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‘Ambitious’ GBC Climate Change Plan Approved But £59m Cost Shows Scale of Challenge

Published on: 4 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 6 Mar, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

The long awaited Climate Change Action Plan setting out how Guildford Borough Council (GBC) would hit net zero carbon emissions by 2030 was approved by the council’s Executive on Thursday (February 23) and was hailed as “ambitious” by the council.

The plan includes air source heat pumps for the entire council’s estate, more energy efficiency, and upgrading the GBC vehicle fleet including 46 refuse lorries to electric vehicles.

Even then, 5MW of solar power generation, in scale around 40 per cent of what is being proposed by the University of Surrey’s 12.2MW solar farm at Blackwell Farm, and tree planting would be needed to offset the remaining carbon emissions.

The cost to implement the plan was estimated to be around £59 million, highlighting the scale of the challenge faced.

The 57 page action plan report warned: “The council is very unlikely to have the available funds to meet this cost in the first instance”.

Mark Stamp from Zero Carbon Guildford “welcomed publication of this long awaited plan and looked forward to working with the council to make it a reality” but he would not describe the plan as “ambitious”.

He said, as funding was yet to be secured, it “makes hitting the 2030 net zero target a huge doubt” adding that he encouraged “central government to increase the amount of funding available” for climate change projects.

George Potter speaking about the climate change action plan at the GBC executive on February 23.

Lead for Climate Change at GBC, George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham), who had told The Dragon in November 2022 the 2030 target was a risk but would be missed by “by one or two years at worst”, said: “We are facing the biggest threat to our existence ever and have limited powers, resources and finances to make the changes necessary.

“This is why we have declared an emergency. Because an emergency requires us to make an extraordinary effort.”.

GBC carbon emissions have reduced by 45 per cent since 2008 but it is not enough says the Climate Change Action Plan.

The plan sets out the national and local background to the climate crisis and states GBC, who account for one per cent of the borough’s carbon emissions, has already reduced its carbon emissions by 45 per cent since 2008, around a 3 per cent reduction each year.

But this is not fast enough, says APSE Energy who calculated carbon emissions for GBC, unless air source heat pumps were installed (estimated to cost £26 million at today’s prices), the GBC vehicle fleet transitioned to electric (£27 million) and energy efficiencies made (£1 million).

Carbon offsetting would also be needed by generating 5MW solar power annually (£4.5 million) and tree planting (£12,200).

A spokesperson for Guildford Liberal Democrats said the plan was “a massive step towards the Liberal Democrat vision of a thriving and sustainable future for Guildford and our villages”.

They said “developing the plan has taken longer than we would have liked, largely due to the combination of the disruption of the Covid pandemic and difficulties in recruiting skilled climate change officers”. It would “position Guildford to play its part in tackling the climate crisis.

“Climate change is an important topic for many people across Guildford borough and who they vote for in the local elections in May will determine whether this issue is taken seriously, locally. The Liberal Democrats are committed to delivering the action plan and making Guildford a leader in tackling the climate emergency.”

Brian Creese, chair of the Guildford Labour Party.

Brian Creese, Guildford Labour chair said: “It has taken four long years for the Lib Dem and R4GV council to actually produce a climate change plan, perhaps because there have been at least three different climate change leads in that time. I wonder if we would have had a plan at all if it were not for the upcoming local elections?

“Guildford lags behind other local councils in its response to the climate crisis. According to the comparative Councils Climate Plan scoresheet, Waverley Council’s response is measured as 76%, while Guildford languishes on 39%.

“The plan has very little to say about creating an infrastructure allowing residents to reduce their carbon footprints. Given the huge impact of transport on local carbon figures, there are a few words in support of the Active Travel Plan (walking and cycling) but almost nothing on creating an infra-structure for encouraging electric cars in Guildford or supporting greater use of public transport. How about re-starting the Park & Ride from the Spectrum?

“Overall, as we might expect from this council, this is too little, far too late, too unambitious and too unimaginative.”

Mark Stamp of Zero Carbon Guildford.

Mark Stamp from Zero Carbon Guildford said the plan was not “a step change”. He said “three and a half years after declaring a climate emergency, many of the measures proposed do not have a quantified carbon reduction impact and so urge the council to quickly place carbon reduction at the heart of everything that the council is delivering”.

