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Best bets for a green local recovery

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Places are making big investments in projects and programmes to help their economies recover from the pandemic. One near universal concern is that these investments also address the other, slow-motion, crisis that we are currently facing: climate change.

What steps can places take to make sure that their investments help with recovery and address the climate change challenge?

Much advice has been given on how nations can spend their recovery money in green ways, for example, by investing in non-polluting sources of energy. This advice may not be so useful to local policymakers, however. Places in the UK may not have much control over where their power comes from, and the relatively small impact they could have on carbon output may be swamped by the much larger impact of national or international activity.

On the other hand, some green investments are more feasible at the local level and can offer a range of tangible benefits to those who live and work in a city or town.

In our latest rapid evidence review we examined the evidence related to the three types of green investment that offer a range of local benefits, combining employment generation with health and wellbeing of residents. These are:

  • Active travel such as cycling or walking. Building cycle lanes or making areas more pedestrian-friendly can contribute to local economic growth by reducing congestion and by making places more attractive locations to live and work. But they also offer health and wellbeing benefits by reducing pollution and encouraging exercise.
  • Energy efficiency such as retrofitting and systems to reduce energy use. From a local economic perspective, policymakers may seek to improve energy efficiency to reduce energy costs, making firms more competitive and increasing consumers’ disposable income. Again, the health and wellbeing benefits from better housing and reductions in pollution will be felt at the local level.
  • Natural Capital includes protecting and enhancing anything from woodlands to salt marshes or water sources. Employment creation from these schemes may be supplemented by improvements to local health, increased tourism, and even disaster prevention.

In each of these areas the benefit to a place will depend on where you are starting from. Retrofitting will offer less value for money in places with relatively new building stock, for example. So, as ever, knowing your local conditions is an important part of the picture.

As we often find, the evidence base in this area is not large. But it suggests that the economic benefits from these investments could be comparable to other types of projects. And the additional health benefits to local people and businesses may also be significant.