Local Elections this Thursday 5 May 2022 will take place amidst a cost of living and energy security crisis, the war in Ukraine and the lingering impact of Covid-19.

We are following six battles across the UK, each of which will have significant implications for development and infrastructure plans locally and nationally.

The battlegrounds we are focusing on have been selected for a widespread reflection of policy and geography complexities influencing voters.

These elections provide an excellent platform to examine the public’s confidence in ‘levelling up’ and other major government policies.

Our series now moves to Blaenau Gwent, South-East Wales as our Senior Account Executive Alastair Fisher examines how this former Labour heartland, now Independently held council, will fare later this week..

Blaenau Gwent: the local picture

Current status: Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council IND majority (30 Independent councillors, 12 Labour councillors)

Following the 2017 election the number of councillors representing Blaenau Gwent has been reduced from 42 to 33. There has also been a reduction in electoral wards from 16 to 14. This change in ward and councillor numbers will now see nine two member wards and five three member wards come into existence. There will be 69 candidates vying for just 33 seats from the major parties and independents.

The home of iconic figure Nye Bevan, Blaenau Gwent is a mining valleys area, and on paper should be one of Labour’s safest councils, having elected Labour MPs and a Labour council safely for decades, including former Labour Leader Michael Foot. It was on several occasions Labour’s most reliable parliamentary seat in Wales.

This all changed following Labour MP Peter Law leaving the party after being de-selected in 2005 and contesting the seat as an Independent. He unexpectedly won in a landslide. Following his death in 2006, Independents unexpectedly held the MPs seat as ‘Blaenau Gwent People’s Voice’ in the by-election. In 2008 Independents then succeeded in taking the Council.

Labour took back control of the Council in 2012, only to lose it again by a large majority in 2017 to ex-Labour Independents.

In this election there are 32 Independents contesting the council. This compares to Labour’s 27 candidates and the 9 from Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Greens combined, with no Liberal Democrats or other parties standing. The contest is therefore one between the Independents and Labour with the Independents expected to come out on top yet again.

To add to the interest around the Blaenau Gwent local election, this year they are one of four local authorities in Wales piloting advanced voting for the first time. This will allow voters to cast their vote early on Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd May regardless of where they live. The purpose of this trial is to make elections more accessible to people and for it be easier for those who wish to vote to do so.

Andrea Jones, the Returning Officer for Blaenau Gwent Council has said that “The learning [from this trail] will be used to inform longer term improvements to the way people vote and help reduce the democratic deficit.” This will also be the first time in Blaenau Gwent local elections, that 16- and 17-year-olds will be eligible to vote, which Labour is hoping to capitalise on. How the lower voting age and early voting trial will impact voter turnout, which in 2017 was just 41 per cent, will be closely watched.

Many countries, such as Australia, already allow their citizens to vote in advance at local, state, and federal elections from any eligible voting location. By opening the voting system and allowing it to grow and reflect the twenty-first century’s busy and diverse lifestyle, elections within Wales and indeed the whole of the United Kingdom will be able to be more inclusive, more accessible, and therefore more democratic.

With the Conservatives, and indeed Boris Johnson himself, under pressure across the entirety of the United Kingdom due to a myriad of scandals over recent months, Labour will be hoping to capitalise on public sentiment and make large gains on Thursday.

The electorate of this former Labour stronghold, now with a rich, proud Independent political history, is unlikely to fall the way Labour hopes and most likely will see the strengthening of the Independents hold on the area. The increasing threat of Independents and minor parties such as the Greens therefore seems likely to play a significant role in this year’s Local Elections.

Whatever the outcome on Thursday, Blaenau Gwent will be closely watched by those within the Labour party and election buffs alike due to the role of Independents, the influence of young 16- and 17-year-old voters and the trial of a new way to vote in Welsh elections.

Read the latest in our series of blogs looking ahead to the upcoming May local elections, as Senior Account Executive Billy Holmes reviews the battle in Nuneaton.

 

Current status: CON majority (25 Conservative, 6 Labour, 2 Independents, 1 Green)

Elections for Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council will take place on Thursday (5 May 2022), giving residents the power to decide who will represent them and deliver local services.

