people’s minds, and show how your community can benefit from being more sustainable. Don’t just share your plans and encourage individual lifestyle changes: invite input and ideas, and provide ways for people to come together. Ask what will enable your community to be greener and how the council can help (see behaviour change below), so people can continually and positively shape change.

 

Share your experiences with other areas, such as via our Grassroots network.

4. BE EMPOWERING AND ENABLING

Across everything you do, keep asking what are the barriers to sustainable living and development, and how to reduce them. Explore how local people can be empowered and enjoy the benefits, and build a shared vision of a more inclusive, fair and green future. Ensure you engage people who may find it hard to make their voices heard or adopt greener behaviours, such as those on low incomes or excluded and minority groups. Respect local views, and bring people together to work through tensions.

 

Communities hold a great deal of local knowledge, good will and expertise to enable you to identify what needs to change and how to do it in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.

CLIMATE ACTION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PLANS

To draw up an action plan, get a better understanding of what’s causing emissions and environmental degradation locally, and what’s inhibiting more sustainable and inclusive development and lifestyles.

 

To assess carbon emissions, you can use free tools such as:

  • Impact community carbon calculator - can be used to see the average carbon footprint and sources per household in an area (consumption-based carbon footprint), or all emissions produced in an area, even if they weren’t produced by local households (territorial-based carbon footprint);

  • CREDS’ Place-Based Carbon Calculator - looks at average carbon per household, how this compares to national averages, and recommended changes needed;

  • Local Partnerships’ GHG Accounting Tool - designed for local authorities to set baselines, track change and benchmark against other areas.

 

You may want to consider different data sets, and compare your area to others. As well as looking at area-wide data, assess the environmental and social impacts of your own activities, such as the emissions and other effects of travel to meetings.

 

Consider different impacts on local environments and people’s health, wellbeing and prosperity, such as air pollution, use of pesticides, access to services and green space, etc, and factors/views on what’s affecting local people’s ability to live sustainably and well (see below on behaviour change). Try using a survey combined with a public meeting, roadshow, or stand at a community event, to gather views and get people talking about what sustainability means and how it can be improved.

 

Use what you find to inform others and work collaboratively on an action plan with your community. See the ‘key areas of work’ section below to help you structure this. This will identify opportunities and barriers, build awareness and interest, and create change that’s inclusive. Climate Emergency UK has created a Councils Climate Plan Scorecard to help councils create, improve and benchmark climate action plans; their guidance and tick list can help you plan how to create an action plan as well as what it should contain. Also see Friends of the Earth’s climate action plan guidance, and Arup’s report on what next after declaring a climate emergency. Review progress against your plan regularly, with deeper review and renewal annually, using this to further engage people.

 

In drawing up your plan, think ambitiously about what you can deliver directly, what you might achieve through collaboration, and what you could influence more widely. For example, if your area is being affected by a major road with lots of through-traffic, which produces a large part of the area’s emissions, can you join forces with other authorities and Highways England (or equivalent) to support traffic reduction?

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful framework for thinking about all aspects of sustainability, going beyond climate, and seeing the links with equality and inclusion. Find out more at sdgs.un.org/goals.

LOCAL AUTHORITY POWERS AND NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS

See UK100’s Power Shift report on the range of duties, powers and policies (as of 2021) available to local and combined authorities in the UK. It sets out key areas where fresh thinking and approaches can achieve big wins, such as transport, buildings, energy infrastructure and waste.

 

Many councils find drawing up a neighbourhood plan is an ideal time to consider sustainability in your area and how this can be improved. Many find the engagement involved naturally brings to the fore public interest in protecting local and global environments, and helps to create a shared vision for a more sustainable future. Many neighbourhood plans have sustainability and environmental commitments prominently woven in.

 

See this guide to Neighbourhood Planning in a Climate Emergency from The Centre for Sustainable Energy. Even councils with NPs already, or not pursuing them, can use this guide for advice on local engagement and climate action. See p80-81 for other localism powers and levies you can use to improve sustainability, such as the Right to Challenge and Community Infrastructure Levy.

SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES

A big part of what needs to change to improve sustainability and tackle the climate crisis relates to behaviours and lifestyles. But it’s not so simple as encouraging people to make greener ‘choices’. It can be counter-productive trying to persuade people to change when their actions are embedded, habitual and constrained, such as by cost or the unavailability or impracticality of alternatives. That’s why it’s crucial to hear diverse people’s ideas and experiences, and break down systemic barriers.

 

Aim to give people opportunities to change together, in enjoyable, sociable ways that build a sense of cohesion and empowerment, such as community events showcasing greener living and collecting pledges, or fun excursions and activities using public transport and active travel. See our Be the Change page for ideas.

