Questions from the Public

Overview and Scrutiny 5 September 2019

Has this Council consulted its employees on their views about the ethics and potential financial risks of investing their pension funds in fossil fuel industries?

The Council’s past and present employees were enrolled into the Devon Pension Fund (that was administered by Devon County Council (DCC)). The Investment Strategy was set by the DCC Investment and Pension Fund Committee.

UNISON representatives were included as non-voting members of the Committee. Each year, DCC held an Annual Consultative Meeting, which was open to all members of the Pension Fund. This included presentations on the Pension Fund’s Investment Strategy and performance and provided the opportunity for Pension Fund members to ask questions and raise issues. The last two annual consultative meetings had both included presentations on responsible investment including issues around Climate Change.

The Devon Pension Fund’s current approach was to manage the risks in relation to Climate Change and to promote change through engagement with companies rather than through disinvestment. The Devon Pension Fund was a member of the International Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC).

How will the Council ensure that the forthcoming Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan Supplementary Planning Document will fully accord with the emerging Climate Action Plans for the South Hams and for Devon? What options are being explored to ensure the construction of zero-carbon homes and to enable the provision of local renewable energy projects in accord with the recommendations of the ‘South West Devon Strategic Energy Study’ (2013)?

The Plymouth and South West Devon Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) provided guidance on the application of policies in the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan (JLP), which was adopted in March 2019. The JLP set out a strategy that aimed to direct new development to the most sustainable locations, which contained a target to reduce carbon emissions across the plan area by 50% on 2005 levels by 2034, and which had detailed policies which would require developers to implement low carbon building techniques (Policy DEV32) and which enable the provision of local renewable energy projects (Policy DEV33).

Additionally, the JLP also supported community-led energy efficiency and energy generation projects. The SPD would provide detailed guidance on how these DEV policies should be applied when planning applications were being considered. It should, however, be noted that the SPD could not introduce new policy measures – new policy could only be introduced through a Local Plan, for example the review and update of the JLP.

Supplementary Question: Is the Council aware of the legal obligation to set robust evidence-based carbon reduction targets and to make these central to Local Plans – and are the Council and its partners therefore preparing to incorporate carbon reduction targets into the Joint Local Plan in light of the recent threat of legal action against Councils that failed to do this?

In her response, the Leader felt that she had at least partially answered this question in her original reply and highlighted that the three partner councils in the JLP area had all declared their own Climate Change Emergency. Whilst a particularly technical area, the Leader assured Mr Vint that planning officers were fully aware of the Council’s obligations in this respect. Furthermore, the aforementioned SPD was proposed to make reference to a requirement for the majority of planning applications to include a supporting energy statement.

What progress has been made since May in investigating opportunities for investing in Solar Photovoltaic Panels over Council owned car parks, on Follaton House, and on other Council-owned properties – including those leased to tenants? Have any solar energy businesses been invited to submit proposals to the Council?

The Council is serious about its provision of renewable energy and reducing its carbon footprint and energy usage not only being generated by the Council, but also by our tenants and residents.

Cllr Baldry (in his capacity as lead Executive Member for the Environment) and the Assets Head of Practice have recently met with an organisation that was able to offer the provision of Solar Photovoltaic Panels across our estate.

This organisation had since concluded that our rental properties were unviable for any provision and that Follaton House was already well provisioned. However, there was felt to be scope with our Leisure Centre buildings and officers had put the organisation in touch with Fusion (our Leisure provider) and had also offered, as a Council, to work in partnership with Fusion to investigate the potential for a Council funded opportunity to be established. The investigations into Council owned car parks were ongoing.