Leaders Column; October 2021
We certainly do live in volatile and uncertain times. Recent weeks seem to have delivered a never ending stream of difficult issues. One of which, the soaring price of energy, appears to me to be at least in part the result of a failure to have a robust energy policy and set of strategies that would give us a reliable energy supply that would keep our lights on. Our energy infrastructure is far more fragile than most people realise, our fleet of nuclear power stations is ageing rapidly and most will cease operation within the next decade. This has been tediously predictable for a long time. The North Sea oil and gas fields have been in decline for decades and the infrastructure is also ageing. Ageing infrastructure has a bad habit of being less reliable. We have allowed our main gas storage facility to be closed. Furthermore we have invested heavily in renewable energy, one of the key features of which is its variability in supply.
Most of this was predictable well over a decade ago and yet the issues were kicked down the road. The difficulty with that approach is that the road finally runs out and there are no cheap, quick fix solutions. The investment needed to ensure that we have a reliable supply of energy will be huge, and some of it, like nuclear power will be controversial. So will the idea of needing gas, a fossil fuel, well into the future. The choice is, however, pretty straightforward, it’s either nuclear and, into the medium term, gas or the lights go out from time to time. I will reprise what I said in my last column, people don’t like uncomfortable reality and they do not like having to make tough choices. Leadership, to me means making it very clear what the reality is and spelling out the tough choices that need to be made. The longer the can is kicked down the road then the greater the likely disruption and the more expensive the solution.
Where all that I have said has real resonance locally is with the South Warwickshire Plan we are developing. The plan will run to 2050, for most people this is far into the future. However, the ramifications last far longer, for example houses built, even in 2030, will last well into the next century. Because of climate change we can no longer assume that the world will remain the same. Far too many people see climate change solely in terms of mitigation. However, as the Environment Agency put in in their report last week.
“Limiting carbon emissions is the most effective way to combat climate change, but while mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives. Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly,…”
(Living better with a Changing Climate; The Environment Agency October 2021)
This is why we have asked the Met Office to create a scenario on the impact of a 3 degree increase in temperature on the District. This may well be the reality, even if many people will be reluctant to accept it. We are determined to base our plans on what we see as a very plausible, and increasingly likely, reality and that will mean some tough choices about where development can take place. We are also focussing on the long term, so, for example, the Wellesbourne Campus will be one of the main engines of growth and prosperity in South Warwickshire so we want to make sure that its development and growth is not constrained for the next 50 years. There are times when one simply has to take a long term view to secure the future of our District.
This is perhaps a real reflection on how the role of a councillor has changed, we now not only have to deal with the immediate and local we have to deal with shaping the future for generations to come in an increasingly complex world.
One final point, we are about to embark on the budget setting process for the period 2022/23 to 2026/27, we have to do this secure in the knowledge that we will not be informed of the settlement from central government until mid-December. Even then we will only get a settlement for one year. The merger we are seeking with Warwick District puts us in a better place to manage this nonsensical situation.