Agenda item

Green Travel Plan Progress Report 2021-22 and Update

To consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Environment providing an annual update on initiatives in the Green Travel Plan.



51.1    The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Environment introduced the report and explained that its purpose was to provide Members with oversight of the Gloucester City Council Green Travel Plan. He explained that the plan pertained to Gloucester City Council employees and that section 4 of the report provided an overview of the staff travel survey results. The Leader of the Council highlighted that the conclusions and recommendations were set out in sections 6 and 7 of the report.


51.2   The Leader of the Council also referred Members to the Energy Saving Trust’s transport decarbonisation hierarchy at 7.2 in the report which set out what the council’s preferences ought to be when developing policy. He explained that some of the recommendations included maintaining the council’s agile working policy, working with Gloucestershire County Council to map safe, low-pollution walking routes, and improving the shower and changing facilities at council offices to promote active travel.


51.3   In response to a query from the Chair as to whether City Council employees had ever previously used domestic air travel for work purposes, the Managing Director confirmed that such journeys had taken place in the past.


51.4    The Chair asked whether the shower and changing facility improvements would be made to the Eastgate office. The Managing Director confirmed that the shower facilities at the Eastgate office were already operational, and that options for the other City Council office sites were being explored.


51.5    The Chair queried whether Gloucestershire County Council had a similar Green Travel Plan and whether the City Council was working with the County Council as the transport authority for Gloucestershire. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead explained that some of the recommendations included in the report were caveated as the City Council would need to work and liaise with the County Council in some areas, particularly those pertaining to roads and cycling infrastructure. He confirmed that initial conversations with County Council colleagues had been positive, but it was likely that some of the recommendations would require additional funding. The Chair expressed further concerns regarding the need for safer cycling infrastructure in the city as he felt residents may be reluctant to travel via bike in the county.


51.6    Councillor Hilton raised concerns about the City Council’s agile working policy, commenting that he had experienced difficulties meeting with Officers face to face. He was concerned that the decarbonisation hierarchy might be too prescriptive in that if officers were being discouraged from travelling to work by car, they might be more likely to work from home. Councillor Hilton also expressed the view that where possible, the City Council should make an effort to employ staff living locally, particularly where roles require local knowledge of the city.


51.7   The Managing Director acknowledged that with some roles, local knowledge was important, but noted that if the City Council were to limit recruitment of staff to candidates living in Gloucestershire, it would deprive itself of valuable skill sets. In respect of the council’s agile working policy, the Managing Director explained that there was a tension between encouraging officer footfall in the city and the council’s green travel aspirations, however it was his view that if the council were to withdraw the agile working policy, the organisation would struggle to meet the zero-carbon target by 2030. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead further commented that the world of work had changed nationally and employers who were unwilling to offer agile working could well be placing themselves at a disadvantage. He confirmed that officers undertaking practical roles did not work remotely, and that although the report noted that on average, officers work an average of 2 days per week in the office, it was his experience that often the office was busier than this figure suggested.


51.8    The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead further explained that the agile working policy reflected the preferences of staff, and that the expectation to work in the office on a permanent basis could be a barrier for some staff who might have challenges with accessing childcare.


51.9    In respect of concerns raised regarding a recent tree planting initiative, the Managing Director explained that the Open Spaces Team Leader had reviewed all planting programmes and that they had also been shared with Councillors themselves for comment.


51.10  Councillor Pullen referred to the bus assistance scheme referenced at 7.14 in the report and noted that it was being utilised by two officers. He asked why the council had not promoted this initiative further and fully adopted the scheme to date. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead explained that his predecessor had trialled the initiative however it had not been formally adopted. He noted that in order to formally adopt the bus assistance scheme, it would need to be fully costed by the Finance Team. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead added that some staff find travelling to the office very difficult without a car and noted that an electric vehicle lease scheme was included in the report as a possibility to consider.