Given this borough’s recent political history, voters in these market towns and surrounding villages are uniquely positioned to make their voices heard at a national level, should they rebel.

Background

Before boundary changes in 2002, the council had 45 seats and was dominated by the Labour Party: they held between 35 and 41 of these seats between 1998 and 2000 (Tony Blair’s first premiership)

The 2002 changes significantly reduced the total number of seats on the council (to 34) and, on Thursday 2 May 2002, Labour’s majority was cut from 25 to 18. The game was afoot.

Since then, the Council has swung with the national mood of the country. Labour remained the majority party until 2008 when the Conservatives gained an additional three seats – bringing them up to 18 – and the British National Party made a surprise appearance.

Voters then swung back to Labour in 2010, which continued to dominate elections in 2012, 2014 and 2016, exactly seven weeks before 66% of residents voted to leave the EU. In the wake of this result, it should come as little surprise that Labour lost eight seats in 2018. However, they still remained the majority party until last year, when their share of the vote collapsed. Labour ended up with just 20.6% of the vote and lost 10 councillors. The Conservatives, on the other hand, received 70.6% and gained 8, leaving them with 24 seats to Labour’s seven.

 

What next?

 Although all three of the borough’s local MPs are Conservatives – and two have been in office since 2010 – only a year has passed since Conservative councillors received the lion’s share of the votes (and seats) there. Nationally, the party continues to be rocked by a series of scandals.

Year Turnout
2014 33.31%
2016 32.47%
2018 32.49%

 

Given there has been very little change in turnout over the past few years, voters have shown themselves to be highly changeable. With Labour and the Conservatives standing candidates in all 17 wards, alongside 15 Green Party candidates and 5 Independents, each will be hotly contested. Half of the council’s seats are up for grabs next Thursday.

A significant swing away from the Conservative Party here would be a damning indictment of the Government that they would do well to take seriously.

With more fines reportedly on their way to No. 10, Conservative councillors across the country have been attempting to distance themselves from the national party. There’s a lot at stake in Nuneaton and Bedworth. It’ll be interesting to see how local councillors deal with voters’ questions on ‘party gate’ and the cost-of-living crisis on the doorstep.

Will residents punish local councillors at the ballot box for their national counterparts’ behaviour or allow them another couple of years to show what they can do now they are the majority party?

If previous elections are anything to go by, with the national mood in the country swinging towards Labour, this is going to be a key battleground. If Keir Starmer wants to become Prime Minister in two years’ time, this is exactly the part of middle England that he has to win back. Will he?

Time will tell.

The latest in our series of blogs looking forward to the upcoming May local elections today as Account Manager, Billy Greening reviews the battle in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

Current status: London Borough of Wandsworth Council CON majority (32 Conservative councillors, 26 Labour councillors, 1 Independent)

The battle of Wandsworth

Wandsworth is a fascinating part of London, against the trend of a Labour rise throughout the capital, Wandsworth stands alone and has been controlled by the Conservative Party since 1978. This is largely down to the local services the council provides whilst still boasting the lowest average council tax in the country. The council was even able to cut its share of taxation this year. In spite of all the Labour gains in London, the Conservatives have been steadfast here. Nevertheless, that might, finally be about to change …

The two party leaders, Conservative Ravi Govindia, and Labour Simon Hogg, have set out the stalls to local voters. Last week, Labour pledged to match the Conservatives promise cut to council tax. Nevertheless, like all local elections this is not being held in a bubble. Labour are campaigning hard on the current national picture

All three parliamentary constituencies are now held by Labour, the Conservatives lost Battersea in 2017 and the only Labour gain at the 2019 General Election came in Putney two years later. Even at the last set of local elections held here in 2018, Labour won more votes but the Conservatives, due to the electoral boundaries, won the most seats.

This part of London is home to Conservative party voters that would be considered as ‘One Nation Tories, or ‘call me Dave voters’. The area voted to remain in the referendum and voters are turned off by the rhetoric of the Prime Minister.

Wandsworth has been transformed over recent years, the rise of Battersea Power Station, an Apple campus, the Nine-Elms development featuring the extended tube line as well as the United States Embassy and sky pool are a testament to how much the area has developed and grown.