EMPOWERING LOCAL GROUPS AND BUSINESSES

Local councils are invariably resource-limited and constrained by the powers available to them, but they can play a crucial facilitation and leadership role, especially in informing, supporting and empowering local community groups and businesses. This could include:

  • Signposting local groups and businesses to support on being more sustainable: see our pages for community groups and businesses;

  • Promoting local groups’ campaigns or volunteering opportunities, especially where these seek to enhance sustainability and inclusion;

  • Involving community groups and businesses in engagement activities, such as drawing up your climate/sustainability action plan, particularly to aid wide and meaningful involvement from people with diverse interests and lived experiences, and to keep the conversation going;

  • Encouraging and supporting community groups and businesses to engage in wider consultations and campaigns to improve sustainability, such as those led by NGOs or district/unitary/combined authorities;

  • Facilitating links between local businesses and community groups, such as helping green action groups engage with and inform local businesses and their employers, or linking businesses prioritising sustainability to promote greener and more local supply chains, or promoting specific opportunities such as green action volunteering or sustainable commuting;

  • Providing small grants for projects that support sustainable development;

  • Helping local groups overcome problems, such as finding suitable sites for nature/biodiversity initiatives.

KEY AREAS OF WORK

1. NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS

In all types of locality, nature-based solutions can be deployed to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, while benefitting cohesion, health and wellbeing. Connecting people with nature, usually an inherent part of these types of initiative, is also proven to encourage more sustainable personal behaviours.

 

Consider writing a nature action plan, such as these examples, or incorporating this into your wider sustainability action plan, to give structure to your activities and ensure nature and biodiversity is always part of your thinking and decision-making. Consider how your council can prioritise nature in planning considerations and decisions, such as ensuring biodiversity ‘net gain’ from local developments.

 

Another key step is to review existing activity and site/green space management by your council, and whether any is environmentally harmful or constrictive of wildlife, such as use of pesticides, herbicides, peat-based compost, or frequent mowing. Switching to organic practices, and reducing/altering mowing patterns for spaces not used for sports, helps nature to recover. Various charities can help you provide for wildlife and deliver local engagement and awareness raising: try your local Wildlife Trust or RSPB group. You may be able to help them in return, such as by promoting their volunteering opportunities, finding new project sites, or liaising with landowners to create corridors.

 

An important, fulfilling activity is planting, growing and nature regeneration, which could mean wildlife-friendly hedge, shrub and tree planting, community orchards, community gardens and mini meadows, as well as larger scale habitat regeneration. This can be hugely beneficial in terms of biodiversity, social value, providing ‘green lungs’ that soak up pollution, and making local areas more attractive. Many areas have local organisations providing guidance, grants, trees, plants, and/or organising planting events, so councils just need to identify sites and promote involvement. Search locally, or see the Tree Council, Trees for Cities, Woodland Trust and Bumblebee Conservation Trust. See also the Tree Charter.

 

Nature recovery and land use are also critical ways to reduce flood risk, to ‘slow the flow’. See The Flood Hub and Rewilding Britain.

 

Many communities are going beyond traditional tree planting and community gardening and adopting rewilding principles, helping ecosystems to regenerate naturally. This can mean different things in different places, and should be done in an empowering, engaging way that allows communities to lead and benefit. See rewildingbritain.org.uk for advice.

 

You could also consider using an online tool (like the Geographical Information Service’s free online mapping software) to monitor biodiversity or otherwise track progress, which could involve local volunteers. Make sure you communicate your successes and lessons, and encourage wider involvement and related sustainable behaviours, such as promoting nature-friendly gardening and sharing advice on this (see our tips and links).

2. SUSTAINABLE, INCLUSIVE TRANSPORT

Transport is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK, and growing

levels of traffic and car dependency create many local issues too, to do with air pollution, congestion, noise, road safety, unequal access to opportunity, unhealthy lifestyles, and the ‘liveability’ of our communities and public spaces. Experts advise that we need a major reduction in private car use in order to decarbonise transport fully, while developing the alternatives to driving brings various socio-economic and environmental benefits, including reducing health and economic inequalities. It should therefore be a priority in developing more sustainable communities.

 

The types of steps councils can take to enable greener, healthier, more inclusive mobility vary according to the type of council and type of locality; see UK100’s Power Shift report, p28-54 for a run-though of options and powers.

