Achieving environmental sustainability through a greener, cleaner economy

20 November 2019

With the ever-increasing demand for energy to fuel business and housing growth, the hunt is on to find the solutions that pursues a strong economic future in a way that not only values and protects our local natural environment but actively enhances it.

On Wednesday 13 November SEMLEP, the Local Enterprise Partnership for the South East Midlands, brought around 100 of the region’s leading industry figures, local authorities and nature and environment organisations together to talk about the area’s response to this challenge.

Speaking after the event Peter Horrocks, SEMLEP’s Chair said, “it was clear from questions asked just how strong the public focus is on environmental sustainability. Our speakers all provided powerful ideas for how this area can improve nature and build economic success through a green economy.”

Guest speaker Helen Wylde, Chief Engagement Officer at the Connected Places Catapult talked about their role in helping to join up and integrate the different clean, mobility and digital innovations so that they all work, and all work together. In this area, the Catapult has three key focuses: decarbonisation, air quality improvement and systems operation.

Providing some stark statistics, Helen said, “there are 23,000 deaths each year in the UK attributed to air pollution, with the economic impact of this at around 7% of the UK’s GDP. There is around $560bn forecast opportunity for the Electric Vehicle market. So in the UK, we can go green and create jobs at the same time.

“Why would we not want to put these things together to make a change? Helen posed.

“We need to think about our infrastructure as a whole system. We can improve on what we have today in order to have a green, mobility solution and better places to live tomorrow. The Oxford to Cambridge Arc is such an important programme as it could be a global exemplar for how this can be done well,” said Helen.

In an address from, Michael Copelston, Head of Land at RSPB, he challenged the leadership across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc to double the size of area currently set aside for nature.

“I am really encouraged that natural capital and place making already feature strongly in the economic growth plans for this area. When we look at back at this in 20 or 30 years’ time, we want to be able to say that the natural environment is measurably better off as a consequence of economic growth, not despite it.”

Michael stated that of the 1 million hectares that make up the Arc, over 75% is used for intensive agriculture land. 10% has some form of development already. Less than 2% consists of important places for nature. “I think we can do better than that. This gives us an opportunity to enhance, embrace and do more for nature.

“There are already some great examples on your door-step where innovation, industry and the conservation sector come together. We need to scale this up.

“Placing nature at the heart of the developments in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc is critical for a variety of reasons and there are significant considerations for the climate and biodiversity crisis we face.” he added.

Following the publication of the South East Midlands’ Local Industrial Strategy this summer, attention is placed on promoting and sharing best practice of clean growth and mobility technologies and innovative design principles to enhance our area and create quality places for people and nature.

AGM Panel

“SEMLEP is working with local councils and organisations to convene a range of partners to best facilitate this,” said Hilary Chipping, SEMLEP’s Chief Executive.

Exemplar developments include Kingsbrook in Aylesbury Vale, Tresham Garden Village or the developments at Chelveston Renewable Energy Park in East Northamptonshire. This 750-acre scheme currently generates a combined output around 80MW of renewable energy, including wind and solar, following an £80m investment by the owners. The next phase of the development has commenced with the construction of on-site battery storage, with further investment planned. The energy park currently generates enough power to supply in excess of 10,000 homes.

Guest speaker Sam Goodall, International Projects Manager at Cambridge CleanTech talked about opportunities they are pursuing to create a clean-tech supercluster by joining up businesses in the field better to support business scale-up and develop access to markets.

Starting with a quote from French poet, Victor Hugo, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come” Sam said, “there’s a real shift in the mood in terms of opportunities and sustainable investment in clean, green growth.

“Capital investors are looking at the whole sector in a completely different way than they did 15 years’ ago.

“As a network in this space, we’re seeing an explosion in interest. The green growth agenda for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc area isn’t just a bolt on, it’s front and centre to the growth opportunity for the region.”

Located at the centre of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, the South East Midlands is a part of a growth area that has the potential to add billions to the UK economy and do so in a sustainable, design-led way.

“It’s the accumulation and connectivity of the green energy and transport innovation assets and businesses that make the South East Midlands at the forefront of enabling smarter, greener living. By prioritising investment into these areas, we’ll pursue sustainable growth in way that enhances our natural environment, for the benefit of the whole area,” added Hilary Chipping.

“We have the long-term plan to support the long-term prosperity for the area. We need to secure the long-term investment in the enabling infrastructure that meets our area’s clean growth objectives. This is the case we continue to make to government, investors and business, and is central to the commitments we’re making to local communities,” concluded SEMLEP’s Chair.

The event was part of SEMLEP’s Annual General Meeting. During the official business, Peter Horrocks provided an overview of the activities and work of the partnership over the last 12 months. To view the presentation, visit SEMLEP’s website. A highlights video of the event will be available and published on SEMLEP’s website, as will the answers given to questions taken on the day.

The meeting approved the year’s financial accounts and accepted Board resignations, appointments and renewals.