Mapping a route to local clean growth

Clearing the path to net zero

Author: Joe Fyans, Grace Newcombe & Zayn Qureshi   |  

Mapping a route to local clean growth

Download PDF

The UK is committed to reaching net zero by 2050, with numerous pieces of legislation enshrining the target and backing this politically. Understanding what needs to be done to drive decarbonisation, and what accompanying opportunities there are for increasing prosperity in the long-term, is crucial to realising this goal. Across the public sector landscape, this boils down in place to the position and active role of local government. Mapping a route to clean local growth is a landmark, expansive study into how local government can best drive decarbonisation and promote clean local growth, as well as what central government must do to better enable local action.

Summary documents

Report chapter downloads

Key points

The key challenges facing local government in delivering clean local growth are:

  • Strategic planning across boundaries. The challenges of clean growth are felt acutely at the local level, but action must be coordinated at a variety of different spatial scales if they are to be effectively addressed, from the regional to the hyper-local.
  • Addressing the skills deficit. From home insulation to modern sustainable land management, upskilling is needed both within local authorities and across local economies if we are to achieve sustainable growth.
  • Stimulating local markets and driving inward investment. Whilst the public sector must be at the forefront of mapping the route to clean local growth, this must be in the context of providing opportunities for the private sector to innovate and drive productivity, in the stable economic context that long-term vision can provide.

In addressing these challenges, across all sectors examined in this report, local government must lean on its soft power as place leader as the driving force of action, taking a holistic approach to economic strategy throughout – where decarbonisation is understood as a cross-sectoral, cross-departmental mission.

Across the key sectors for decarbonisation:

  1. Housing and the built environment
  2. Energy
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Transport and infrastructure
  5. Land management

There are five key points of action for local leaders:

  1. Rethink your area’s local plan so that it becomes the local driving force behind decarbonisation and clean growth- ensuring housing and economic needs are met sustainably. The local plan should be used to demand the highest energy efficiency standards, set out a timetable for retrofit, and become the ultimate guide to the fulfilment of your area’s net-zero goals.
  2. Councils should conduct green energy reviews. These should set out what community energy projects and renewable energy assets exist in the local area and provide an understanding of the potential scope for increasing local, sustainable energy generation.
  3. Engage local businesses, especially manufacturers, as they embark on or accelerate their passage on their decarbonisation journey. Engagement and expert advice, and a culture of cross-sector collaboration can bring about a just transition to net-zero industry.
  4. Review active travel policies to evaluate the scope to change the travel behaviour among parts of your local demographic which have been reluctant to adapt.
  5. Develop a holistic land use strategy for your area so that carbon-intensive land use is offset and meet multiple objectives to increase biodiversity, flood and climate resilience and improve food security.

Report recommendations


  • The government must fully recommit to Net Zero and, responding to the Supreme Court decision of July 2022, produce a detailed and costed strategy for achieving decarbonisation of the economy.
  • Given the fraught economic situation and lack of available extra funding from the exchequer, central government must launch a comprehensive review of the fiscal mechanisms available to local government to fund decarbonisation and clean growth projects.=

Housing and the built environment

  • Raise the standards for net zero local plans in the revised National Planning Policy Framework:
    • Make specific reference to the targets agreed to in the Paris Agreement and the role of local planning in achieving the goal.
    • Include a requirement for emission reduction targets at the local level.
    • Set targets for green and blue infrastructure provision.
    • Set requirement for inclusion of low-carbon heat technologies in new developments.
    • Set stringent mitigation obligations for new developments.
    • Produce a long-term plan for building stock decarbonisation with regional breakdowns of supply and demand for retrofit.
  • As part of the overall measures to bring down energy costs and support people through the cost-of-living crisis, government must find and set aside money for a long-term retrofit programme, to give industry the surety needed to ramp up investment in the necessary skills and materials.


  • Commit to renewable energy and abandon plans to further extract fossil fuels from the North Sea and to frack for shale gas in England.
  • Produce legislation to bring forward the Local Skills Improvement Plans as laid out in the Levelling Up White Paper, with an emphasis on the delivery of new green skills for retrofit.
  • Produce a comprehensive legal framework for Local Area Action Plans, as was scoped by Ofgem and BEIS in late 2021.


  • Launch a new wave of enterprise zones to help support the transition to net zero in the manufacturing sector whilst also growing regional productivity.
  • Attach skills provision to enterprise zones through Local Skills Improvement Plans, ensuring that approval for zones is granted only on demonstration of a viable local skills supply chain for businesses in the target sector.

Transport and infrastructure

  • Bring forward a new Transport Act:
    • Create a legal framework for integrated transport strategies across the country with carbon reduction targets and responsibilities.
    • Give councils powers to incentivise bus operators to decarbonise through local regulation.
  • Create a mechanism to increase transport revenue funding to local authorities proportionate to the percentage of local public transport which is net zero.

Land management

  • Reaffirm support for nature recovery and the protection of the environment in planning regulations.
  • Give councils power to act on privately-held flood defences
  • Create a comprehensive, cross-departmental national land management framework – so that councils and landowners are aware of the different options for decarbonisation and how these aggregate up to a national reduction in emissions.

Project kindly sponsored by:

Download PDF