The local Conservatives

The battle is a great example of local vs. national, can Labour win out against a popular local Conservative group that has presided over vast economic and social regeneration over the backdrop of partygate?

This is why, in Wandsworth, as well as at least seven councils across the country, the Conservative candidates will be on the ballot as ‘Local Conservatives’. It shows the satisfaction with the current administration running Wandsworth that in the Bedford ward by-election held in November, the Conservatives came withing one vote of gaining the seat from Labour.

It could not be clearer that the local party is desperately trying to distance itself from Boris Johnson, Instead, the Conservatives campaign is about a 40-year strong record on housing, an economic recovery, local living standards, weekly bin collections and value for money council tax.

Local pollsters are saying that the council will fall for the first time in over 40 years, the changing demographics and the tiredness of the current government mean that, at long last, Labour are set to gain the council.

Some ward boundary changes,  reduce the number of councillors by two down to fifty-eight but increase the number of wards mean that nothing is certain. The creation of a new ward for Nine Elms has promoted speculation about who will voting in the new ward, and how they might vote. The changes are neutral, but in a borough where every seat matters, nothing can be left to chance.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan won a majority of the wards in the 2021 Mayoral elections. If, somehow, the Conservatives do manage to hold on here, it would be a significant blow to Labour and deny Keir Starmer a real coup in the capital. Nevertheless the current pressure from the cost-of-living crisis and lockdown parties suggest that finally, Labour should win this time.

The Green Party & Liberal Democrats are also running candidates in every seat (except one). It will be interesting to see how many voters shift away from the two main challengers. Will the Greens pick up voters from dissatisfied left-leaning Labour voters? Will the same happen with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats? Neither will win a seat, but even a handful of voters can decide the outcome of the whole borough.

The ‘partygate’ scandal may well be the catalyst the borough needs to swing to Labour. The Conservatives have largely written off winning London back as a city, but should this happen, it will be a huge dent to the current Prime Minister and former Mayor of London’s premiership.

It might not be fair on local Conservatives who are highly regarded, but that’s politics.

Certainly one to watch on May 5th.

When: Tuesday 26th April 2022 , 08:30 – 10:30am (BST) 

Where: Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BT 

(Breakfast will be provided) 

To register for your free place, click here 

 

On Tuesday 26th April 2022 at 08:30, Copper Consultancy, specialists in communication and engagement, will be hosting ‘Net zero: A Material Consideration’, a panel discussion and networking breakfast for industry leaders in infrastructure and construction, to address key issues in the transition towards Net Zero. 

Hosted at The Building Centre in London, the free-to-attend event is set to attract talent and industry voices from experts in architecture, design, construction, product manufacturing, and multi-disciplinaries.  

The purpose of the event is to bring together representatives from leading organisations to generate tangible recommendations and come together to discuss best practice, lessons learned and recent innovations. This session will help to drive forward the debate and discussion on methods and tactics for achieving Net Zero. 

The panel session will be chaired by Belinda Gordon, Strategy Director at The Green Alliance. Belinda will be joined by James Woodall, Head of Sustainability at Allies and Morrison, and Marian Garfield, Director of Sustainability at Hanson UK Ltd. Additional panellists will be named closer to the event.  

The panel will consider some of the ways in which the built environment can address net zero carbon and explore the steps the industry is taking to increase the circularity of the construction industry economy.  

Ben Heatley, Managing Partner at Copper Consultancy, commented: “According to the World Green Building Council, buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy related carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions, from energy needed to heat, cool and power them, and the remaining 11% from materials and construction.  

“Driving down these emissions is front and centre of discussion and debate in our sector. Understanding what we can do to achieve the dramatic reductions in embodied carbon that are required to meet our ambitious net zero goals can help all players – from materials providers to design consultants, to map out a path to a low carbon future that delivers for people and place and returns a positive ROI.” 

 

Local Elections on Thursday 5 May 2022 will take place amidst a cost of living and energy security crisis, the war in Ukraine and the lingering impact of Covid-19.

We are following six battles across the UK, each of which will have significant implications for development and infrastructure plans locally and nationally.

The battlegrounds we are focusing on have been selected for a widespread reflection of policy and geography complexities influencing voters.