51.11 Councillor Gravells noted that he agreed with Councillor Hilton in relation to agile working challenges and that he also felt that ideally, the City Council should try and recruit staff locally. This said, he acknowledged the challenges with filling vacancies and expressed that he would rather see those vacancies filled than remain open. Councillor Gravells paid tribute to the work of the Open Spaces team but noted that there had been challenges with the tree planting location in his ward. He also expressed the view that encouraging residents to cycle was a positive move, however it was important that the condition of cycle paths was properly assessed and managed. He suggested that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee might wish to speak with representatives from Gloucestershire County Council and local transport operators to ascertain the steps they were putting in place to ensure public transport ran on time and met the needs of residents.


51.12  The Chair noted that he had found a recent ward walk with City Council Officers very useful. He expressed the view that it was important that Members were able to meet with Officers in person when necessary, as Members had local knowledge of their communities and awareness of residents’ views. He felt strongly that Members and Officers needed to retain a personal connection.


51.13  The Chair agreed that contact would be made with colleagues in Gloucestershire County Council to request that some representatives from the Highways team attend an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting to provide an update on their discussions with public transport operators.


51.14  The Leader reminded Members that Gloucestershire County Council was the responsible authority for transport matters and that it was his expectation that they were in regular contact with transport operators. He also noted that he had an upcoming meeting with the Gloucestershire County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Bus Transport. The Leader of the Council added that raising car parking fees beyond a certain level would be counterproductive as the council relied on this income stream to fund services. He felt that the council could not afford to cut car parking income at this time.


51.15  In response to a request from Councillor Sawyer to explain what was meant by transport-related benefits for staff, the Managing Director explained that this related to the existing bus assistance scheme which was currently utilised by two members of staff, and additional schemes such as Bike2Work. He noted that the council no longer paid staff driving allowances. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead expressed the view that a full literature of the transport-related benefits on offer across the local authority was needed. He noted that the easier and cheaper it was for residents to travel to the city by car, the less likely they were to look at alternative means.


51.16  Councillor Sawyer asked whether the results of the report had been shared with colleagues in the County Council’s Highways team. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead confirmed that they would receive the data.


51.17  In response to a further question from Councillor Sawyer regarding Mobilityways and the importance of ongoing communication with Stagecoach West, the Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead confirmed that this was already in hand, and he was awaiting a response from Stagecoach.


51.18  Councillor Sawyer queried whether in light of the climate emergency, the City Council might need to make different decisions about car parking in the city centre in the future. The Managing Director confirmed that this was something that the council needed to revisit in the future but could not be changed overnight. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead noted that there were additional challenges in that the City Council does not have responsibility for roads.


51.19  Councillor Tracey commended the Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead for his report and noted that she was pleased to see footfall in the city centre increasing. She suggested that some amendments could be made to car parking charges to support visitors after work hours. The Managing Director explained that even if all cars in the city were electric cars, the amount of vehicles in the city centre would still needed to be reduced by 10% to achieve the Council’s decarbonisation goals. He confirmed that this was a national issue and that the UK as a whole needed to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.


51.20  Councillor Tracey expressed the view that it was important to employ local people wherever possible, particularly in service areas such as planning. In response to a query from Councillor Tracey regarding officer start times, the Managing Director confirmed that in the current agile working climate, officers might not have fixed start and finishing times in the same way they did pre-pandemic.


51.21  Councillor Hilton reiterated his concerns that the hierarchy in the recommendations might be too rigid. It was his view that the council should not be too authoritative in their approach to advising staff how to commute into work and that a balance needed to be found. The Leader of the Council referred to the statement in the narrative that the ‘inverted pyramid shows, in descending order, what the council’s preferences ought to be when developing policy’, noting that that this was not definitive. The Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead further added that the decarbonisation hierarchy was consistent with central Government policy. He acknowledged that Gloucestershire tended to be more car dependent however across England as a whole, 80% of journeys were being made by car and nationally local authorities would need to think of initiatives to make car travel less attractive to meet their green ambitions.


            RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.


            At this point in the meeting, the Chair asked the Committee whether they would be happy to extend the meeting beyond the scheduled end time so that Members had sufficient time to consider and scrutinise the Task and Finish Group Report. This was put to a vote and Members voted unanimously in favour of extending the meeting.


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