Regions like ours can drive the clean growth revolution

Like much of the nation, I was horrified by the BBC’s recent Drowning in Plastic documentary.

This, plus the alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week, makes clear just how urgently we must take action to combat the effects of climate change.

Regions like ours have an important part to play in mitigating these effects. As we mark the Government’s first “Green GB Week” this week, I’ve challenged the policy team supporting the LEP and West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop some truly bold proposals on how Leeds City Region responds.

We already have a long-term goal of making the City Region a zero carbon economy. The stark warnings from the IPCC however underline the need for tangible action to achieve this target over a much shorter timeline.

Our region can afford to be ambitious.

Nearly 12% of the country’s electricity is generated in Leeds City Region and 31% of this is from renewable or low carbon sources. Our energy sector employs 7,900 people and contributes £918million to the UK economy.

If we could bring our City Region in line with global emission reduction targets, we could generate over £11billion and create 100,000 jobs. That’s an economic prize worth fighting for, which underlines how a strong economy and a cleaner environment can go hand in hand.

We are already doing a lot as a City Region to develop a prosperous economy founded on clean growth. In working towards our zero carbon ambition, we’ve tried to make carbon reduction central to everything we do.

An important part of our support for business growth, for example, is our Resource Efficiency Fund, which provides funding and advice to help businesses lower their energy usage.

The companies benefitting from support aren’t just minimising their environmental impact; they’re also maximising the impact on their bottom line, seeing reductions in their water, waste and energy costs and in many cases improving their productivity.

Through our skills initiatives, we’re encouraging young people to explore the amazing opportunities in sectors such as engineering and infrastructure and take advantage of significant forecasted growth in green jobs.

We’re also taking measures to ensure that businesses and communities are protected from the impacts of climate change, such as the floods which devastated so much of our region on Boxing Day 2015.

Last week saw the opening of a new flood alleviation scheme in Skipton, part-funded through our £1billion Growth Deal with Government, which will provide protection and peace of mind to 370 homes and 118 businesses in the town.

This follows the opening last year of a £50million, state-of-the-art flood alleviation scheme in Leeds – also part-funded through the Growth Deal – using UK-first, moveable weir technology to reduce the risk of flooding in Leeds city centre. It’s estimated that 22,000 jobs in the city centre have been safeguarded as a result.

And, through our partnership working with the Combined Authority, we’re helping to develop a sustainable transport network that reduces air pollution as well as enabling people to travel more easily and affordably around the region.

These efforts have contributed to a 38% reduction in carbon emissions in Leeds City Region since 2005.

The IPCC report makes clear however that we can – and indeed must – do much more.

We are in the process of finalising two important strategies that will help us go further and faster towards meeting our clean growth objectives.

Our energy strategy will be a roadmap to developing a low carbon energy economy. Meanwhile our green and blue infrastructure strategy focuses on making the most of the region’s amazing natural assets to improve our resilience to climate change and flooding.

I’m keen to explore further what we as a City Region can do to reduce plastic usage, building on the principles of the circular economy to reduce the amount of new plastic we manufacture.

I also believe we can do much more through collaborative action across Yorkshire and the wider North.

One of the key priorities for the NP11 group of northern local enterprise partnerships, which I chair, is exploring the opportunity of harnessing our collective energy strengths including the Humber Energy Estuary, Carbon Capture Storage developments in the Tees Valley, nuclear assets in the North West and power stations such as Drax in Selby, which are leading the shift to coal-free electricity.

The North powered the first Industrial Revolution. Now we need to use that same spirit of enterprise and innovation to drive our clean growth revolution.

North must benefit from post-Brexit funding shake-up

I was pleased to add my voice to calls last week for a radical new approach to funding northern economic growth after Brexit.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which Government has committed to creating using repatriated EU funds, is an opportunity to do things differently.

We want to work with Government to ensure this Fund is designed in a way that builds on the work we’re already doing to promote faster growth – including an annual allocation of at least £200million for Leeds City Region – is straightforward to administer and is in place to ensure a smooth transition from European funding.

This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 16 October 2018 as our monthly LEP column