10 Apr 2009

Transition Stroud and local Government

This video shows many local folk giving the lowdown on Transition stuff - it finishes with Stroud Transition Coordinator Helen Royall. One of the issues raised is about how we bring about wider change - and as folk may remember I was involved with the Business and Government Group of Transition - they have been continuing meetings with the District Council in an effort to get these issues embedded in policy.

Just out is a good article that looks at the relationship of local Government with Transition and quotes stuff re Stroud. Here is the article below but go here for full article with links.

Peaking too soon?

Peak oil is the moment when global oil production will reach its maximum level and then go into decline. This could happen as soon as 2010 so what are the implications for local authorities? Andrew Ross finds out about transition initiatives and the Transition Network.

The UK boasts more than 80 transition initiatives (TIs), which is the new name for 'transition towns'. The first was set up in Totnes in 2006 and the number is rising.

Rob Hopkins is the founder of the TI movement, and runs the organisation Transition Network. This helps communities adapt for the end of cheap oil and gives individual TIs their ‘official’ accreditation.

He will be giving a keynote presentation at the Improvement and Development Agency’s (IDeA’s) national conference for local sustainability practitioners, in Liverpool on 5 and 6 May.

Hopkins says that the TI primer – published by Transition Network and now in its 26th version – is proof that the movement is a work in progress. He adds:

“We have no idea if this works.”

The transition initiative movement has emerged from a desire by communities to highlight and act on two pressing concerns – climate change and peak oil. Local government now has a mandate to tackle the first of these. But the concept of peak oil –and its implications for local areas – is less well understood.

It is not that we are about to run out of oil, but that we are running out of ‘easy-to-get, cheap oil’. The TI movement believes that the implications of this for communities around the globe are dramatic. The solution they propose requires a radical ‘relocalisation’ of activity and production, so that communities can cut energy use.

The 'Transition Initiative Primer' says that local government should be ‘supporting not driving’ TIs in their area. But what are local authorities supposed to be driving? And how?

What councils are doing

Somerset and Leicestershire County Councils have both passed a resolution endorsing the authority as a ‘transition council’. Somerset’s statement includes allocating funds to assist in achieving the outcomes of the transition initiative movement.

It requires:

“all directorates to engage with and provide support for transition initiatives in Somerset”.

Transition Stroud has developed an informal relationship with Stroud District Council, involving regular meetings to swap information on progress. The local strategic partnership (LSP) has set up a ‘Global Changes Think Tank’, which considers ‘the twin impacts of climate change and peak oil’.

To inform its work the think tank asked Transition Stroud to write a report on food availability. This is one of a set of think-tank reports that the district council is using to shape its forthcoming core strategy. This means that peak oil and climate change considerations are being fed directly into the council’s planning decisions.

Meanwhile, the London Borough of Lambeth has been supporting Transition Town Brixton, a community-led initiative that seeks to raise awareness locally of climate change and peak oil. Lambeth has:

  • provided meeting rooms for workshops and film screenings
  • helped with networking
  • facilitated opportunities for the Transition Town Brixton Convenor, Duncan Law, to address cabinet and council meetings.

Things to think about

While the TI movement wants to develop relationships with local councils, not everyone agrees this is the best way forward. Some people believe they allow local councils to wrap themselves in a green cloak of respectability and continue business as usual.

Hopkins accepts that this could be a possibility but says:

“If we don’t engage creatively with local authorities then we’re always going to be restricted in what we can do.”

Jessica Currie, Sustainable Development Policy Officer at London Borough of Lambeth, agrees. She says:

“Transition Town Brixton could tick over on their own and in theory carry on forever having no contact with the council. But it doesn’t really make sense because the whole point is that they eventually influence services and so on.”

Many councils have welcomed their local TI. Robert Vint is a councillor at South Hampshire District Council representing a ward in Totnes and is an active member of Transition Town Totnes. He warns that the movement is potentially naïve about the political reality in which councils operate.

“It is almost too apolitical in the sense that it doesn’t have a strategy for taking on an uncooperative council.”

Conflict of interests

Transition Malvern Hills actually began life as a subgroup of Malvern Hills LSP set up to address climate change. John Raine is a councillor at Malvern Hills District Council and a member of the LSP subgroup. He says that a recent visit by a council performance officer highlighted the potential tensions which are built into the Malvern Hills approach.

“He presented a typical managerial perspective focused on ensuring that we achieve our goals. But the transition perspective was ‘we’re doing this from the bottom up and we don’t want to be driven by top down performance indicators’. It was a clash of cultures.”

Simon Allen is convenor of the Government and Business Working Group at Transition Stroud. While their work on food has been very well received locally, he is concerned about what will happen as a result. He says:

“We want to see action as well.”

Nigel Riglar, Strategic Director at Stroud District Council, accepts that if you are part of a community-based movement that is anxious about the pressing problems of climate change and peak oil then the last thing you want is a local authority officer saying:

“Our core strategy will take three years to put to bed.”

The key, he says, is to ‘not to be afraid’ of these differences.

“Transition initiative doesn’t necessarily have a culture that fits neatly into the way that local government likes to operate. You need to find people on both sides who are willing to work together and over time bring the two closer together. But it does take a bit of time to understand where both are coming from.”

What’s in it for local government?

More than 90 per cent of local authorities are signed up to at least one of the climate change national indicators. However, many still have to convince the electorate that this is territory local government should be taking on. For this reason some local authorities have decided that TI is well placed to help.

Nigel Riglar says that because Transition Stroud is self sufficient, there and it works, it has saved the council the work of trying to create that.

“If we didn’t have Transition Stroud we would have to create all that community infrastructure around these issues for the first time.”

Rowenna Skidmore is Beacon Coordinator at Worcestershire County Council within which Transition Malvern Hills is located. She says:

“People want to hear information from someone who doesn’t necessarily have anything to gain from it. If you’re a community group you may have a bigger impact in terms of people hearing what you have to say as opposed to the council.”

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