These elections provide an excellent platform to examine the public’s confidence in ‘levelling up’ and other major government policies.

We begin our series in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire as our Senior Account Manager Laura Cunliffe-Hall examines the cracks beneath the current Conservative stronghold in the area.

Newcastle-under-Lyme: the local picture

Current status: Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council CON majority (24 Conservative councillors, 18 Labour councillors, 2 Liberal Democrat councillors)

Local government borough, town and parish council elections will be taking place in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Thursday 5 May 2022. These elections will allow electors in Newcastle-under-Lyme to choose who they want to represent their community as a councillor.

Newcastle-under-Lyme has been an intriguing microcosm of the national political picture.

An ex-industrial area with a strong coal mining heritage, the town has been the recipient of dedicated investment funding from government to revitalise the local community and economy. However, the town centre has suffered from high vacancy rates even before the heavy impact of Covid-19 and latest statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) named the area of Chesterton and Knutton, just north of Newcastle, as the poorest area of Staffordshire, not including Stoke on Trent.

For context, Knutton (one of Labour’s safest wards in the Borough back in 2018) was dramatically swung by eight votes in November 2021 as Conservative candidate Derrick Huckfield edged out Labour’s Stephanie Talbot to take up a seat on Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. However, turnout (the amount of voters participating in the election) was only 18% – indicative of the challenge to engage voters and mobilise them to go out and vote in local elections.

Four independent councillors on Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council also joined the Conservatives in November 2021 – giving the Tories an overall majority on the authority for the first time in decades (with the Council having been under no overall control since 2015).

Regeneration and road investment

Regeneration has been a key focus for the Conservative councillors, despite opposition critiques that they focused on ‘every cut, every closure and every tax rise’. In line with the national ‘levelling up’ agenda, the Conservative-led council has positioned themselves as a strong proponent of infrastructure and high street investment, alongside local Conservative MP Aaron Bell.

Nearly 2,700 homes could be built in the borough over the next five years and the Council is currently developing its Local Plan, which will guide all development up to 2040.

To facilitate this growth, road improvements plans as part of a £1.8 million scheme will provide a cycle link from Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre into Stoke-on-Trent and resurface town pavements, following on from a public consultation.

However, many local residents are more focused upon a solution to the situation at Walley’s Quarry Landfill site, with gas odours from the site affecting residents for over a year, which the Leader of the Council has escalated to the Environment Agency. The recorded levels of Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) emitted from the site are above the World Health Organisation’s permitted levels at various times during most weeks.

Local people expect their politicians to be able to not only drive regeneration and provide interim solutions, but solve existing problems in the longer-term.

The local Labour Party councillors in Newcastle are focusing on energy security and rising energy bills, as well as unreliable and expensive public transport across North Staffordshire. The incumbent Conservative council, led by Council Leader Simon Tagg alongside Boris-Johnson critic MP Aaron Bell are focusing messages on investment in areas like Ryecroft, business and job creation. In late November 2021, the latter would have likely been more popular with voters.

However, in the present moment, energy security is at the forefront of both the news and voters’ concerns, therefore as we count down to 5 May every conversation on the doorstep with voters will count.

Blue or red: All eyes on Newcastle-under-Lyme

In traditional strongholds like Newcastle-under-Lyme, the Conservatives are facing major losses alongside areas such as Somerset, Wokingham, Crawley, Gosport, St Albans, Nuneaton, Pendal and Castlepoint.

The Conservatives are also staring at major losses in other strong areas, including a potential wipeout in London where they could lose control of Wandsworth, Barnet, Harrow and Sutton councils. We will examine the situation in Wandsworth in the next blog in our series.

Meanwhile the new Red Wall seats so dearly won from Labour are also increasingly vulnerable with council seats being defended in Dudley, Sandwell, Sunderland, Sheffield, Solihull and Bury due to strong Labour operations on the ground.

Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Labour Party, visited Newcastle-under-Lyme recently this month to discuss the impact of rising energy and fuel costs on the wider energy industry at KMF Precision Sheet Metal, one of the largest sheet metal engineering and metal fabrication companies in the UK. By making the visit to Newcastle a month in advance of local elections, Starmer indicated the strategic importance of the town for the Labour Party, as well as outlining what Labour could offer to voters locally: practical answers to the problems everyday voters struggle with including the cost of living crisis.

