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Ambitious environment plans announced by Essex County Council

Lifestyle / Sun 4th Apr 2021 at 10:03am

AMBITIOUS plans for an additional 50,000 trees, more electric vehicle charging stations and county-wide energy saving LED street lighting have been made by Essex County Council as part of its 2021/22 annual plan.

The Council’s 2021/22 Budget and 12-month Organisation Plan, approved at Full Council on 23 February, includes £26.8 million investment in LED streetlighting and £7.3 million for greener, safer Active Travel to ensure the Council builds on its commitment for Essex to be a great place to grow up, live and work. 

In 2019 Innovate UK awarded Essex County Council, GRIDSERVE, Brunel University and Upside Energy, £5.3M to develop and deliver UK’s first Electric Forecourt. The Forecourt, which includes co-location of 24 EV charging bays, multi MW on-site battery storage and solar PV canopy, opened in December 2020. The project gives the Authority an opportunity to support community engagement, awareness and education activities, promote a low-carbon agenda regionally and the uptake of electric vehicles.

The Council has committed to support funding to plant 375,000 trees by 2025 as part of the Essex Forest Initiative to offset carbon emissions. Two years ago, it planned to spend £1 million with partners over five years for the Essex Forest project. In 2019/20 ECC has worked with partners to plant 36,000 trees with a further 50,000 set to be planted this year. Essex County Council and the local city, district and borough councils aim to plant one million trees collectively over five years.

Mass tree planting of this scale helps to reduce the effects of climate change whilst improving local air quality, encouraging biodiversity and reducing the risk of flooding.

In highways, following the upgrade of 42,000 main road streetlights in Essex already, a large portion of the remaining 85,000 lights will be converted to LED bulbs in 2021/22, bringing energy and cost savings. 60% less energy is used by LED lights, saving thousands of tons of carbon using less electricity, supporting the council’s Safer, Greener, Healthier pledges. 

There are more projects to encourage cycling and walking in the county. £7.3 million has been allocated for the Active Travel Fund to develop, design and build cycling and walking routes in Basildon (Wickford), Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Colchester. A further £1m will be invested to improve existing cycleways in the county’s towns, with funding helping to upgrade, repair and improve existing routes.

Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment and Climate Change Action, Councillor Simon Walsh, said: “Supporting measures that champion the environment and benefit sustainability are vitally important and we have some very exciting initiatives being rolled out in Essex. The Electric Vehicle Strategy, Essex Forest Initiative and our streetlighting upgrade to LEDs will see huge future benefits for carbon offset and energy efficiency savings. Planting thousands of trees this year will also improve local air quality for our local communities.”

Essex County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Councillor Kevin Bentley, said: “Improvements to cycling and walking facilities in our towns and cities will encourage sustainable travel by choice. We have a wonderful county, and a better cycling and walking network will enhance that enjoyment.”

He added: “Community use and support is really important. We must work together to support green travel so that Essex remains a great place to grow up, live and work.”

The work of environmental interest groups in the county, such as the Rural Council of Essex, the Wilderness Foundation UK and The Essex Climate Commission will continue to be closely supported by Essex County Council this year. 

Essex’s green credentials include being one of only eight local authorities in the UK to achieve ‘Excellent’ in the Building with Nature Accreditation, a framework for creating places that really deliver for people and wildlife. The ‘Excellent’ Award is given for exemplary high-quality green infrastructure covering all stages of policy, planning, design and delivery of developments.

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