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Rachel Sutton of Exeter City Council is Leading By Example

Rachel Sutton of Exeter City Council is Leading By Example

Rachel Sutton is the Exeter City councillor in charge of combating climate change. The trouble is, mention climate change to the ordinary resident in the street and you will probably end up talking about the good old British weather. But this isn’t just about our winters getting wetter and our summers getting hotter. Climate change is about much more than just showers and sun and it affects all of us in all walks of life.

In Exeter the battle is very much on to improve that quality of life for all and tackle those issues which contribute to a changing climate and environment. Congestion and pollution are at the top of the agenda.

Exeter is one of the most successful and fastest growing cities in the country, but with growth comes challenges – more traffic, less space, poor air quality. Exeter City Council is determined to face those challenges head on. It cannot do it alone and that’s why key partners from across the public and private sectors are now united in their quest to secure a happy, healthier and more prosperous future for the city.

The local community also has a huge part to play in that. And that’s where Rachel Sutton is doing her bit and leading the way.

Rachel’s new portfolio fits in well with some of her personal past-times and she is passionate to see Exeter not just as the great city that it is but also as a cleaner, congestion free and energy independent city for the future.

She was a member of Green Peace as a student and enjoys being a member of the Devon Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. She says,

“It really is around just flagging up the difference you can make. That’s one of the difficult things because you can’t see what’s happening. If you think about sea temperatures rising, we do not notice that change. It does not sound much. People talk about a 1.5 degree rise and think that’s not much difference but in environmental terms that is quite significant.”

“It is about what you can do. How can you make a difference?”

She is making changes in her own personal life and says,

“I have also been trying to use the car less. I have made a pledge to have two days a week where I do not use the car. It is a personal pledge to walk or catch the bus or get a lift with somebody. In the last 12 months a friend and fellow councillor have been really active in car sharing to get into the civic centre.”

“I know not everybody will be able to do that but it’s about making changes which fit in with your life.”

She has solar panels on the roof of her home. She accepts,

“Not everybody will be able to afford them. We are currently installing similar systems in many of our council houses.”

But they have made a change to her daily life and now she thinks about the best use of energy. The sun will dictate when she puts on the washing machine and dish washer and she does the ironing at lunchtime when the sun is out, rather than while watching the TV at night.

She says,

“The challenge is to help people see that these things are making a difference.”

“It is about seeing less traffic on the roads. You know when it is the school holidays because there is a significant drop in traffic. Can we do that all the time?”

The local authority had previously published a Climate Change strategy and action plan to run from 2008-2018. It sought to address emissions related to homes, businesses, new developments, transport and waste but many of the targets were not met.

Now a partnership between Exeter City Council and Exeter City Futures working with other stakeholders aims to bring together local government, the private sector and communities to jointly address carbon emissions, particularly related to transport and energy. The overall pledge is to make the great city of Exeter carbon neutral by 2030 or sooner. The Government have set targets for 2050. Rachel says,

“I think the target is ambitious but why not? If you set an easily-reachable target it is making it easy to say, ‘we have already done that’.”

She adds,

“There are serious challenges. One of the difficulties is that because we are a city it draws in a lot of commuters. There is a danger that people in Exeter are doing the right things but people in the outlying areas who come into the city do not have the opportunity to walk or cycle. If the bus service does not come from their village how are they going to commute?”

She said working with partners like Devon County Council as the transport authority and the Stagecoach bus company was key.

“It is about winning hearts and minds to take them on the journey with us.”

That’s where Exeter City Futures comes in, bringing together people like the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Exeter University.

Rachel says,

“We cannot do it on our own. If one major employer can see some results, then that encourages everybody else. That shows the partnership is working.”

The spin-offs and benefits are there for all with the creation of new jobs, economic savings and market opportunities, as well as improved well being and quality of life for residents such as lower fuel bills, reduced air pollution and healthier and more active lifestyles.

The city has set itself 12 goals as it battles to become congestion free and energy independent. A special City Data Hub will be created to measure and monitor these key targets:

·         Reliable journeys and resilient roads

·         Renewable energy access for everyone

·         Clean air for Exeter

·         Half of journeys walked or cycled

·         Affordable, healthy homes for everyone

·         An analytical and entrepreneurial city

·         Reduce the dominance of cars

·         Reduce energy consumption

·         SMART energy measurement for everyone

·         A self-financing city

·         Waste as a resource

·         Buildings that make more than they take.

The city has already made great strides to change lives. An innovative renewables and energy efficiency programme was started five years ago and has so far delivered 20 energy saving projects for the city council’s corporate estate. The programme has demonstrated significant energy and carbon savings, as well as long-term income streams that will continue to support council services. 

The city currently has a solar Photovoltaics estate of over 2MW, and numerous energy efficiency projects have cut energy consumption by 37 per cent and reduced carbon emissions by 29 per cent.

The Council’s solar PV estate includes two pioneering projects, solar canopy arrays on top of multi storey car parks, and a 1.5MW installation at the Livestock Centre, thought to be the largest roof mounted PV array in the South West. Both projects supply renewable electricity to leaseholders in or near to the buildings, and in summer months all are operating independently of the grid. Energy is sold via a power purchase agreement at a reduced tariff supporting local business.

The Livestock solar PV array, completed in December 2015, follows the installation of a new roof on the market and event venue. The replacement was made possible by the guaranteed savings and income the solar PV the solar array will generate. Overall the installation has provided a sustainable long-term future for the Livestock Centre, supporting local jobs and the farming community. LED lights have been fitted at the council offices and all car parks, in some cases more than halving energy consumption.

Another visible project showcasing the council’s low carbon commitment is ‘Park and Plug’. With the help of a government grant and sponsorship of the charging points at six public car parks and at three office locations, free charging for electric vehicle users has been provided with no capital costs to the Council. In addition, over half of the sites are powered by solar PV, providing low-carbon energy to power zero carbon electric fleet vehicles. 

Last year the council saw a 34% reduction in carbon emissions from transport due to the use of electrical fleet vehicles and pool cars for operational use.

The authority is currently awaiting confirmation of a grant from the European Regional Development Fund to support a large solar PV and storage project to be developed in the city. The 2MW Battery installation is a demonstrator project to share with business and the community, further supporting renewable energy, electric fleet and carbon reduction.

The council already has other initiatives under way including a Low Carbon Task Force, low energy heat networks and energy-efficient Passivhaus development. It has also provided PV to housing tenanted properties at both domestic and commercial sites.

The council’s new Fleet Vehicles are electric and charged from its own PV supply. It is working with Devon County and other authorities to produce a county wide electric vehicle network.

Rachel has been a councillor for nine years and says,

“I love it. There are times when you wonder why you bother. But then there are times when you have made a difference which is satisfying and encouraging.”

“More often than not people say thanks and that’s great.”

Making a difference for Rachel Sutton is now about leading Exeter into a healthier, happier future fit for the 21st century. No pressure!

Content supplied by Exeter City Council

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