However, these are of course local elections, and many voters will be casting a vote that reflects local, not national political issues.

Whilst the Government has promised vast sums of investment in infrastructure in areas like Newcastle-under-Lyme, voters will be judging parties on their ability to deliver new investment, employment and placemaking to their region.

For parties to succeed, they must hone in their core messaging on how they will assist in the delivery of vital infrastructure at pace and take on the challenges of energy security affecting people’s bills, whilst also ensuring the views of local people are at the heart of all future decision making.

Whether the red or blue bunting will be put out in Newcastle-under-Lyme after the count on May 5 will be contingent on the public’s confidence in Labour and the Conservatives’, both locally and nationally, to deliver.

Copper Consultancy will be providing ongoing coverage of the May 2022 Local Elections. For more information, please contact Laura.Cunliffe-Hall@copperconsultancy.com

As the first quarter of 2022 comes to an end, we have been reflecting on and celebrating the achievements of Copper’s Construction Practice.

From a recruitment perspective we are delighted to have welcomed several new starters to the Construction Practice, to support a strong start to the year and further growth.

While our Director, Caroline Romback, has been appointed to the board of the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) as a non-executive director, enabling us to further contribute to knowledge and best practice sharing across our client, contractor and consultant audiences, and wider industry.

As part of that knowledge sharing, we’ve delivered a range of thought leadership campaigns. Back in February, our paper: ‘Levelling up: a construction perspective’, was published and unpacked across media/social media.  This document helped decipher the contents and reactions to Michael Gove’s Levelling Up White Paper, which sets out how the Government will spread levelling up opportunities more equally across the country and the impact these new policies will have on the construction sector. Our news story analyses the 12 topics incorporated in the paper and how this will impact the future of UK construction.

Also in February, we were proud to highlight talent across the industry as part of National Apprenticeship Week. We drew on the skills of individuals from our clients, featuring some incredible professionals from Transpennine Route Upgrade (East), National Highways, J.P Murphy and Sons, and Eiffage. All those who featured spoke with passion and authority on the benefits of recruiting apprentices.

In March, Copper hosted an industry leaders round table, in partnership with Construction News, focused on how we build back better with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Participating organisations, including HS2, Heathrow, Considerate Constructors Scheme and multiple Tier 1 contractors, shared their insights and best practice from across the sector.

We were also privileged to showcase a diverse range of leading women during Women in Construction Week and International Women’s Day, including features from inspirational women, such as Carolyne Ferguson from Kier Highways, Natalie Penrose from HS2, and our very own Fiona Woolston.

Copper is proud to ‘buck the trend’ with our Construction Practice having such a strong female presence. We’ve long been advocates for inclusivity in the Construction industry and are proud to practice what we preach.

March also saw us confirming our membership of Social Value UK, aligning with our Social Value specialism at Copper and an increasing focus in this area in support of contractors and clients developing early approaches at bid stage, through to on the ground delivery at construction stage.

Our final highlight for March is our response to the Spring Statement Report by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to highlight and explain what the government’s fiscal decisions mean for the UK Construction industry and its impact on our sector in the years to come.

We’re only three months in, but our plans for the rest of the year remain just as ambitious.  Our next exciting event is Net Zero: A Material Consideration. This breakfast panel discussion will feature construction product manufacturers, architects, contractors, and consultancies. It will consider some of the ways in which the built environment can address Net Zero carbon and explore the steps the industry is taking to increase the circularity of the construction industry.

We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Social Value Act by asking Social Value industry experts to contribute to a Copper podcast led campaign and insight report. We look forward to sharing the findings with our network.

We’ll also be attending UK Construction Week (London) in May 2022, the UK’s largest built environment event with various shows and stalls, allowing us to engage with our wider construction colleagues.

For more information on our work, or if you’re interested in discussing this article further, please get in touch with our Director, Caroline Romback, at: caroline.romback@copperconsultancy.com

It’s been 14 years since the introduction of the Planning Act 2008 and little has fundamentally changed in infrastructure planning since. It’s a well-known process and, in most parts, well-liked by the industry. But while the world has changed immeasurably since 2008, the process seems not to have evolved to suit. Andrew Weaver, Copper’s Director of Infrastructure, looks at what the British Energy Security Strategy (ESS) tells us about the future of infrastructure planning.

