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Levelling up? Where's the Net Zero?

3 Feb 22 The government’s Levelling Up White Paper has been criticised for failing to embed its other great priority, net zero, into the package.

Cover of the Levelling Up white paper
Cover of the Levelling Up white paper

The Build Back Greener white paper1, published last October, set out how government policies will decarbonise the UK economy to make the nation a net zero carbon emitter by 2050.

Yesterday’s Levelling Up white paper2 set out government policies to reduce the economic, health and social disparities between different regions of the country within just eight years.

Some say that the two flagship policies are insufficiently joined up.

Stefanie O’Gorman, director of sustainable economics at civil engineering consultant Ramboll, says that the climate issue is inadequately considered in the Levelling Up white paper and needs to be embedded in all funding decisions.

“While the ambition of the levelling up white paper is welcome, the piecemeal nature of the funding falls short of delivering the transformational change needed to create future-proofed liveable places. Investment must be strategically deployed to create long-term value,” she said. “However, instead of providing a holistic, national strategy which local areas can tailor to their needs, the burden has been placed firmly on local authorities in a bun-fight for funding.  Lessons can be learnt from Scotland where 20-minute neighbourhoods have been embedded as a nationwide policy. Separate funding pots simply will not deliver an effective place-based approach. And funding with the goal of housing development in brownfield areas will not deliver the place-based multi-system outcomes required in so many of the UK’s town and cities.”

She added: “Climate resilience and adaptation is glaringly absent from the levelling up white paper. We urgently need to embed positive climate outcomes (net-zero and resilience) into funding decisions, otherwise we are simply not investing wisely for the future. For instance, how will the transformation of high streets address climate ambitions? Climate resilience and decarbonisation strategies must be embedded into public realm schemes from the outset if they are to be called a success.”

Rohan Malik, partner of accountancy firm EY, also noted the absence of net zero in the Levelling Up white paper. “Emphasis on the role levelling-up can play in our sustainable economic recovery and the green industrial revolution is curiously absent,” he said.

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Stephen Beechey, group public sector director at Wates Group, said much the same thing. “By prioritising Net zero as a focal point of the Levelling Up agenda, the government can help create new jobs, skills and industries throughout the whole of the country – particularly in the areas the government has set out to support today,” he said.

And here is Aecom cities programme leader Andrew Jones: “We’d like to see more focus on skills for a green economy in this white paper to help meet the country’s net zero targets. Levelling up will only be successful if it is done in a green and sustainable way."

Gillian Charlesworth, chief executive of the Building Research Establishment (BRE), said: “Measures that support a clear and effective plan to improve the quality and sustainability of the UK’s housing stock should be at the forefront of the government’s Levelling Up agenda – but today’s paper signals a missed opportunity to outline this.” 




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