A joint project by Bath & North East Somerset Council and the University of Bath to reduce carbon emissions in construction by connecting local planning policymakers with academic experts in sustainable construction is one of six innovations proposed by the Key Cities Innovation Network (KCIN) in “Civic Partners in Net Zero”, a collection of peer-reviewed studies detailing innovative ways in which universities are working with their local places to achieve net zero targets.

KCIN coordinates universities associated with the cross-party group of 27 Key Cities across England and Wales – including Bath & North East Somerset – which is the largest grouping of urban authorities in the UK outside London. The studies, selected not only for local relevance but also their potential for replicating in other places, range from tech innovation and policy development to engaging local communities with climate science.

In January 2023, Bath & North East Somerset was the first UK local authority to implement local planning policies requiring that all new building developments must achieve net zero operational energy, and that major developments would have to meet an embodied carbon target. Both these requirements go far beyond national building regulations, but they do now represent a growing trend among local authorities.

The Council has worked with the University to review the impact of the policies in the first few months of implementation and consider how they can be further developed and refined. What they have found is a significant improvement in the projected outcome in new applications and broad industry support for the policy aims, as well as a clear understanding of the support and monitoring that will be required to ensure the policies are effective in achieving the intended outcomes during and post-construction.

Professor Ian White, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath, said: “Sustainability is priority research theme for the University of Bath and I am delighted to see the University and Bath and North East Somerset Council collaborate in this way to help meet the challenge of achieving Net Zero in our home city.

“I want to thank Dr Will Hawkins and his collaborators for their innovative and important work in this area. This report shows the high potential that exists when Key Cities and their civic institutions work together to tackle important challenges.”

Cllr Kevin Guy, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council and Deputy Chair of Key Cities, said: “This is a landmark report as it sets out how collaborative working between universities and their places across the Key Cities is unlocking the innovation we need to achieve our net zero goals.

“In Bath and North East Somerset, I am proud of the strong and longstanding partnerships we have with our two universities so it is great to see our collaboration with the University of Bath on net-zero-carbon construction so well reflected in the report.

“The report demonstrates the value of the Key Cities Innovation Network in tackling key issues for our communities as well as sharing learning and I very much welcome it.”

The other innovations featured in “Civic Partners in Net Zero” are:

  • Dynacov: pioneering new technology to enable recharging of electric vehicles (notably heavy goods and public service vehicles which will still be required in car-free cities) by dynamic recharging while driving on power-enabled public roads. (Coventry University and Coventry City Council)
  • The Morecambe Bay Curriculum: climate scientists and researchers working with educators in schools and colleges to weave sustainability and place into everyday teaching across all phases of education, in a collaboration inspired by the development of Eden Project Morecambe. (Lancaster University with Lancaster and Morecambe College)
  • Ecological Citizens and Large Housing Estates of the Future: empowering communities and local industry to drive the net zero transition. (Wrexham University with ClwydAlyn Housing Association and local partners)
  • The promise of biotech: supporting a circular economy by deploying new technologies to recover waste and produce clean energy and fertilisers. (University of South Wales)
  • Stories in the Dust: researchers and a theatre company combine to engage primary school audiences emotionally with climate science. (University of Southampton and Stories in the Dust Theatre Company)

Cllr John Merry, Chair of Key Cities and Deputy Mayor of Salford City Council, said: “The ideas presented here are important and exciting. Important because what happens in our cities – in construction, in transport, in waste processing, in energy consumption – has a major impact in how we reach our net zero targets as a nation, and we in the Key Cities are determined to play our part. Exciting because they demonstrate the ingenuity in our universities and councils, and the strength of our growing civic partnership across the network. These are ideas we can build on, both as a network and in partnership with our communities, stakeholders and the government.”

Professor Maria Hinfelaar, Vice-Chancellor of Wrexham University and co-editor of the Civic Partners in Net Zero report, added: “One of the defining opportunities for the Key Cities Innovation Network is to develop and apply ideas that can scale not only to large cities but to all kinds of urban areas – and their associated rural and coastal places – as represented by the diversity of the Key Cities. When it comes to climate change, universities have a critical role to play in brokering partnerships with their local authorities, community organisations and local people to create a more environmentally sustainable society. While each study in this collection represents a specific locality with its own characteristics and actors, there is scope for replicating the ideas and practices elsewhere and so add value to our collective efforts to reduce carbon emissions locally, nationally and globally.”