To meet the challenges of today, the government has signalled that change to infrastructure planning is coming. Consultation on making the regime quicker and more fit for purpose took place last year. And with the release of the ESS, the green shoots of change can be seen. The question remains, what change and will it be enough to deliver the infrastructure the country needs to reach net zero?

The government has set out a clear desire to consent infrastructure projects quicker, particularly in the energy sector. The ESS sets out their ambition to cut offshore wind consenting from up to four years down to one year. We understand the saving is in reference to the period after DCO submission. Promoters and developers will be delighted I’m sure.

There is mention of trimming the timescales for the examination process. Given the Government’s record on sticking to existing timescales for decisions – around a third of applications under Boris Johnson’s premiership have been delayed at the point of decision – it is doubtful this is really going to make the difference.

Updates to National Policy Statements are promised and there is recognition of the need to consider how projects interact with each other, potentially grouping applications to enable a holistic approach to delivery. Both of these are long overdue. From a public perspective seeing projects for energy transmission in isolation to each other let alone the energy production has long been a difficult subject to explain. It would be good to see this rolled out to other sectors where understanding of the end product is essential to consenting its constituent parts – carbon capture storage springs to mind.

There is little more to add at this stage. Perhaps the Queen’s Speech will reveal more.

In the meantime, for me, greater change is surely required to meet our country’s need for speed. Planning needs to be simplified and offer the certainty and clarity promised back when the current regime was instigated in 2008. Change needs to go further than cherry picking certain types of infrastructure such as offshore wind and solar. It needs to be wholesale so that there is a consistent approach that the public and stakeholders can quickly understand and engage with.

The process also needs to become more transparent and less legally thick. To paraphrase Kwasi Kwarteng, you can’t build infrastructure where people don’t want it. The public support infrastructure projects if they can see how they would individually benefit from them. Ensuring there is a clear understanding around the need for projects and taking the public on the journey through the planning process is critical to timely delivery. Having a clear process to base these messages off is essential. Government has a role to plan in owning this message and communicating it to communities.

Change is needed and is coming. We’re seeing the shoots in the ESS and as an industry we should be ready to embrace it. We’ve got a good process to build on. Now it’s about stripping this back and dealing with what is essential to making a decision.

After weeks of wrangling in the Cabinet, the Government has finally released its much-anticipated energy strategy – the British Energy Security Strategy. Copper’s Energy Director, Sam Cranston gives his thoughts on the new plan for Britain’s energy future.

As the contents of the strategy were widely circulated by the media in the weeks leading up to its release, it was well known that nuclear energy and offshore wind would form the backbone of the document. What we were uncertain about, until its publication, was the Government’s position on onshore wind and fracking. And, well, I’m not sure we’re any clearer. For now, we know that onshore wind will be subject to consultation, and there will be an impartial technical review on the safety of fracking.

It is clear that the UK needed an updated approach to energy, especially in light of the war in Ukraine. It is also refreshing to see the Government being bold in its ambitions for building a power supply that, in the words of the Prime Minister, is “made in Britain, for Britain”. However, just like the ten point plan for a green industrial revolution and the Net Zero Strategy, the devil will be in the detail.

The key highlights include:

  • Delivering up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030
  • Working with a ‘limited number’ of communities to bring forward onshore wind
  • Growing solar five-fold (to 70GW) by 2035
  • Increasing ambitions for nuclear to 24GW by 2050
  • Maximising North Sea oil and gas production as part of the energy transition
  • Boosting hydrogen production to 10GW by 2030

Wind

On offshore wind, the strategy reemphasises Boris Johnson’s 2020 commitment – to turn the UK  into the Saudi Arabia of wind power generation. There’s no doubt that the sector is making huge ground on the original ‘40 by 30’ target, as shown by Vattenfall’s and Scottish Power’s recent success.

The revised target of ‘50 by 30’ has been welcomed by the industry. But achieving this will require a further step-change.