“The council is right to highlight transport as a key focus area and we suggest appointing a councillor to lead on creating a joined up transport plan for Guildford encompassing parking, EV charging, roads and public transport by working with Surrey CC, government agencies and the private sector.

“We would also encourage the council to set bold planning policies in excess of the national policy to stop new houses being connected to the gas grid and to be more energy efficient and adaptable to a changing climate. Large scale planned developments, such as Slyfield, should be mandated to use local heat networks or other technologies to conserve energy.”

We asked R4GV, Guildford Conservatives, GGG, The Green Party and the Guildford Environment Forum for a comment.

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Responses to ‘Ambitious’ GBC Climate Change Plan Approved But £59m Cost Shows Scale of Challenge

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 4, 2023 at 5:46 am

    The proposed plans will be more than offset by the massive house building allowed by the Local Plan. The huge amount of concrete being laid will alone ensure this.

    I will only believe GBC is serious about the climate emergency if it carries out a full review of the Local Plan, which is proving disastrous to our environment.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    March 4, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    Q. What is the biggest lever that GBC can pull?
    A. The Local Plan.

    Q. What is the biggest source of CO2 emissions in the borough?
    A. Emissions from cars and lorries.

    Q. How to reduce car transport emissions?
    A. Make the public transport systems better. Two new train stops would be a good start. How about a tram system serving Burpham, Merrow, the University/Hospital and Bellfields?
    And put the right houses in the right places. That means getting rid of unsustainable sites that depend 100% on cars and the A3 and that have no access to jobs, services or mass transit systems.

    Just doing that would probably do more to reduce emissions than the current proposals.

    • George Potter Reply

      March 8, 2023 at 11:21 am

      To respond to the points from Mr Paton:

      1. The Local Plan is not the biggest lever that GBC can pull, for the simple reason that national planning law and regulations do not currently allow us to do any more than we have already done with our climate change and sustainability planning policies:

      2. Transport is definitely one of the biggest sources of emissions in the borough, but GBC is not the transport authority. Transport is, in fact, the responsibility of SCC. Two new train stations (Park Barn and Merrow) are supported within the Local Plan, and GBC are trying to work with SCC to get it to improve sustainable transport in the borough.

      3. Car-dependent developments are absolutely anathema to sustainability, but tackling climate change does not mean that we should be denying people homes to live in. It would be great if the government actually followed through on some of its proposed planning changes (for once) and enabled a re-think of how and where housing should be built, but until then GBC has to work within the confines of the system that we currently have.

      I will also point out that Mr Paton (whom The Dragon has failed to identify as a GGG political activist and former candidate) seems to take the same stance on this as the rest of the GGG political party.

      Namely: They are opposed to building houses in the town centre on the grounds of harming the low-rise skyline, but are also opposed to extending the town at the edges. They are opposed to expanding existing villages which already have public transport links, but are also opposed to building new villages without transport links.

      At this point it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that GGG don’t actually care about climate change, and are just looking for any excuse they can find for opposing all housebuilding absolutely everywhere.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

      Editor’s response: Ben Paton is a former Conservative and, more latterly, GGG candidate. Our rule of thumb is to identify individuals who have leadership roles (eg as councillors or committee members) in political parties but we can only do this where known by us or where declared by the correspondent. We have, in the past, requested all local parties to comply but it would not be possible, or proper, to show every political party membership.

      • Ben Paton Reply

        March 8, 2023 at 9:47 pm

        This is a good example of George Potter’s favourite tactic of putting nonsense into other people’s mouths and then saying it is nonsense.
        No one is fooled.

      • Ben Paton Reply

        March 9, 2023 at 2:55 pm

        I am not a paid-up, card-carrying member of GGG and do not speak for it. I am not standing for election. I sympathise with GGG’s aims. But then I sympathise with some of the aims of most of the parties. I certainly sympathise with building council houses – as my letters to the Dragon prove. I am NOT taking the same stance as GGG, I am stating my own opinion.

        As for Mr Potter’s statements of GGG’s “stance”, it is obviously NOT as Mr Potter represents it. Mr Potter’s statements are demonstrably false and untrue.

        I guess GGG does care about Climate Change.

        GGG does not oppose housebuilding “absolutely everywhere”.