 

In terms of broad principles that all councils can use and apply, we recommend:

  • Applying the sustainable travel hierarchy across all related decision-making, prioritising active travel, and public/community/shared transport, over private car use. Also bear in mind the ‘avoid > shift > improve’ model of decarbonisation: avoiding journeys (such as though video calls and more local services) brings greater carbon savings, then shifting onto lower carbon and shared modes, then improving emissions levels, prioritising electrification of vehicles used the most and which journeys are being shifted onto, such as buses, taxis, community transport;

  • Taking a holistic approach across transport modes, working towards an integrated, sustainable travel system that supports low-carbon, healthy and inclusive end-to-end journeys. Often transport modes are dealt with in silos, but increasing sustainable travel depends on the alternatives to driving working in synergy: including good walking, wheeling and cycling access to stations and bus stops, and aligned bus and train timetabling and interchange. Often small adjustments to integrate modes can open up sustainable travel as a viable option and help communities get greater value from existing transport assets, improving fair access to opportunity too;

  • Engaging, listening, and breaking down barriers. Councils at all levels, including non-transport authorities, can play a crucial role of convening, facilitating and engaging, to hear people’s views and understand local needs and nuances. People usually face a raft of practical and perceived barriers in adopting sustainable travel habits. This often includes poor integration between services, unsafe/unsuitable active travel routes, public transport affordability, and lack of familiarity and confidence. Bringing people together to understand these and consider how to break down the barriers can build interest, awareness and enthusiasm, while ensuring local transport works better for everyone.

  • Forging good links with operators. Councils at all levels should ensure that they are well connected with community/stakeholder managers within local bus and rail operators (as well as community transport providers), included in their consultations, and able to feed in local issues/views/concerns on an ad hoc basis. This helps communities to have a voice, makes it easier for operators to conduct local engagement, and aids trouble-shooting when issues arise. It also gives councils a chance to act if cut-backs are proposed, such as to facilitate local campaigns and action in the face of bus service cuts. In some cases, it may enable pooling of funding for improvements, such as for better active travel links to stations, or waiting shelters; small grants are often available from transport industries.

 

Councils may worry about perceptions towards measures that aim to inhibit driving, but research shows most people would rather drive less and be able to walk and cycle more especially, and the improvement of public transport is almost universally supported. Measures to improve local streets and environments for active travel and people and reduce or exclude traffic tend to be very well received by the majority and benefit local businesses too: people who arrive on foot are shown to spend more in local businesses than those who drive. Taking an engaging approach and ensuring people can inform and shape changes, and feel a sense of ownership, is vital.

3. COMMUNITY ENERGY

Community energy schemes can involve small-scale wind or solar projects that are led by the community and generate green energy for the community, and potentially put energy back into the national grid. It can range from a single building such as a school or community centre having solar panels on the roof, to small wind turbines on hill tops, so can be considered in rural and urban areas. The involvement of local people can create awareness and momentum for reducing energy use, and can be combined with projects to improve energy efficiency for local homes and businesses. It can bring a sense of empowerment and boost the local economy.

 

Further information, including links to community energy support for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, can be found on the Energy Saving Trust’s website. Also see this Guide to Community Energy Schemes by ACRE, and p86-107 on energy infrastructure in UK100’s Power Shift report. Information on community engagement and benefits around onshore wind can be found in this CSE report.

4. HOUSING, BUILDINGS AND DEVELOPMENT

Ensuring sustainability is at the forefront planning decisions, new developments and regeneration is a critical way for councils to improve the wellbeing, prosperity and resilience of local communities, current and future, while reducing climate impacts. A range of expert guidance is available for different tiers of local government. See:

 

5. LOCAL BUSINESS AND RETAIL

Local councils can play a vital role in creating a positive environment for small local businesses, encouraging people to shop small and local, and facilitating sustainable business practices.

 

An excellent range of support and resources is available from Totally Locally on running local campaigns and supporting small independent businesses.

 

See our page for businesses for an array of ideas, advice and organisations to help businesses operate in more sustainable ways. 

6. EQUALITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Wide-ranging advice, tools and support are available in the LGA’s equalities hub. Also see NALC’s civility and respect project and pledge, their advice on acting on the cost of living, and advice on engaging young people.

KEY SOURCES OF SUPPORT AND GUIDANCE

Advice on acting on climate, health & wellbeing and cost of living.

Wide-ranging advice, tools events and services, including on community engagement and sustainability

Network of local leaders (district/county/unitary) advancing action on Net Zero and clean air, offering case studies and advice on local engagement, communications, and powers

National umbrella body for district, county, metropolitan and unitary authorities, with a climate hub and equalities hub, each with tools and resources, advice on communications and local engagement, and an Arup report on next steps after declaring a climate emergency

Various guidance documents and support on topics such as community resilience, community energy and buildings/village halls

A wide range of resources on energy efficiency, community energy, retrofitting, local engagement and fuel poverty

DEFRA guidance for local councils on climate adaptation

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