Helpfully, the strategy commits to reducing the consenting period to one year (a 75% reduction) to fast-track new developments. However, there is little detail on the proposed changes to the Planning Act 2008.

Despite having a dedicated section in the document, and an acknowledgement that it is “one of the cheapest forms of renewable power”, the Government’s approach to onshore wind remains vague. Emphasis will likely be on developers to demonstrate local support, which our recent polling shows is strong, suggesting a clear backing for prioritising onshore wind projects. But what constitutes “clear support” – as the strategy puts it – remains unclear.

Reactions from the sector have been critical, with many pointing out that onshore wind could be the quickest way to reach net zero cheaply and securely.

Solar

The strategy commits to increasing solar five-fold by 2035, from 14GW to 70GW. Much like offshore wind, the industry has welcomed this ambition. We eagerly await details over the new consultation requirements, as well as amendments to the current planning rules, which will support these new developments.

Nuclear

Nuclear power has been at the heart of the Government’s energy security plans for some time, and the PM is clearly a fan of making Britain a pioneer of nuclear once again, for both large-scale plants and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The strategy outlines a number of funding and policy commitments that have been made to accelerate the growth of nuclear, and we’re now waiting to see how the sector can transform the Government’s rhetoric into tangible action.

Tidal

Our recent polling showed strong public support for tidal power, but the strategy only gives it a single reference (under ‘other technologies’), which is unlikely to offer much reassurance to developers looking to bring forward new projects.

Oil & Gas

The Government sees the expansion of North Sea oil and gas extraction as critical to fuelling the transition to net zero and reducing bills, whilst removing our reliance on overseas imports. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with fierce opposition from various environmental groups. However, the strategy does commit to ensuring efforts to decarbonise the industry, as well as funding for new carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) clusters across the country.

Transmission

Expanding and speeding up the delivery of the UK’s new electricity transmission network didn’t make headlines when the strategy was released. But it is a critical component of the Government’s vision. Without a grid to connect to, 50GW of offshore wind and 70GW of Solar will be useless, so it’s helpful to see the network upgrade as a key component of the new strategy.

What next

For now, we shall wait and see how these commitments play out in reality. In the absence of significant policy reform, one thing is certain about this strategy: community engagement will be critical to its success. Our recent polling shows there is national and local support for new renewable projects, the job now is to build on that support and deliver a system that provides sustainable, reliable and cheap energy for the decades to come.

Rapidly rising oil and gas prices, combined with the war in Ukraine, have pushed energy supply security to the top of the Government’s policy agenda – the PM is expected to unveil the UK’s new Energy Strategy this week.

New research published today by Copper Consultancy shows that the public overwhelmingly supports the Government’s move to shore up the country’s security of energy supply, and back the development of onshore wind to support this.

Over 78 per cent of those surveyed believe the UK needs to become more self-sufficient in generating its energy. As well as expressing support for addressing the issue in principle, most people said they want to see a range of renewable technologies prioritised for development.

Contrary to current political thinking, a large section of the public back the mass expansion of onshore wind – 38 per cent favour this. Such support rises to 40 per cent among those who voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 election.

These findings suggest the Government is unlikely to get the level of pushback from its supporters that some ministers and other MPs expect, with the research showing that the majority have become more likely to support proposed energy projects in their local area over the last six months.

The nationally representative polling has revealed that public opinion on the remainder of the Government’s energy priorities is in line with current political rhetoric, as 45 per cent believe offshore wind should be prioritised and 37 per cent support the expansion of large scale solar, with backing for nuclear energy slightly cooler at 24 per cent.

The energy and cost of living crises have inspired a radical policy rethink, as industries previously considered taboo, such as fracking, are apparently back on the table for Ministers. With this increase in policy flexibility, combined with mounting evidence in support of onshore wind, we shouldn’t discount another change of heart from Number 10 before the Energy Strategy is published.

Sam Cranston, Energy Director at Copper, said: “Our research challenges current thinking, showing clear, continued public support for the UK’s move towards renewables, and that consumers want action to address rising prices and provide national security of our energy supply.

“Such public backing should give confidence to developers and the wider industry to continue their sustained drive to meet the Government’s 2050 net zero target”

Contact Sam Cranston for further information.