        GGG is not opposed to building villages that have transport links – it just says that the green belt and green field sites should a) be protected and b) be lower priority than brownfield sites close to jobs, services and mass transit systems – eg North Street.

        GGG is probably not opposed to building “new villages” in sustainable locations. The planned “New Town” on Three Farms Meadow is not a “village”. It is the third largest settlement in the borough after only Guildford and Ash/Tongham.

        What’s wrong with it? Simply that it is in a completely unsustainable location. By all means build houses – but put them in the right places.

        What I take issue with is people who make grandiose promises that they could never deliver implement, even if elected. A promise to build 3,000 council houses would be laudable if there was any prospect that anyone could deliver it.

        The trouble is that the council just does not have the means to do that. There are only 5,000 or so council houses to start with. It has taken many decades to build up that stock. It is just not credible to promise to increase the stock of council houses by 60 per cent.

        If Mr Potter cannot do anything about Climate Change in the borough or about the Local Plan then his policies are all “big hat and no cattle”.

        Guildford has had enough follies de grandeur as it is without adding to them.

      • Christopher Campbell Reply

        March 9, 2023 at 4:29 pm

        Looking at Mr Paton’s sound and straightforward suggestions it is a shame that Cllr Potter, rather than discussing these objectively, appears to attempt to turn this into a party political point. He not only makes severe criticism of another party but seems to preach on that party’s policies.

        If Cllr Potter simplistically finds that “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that GGG don’t actually care about climate change” I would suggest he reads their manifesto, as I just took the trouble to do, and he may draw a different conclusion. I see that their policy reads very differently to his assertion stating: “To help head off climate disaster, GGG campaigns for action against the loss of greenfields and biodiversity”.

        It goes on to say “We champion the building of the right homes in the right place”.

        This is a very big question for GBC given the pressure from central government being ameliorated by the recent statement from Michael Gove, on allowing local councils to do exactly that.

        Whilst I subscribe to no particular party, we must respect all parties’ policies and not lower ourselves to flagrant misrepresentation of another party nor criticism of one of the electorate; such a lack of honesty and integrity can only lead to a lack of respect and indeed trust of the promulgator.

        Tackling the climate emergency deserves a serious approach from all.

      • Frances Porter Reply

        March 10, 2023 at 9:42 am

        Such a shame that Cllr Potter seem to be taking the same line as so many others to just criticise others.

        We are all in the mess together and we need people that have everyone’s best interests at heart. No one has all the answers so we should all work together and take the best bits of each party’s policy to make Guildford a place to be envied.

      • Jules Cranwell Reply

        March 13, 2023 at 7:26 am

        It seems that Cllr Potter is determined to take over the mantle of the 2019 Tories as the nasty party.

        It is regrettable that he responds to all comments by insulting and attacking residents.

  3. Andrew Calladine Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 2:46 pm

    Guildford Borough Council or Surrey County Council will never reduce car use until they develop and implement a cohesive and practical walking and cycling network and infrastructure in Guildford. Until that happens, nothing will change and car dependency will continue to increase leaving Guildford a less attractive place for people to live and work.

  4. David Roberts Reply

    March 10, 2023 at 2:16 pm

    Dragon readers must be tired of Cllr Potter’s seeming inability to comment without personal attacks on ordinary residents – in this case Mr Paton who, like me, has supported GGG but holds no party-political position. This is inappropriate behaviour coming from a local politician who is paid two lots of allowances (as a borough and a county councillor) from our taxes. His party should require him to observe the Nolan Principles obligation to treat others with respect.

    Polemics are particularly ill-judged in this case since Mr Paton’s points don’t seem particularly controversial and, by their own admission, the Lib Dems have no party position on planning matters anyway. There is only Potter policy, which here appears to consist of doing nothing and blaming everyone else – the Tory government, Surrey County Council and poor old GGG, whose tiny contingent on the council he absurdly depicts as rampaging Nimbies blasting the hopes of future generations.

    Judging by their website (, GGG do have a coherent approach to planning, which other parties would do well to emulate as the May 4 local elections approach.

    Whoever they vote for in these elections, it’s not hard to see what residents are looking for:

    • They want national politicking kicked out of local government and grown-up debate and cooperation among elected local representatives.
    • They want the defective Tory Local Plan fixed and housing targets brought into line with up-to-date population data instead of inflated nine-year-old guestimates.
    • They want cheaper homes (not fake “affordable” ones) and more social housing.
    • They want routine planning applications processed promptly annd an end to special favours to big developers.
    • They want to save Guildford’s green belt and countryside from further erosion, so as to incentivise the regeneration of the town.
    • They want new homes built where people want to live.
    • They want megalomaniac, car-dependent projects like “Wisley New Town” scrapped.
    • They want sensitive urban design with height restrictions.
    • They want no development without proper infrastructure provision.
    • They want concrete measures to tackle the climate emergency, making the environment, air quality and biodiversity more central in planning decisions.
    • And they want efficient, transparent delivery based on clear manifesto commitments, value for money, councillor integrity, officer impartiality and greater respect for community groups, parish councils and Neighbourhood Plans.

    Who will be our champions?

    Not, I fear, the stale old Tory councillors who foisted the Local Plan on us in 2019. Not the wayward Lib Dems who (apart from the voluble Cllr Potter) stubbornly refuse to say what they think. Not our old local Labour stalwarts who support the Tory Plan and who don’t seem to grasp the new green direction of their national party. Not the marginal Greens, with their irrelevant support for wealth taxes and Scottish independence.

    But there is some hope that, given an absolute majority on the council, local parties and independents could finally start to implement the reasonable priorities that residents have been shouting about for years.

    • Mark Bray-Parry Reply

      March 10, 2023 at 8:46 pm

      “Greens, with their irrelevant support for wealth taxes and Scottish independence…”

      If Mr Roberts wants to pick out national policies, of course they will likely be less relevant. However, The Green Party has entirely separate local government policies focussed on active travel, social housing, and the cost of living crisis. All things, I’m sure we can agree, are relevant to Guildford.

      Unlike GGG (and R4GV for that matter), The Green Party has a record of delivering on their campaigns. The Lewes model created a financial package that has enabled the retrofitting of 40,000 social homes, making essential cost savings to some of the poorest in society. Green-led Brighton continues to deliver 150+ new social housing each year, while Guildford’s R4GV/Lib Dem coalition find themselves approximately 3,000 homes short of the 3,000 that the Lib Dems promised.

      So by all means attack Tory and Lib Dems record in Guildford. Mr Roberts certainly has some justification in doing so. But it is somewhat ironic to view Lib Dem “polemics” while making spurious statements about The Green Party.

  5. Susan Parker Reply

    March 12, 2023 at 10:27 am

    Why the attack on GGG? We had a motion passed to recognise the climate change crisis and it was GGG that set up the working party to address climate change (then emasculated by the subsequent administration); GGG had a motion passed noting the importance of air quality; GGG have lobbied to have zero carbon buildings and carbon capture.

    With just four councillors out of 48 (three in the last administration and for a period following the tragic death of my colleague Patrick Sheard) we have punched well above our weight.

    What has the Green Party delivered to Guildford?

    • Mark Bray-Parry Reply

      March 13, 2023 at 5:29 pm

      I agree with Susan Parker. GGG has been the most effective party campaigning for environmental protection, and I’ve always been impressed with Susan’s knowledge and passion for the environment.

      My comment wasn’t an attack on GGG but a response to David Roberts who chose to represent GGG as the only party with relevant local policies on the environment and, in doing so, opted to misrepresent The Green Party locally as standing on national issues unrelated to Guildford (Scottish independence is even a devolved matter and not something The England and Wales Green Party have a position on).

      The Green Party has plenty of examples where councils led or jointly led by Greens have delivered on a wide range of local issues relevant to Guildford. Drawing a comparison between GGG and The Green Party in this regard is reasonable.

  6. David Roberts Reply

    March 14, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    My point was simply that The Greens, as a national party, are too distracted by national politics to achieve anything meaningful to protect the environment in Guildford. Tellingly, Mr Bray-Parry offers us no examples of the latter.

    He has tried to argue in the past that GGG is a “single issue” party whereas the Greens’ policies on social justice and national issues enhance and complement their local activity.

    There might be some truth in this self-portrait. But it would be fair to say that most Guildford residents see The Greens as unreliable eco-socialists whose local government record in places like Brighton has been awful, and wouldn’t even trust them to get the bins emptied.

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