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The Policy Ask with Christopher Hammond: “The government should scrap the effective ban on new onshore wind farms”

The chief executive of the local leaders’ network UK100 on net zero, climate conspiracy theories, and Teddy Roosevelt.

By Spotlight

Christopher Hammond is the chief executive of UK100, a network for local authorities who have pledged to lead a rapid transition to net zero. Formerly he was membership and insights director at UK100 and was previously the leader of Southampton City Council.

How do you start your working day?

I wish I could identify with the 5am LinkedInfluencer/TikTok chief executives, but it’s not how I operate, not least because I’m not a morning person. My day starts with coffee, diary management, news scan and email check-in. All to set me up for the day ahead and get my brain switched on.

What has been your career high?

At UK100, we have to innovate because the old approaches aren’t working. Two years ago I set up a new support team for our members. The local power in action team works alongside councils to do more and to do things together. A particular highlight was securing unprecedented collaboration between councils of all political colours in Gloucestershire to speed up its net-zero transport and homes plans. The team was shortlisted for Edie’s “team of the year” award.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

Few things test you like leading a city council through a global pandemic, as I did in Southampton. But 2023 was challenging too. It’s the year that the cross-party consensus on climate action has been tested the most. As we brace for a general election next year, net zero will inevitably be one of the issues weaponised to influence the ballots cast. The importation of US-style conspiracy and misinformation campaigns into local authorities across the UK could undermine ambitious local action. 

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. It’s tough out there, so surround yourself with people who will build you up. Keep a learning mindset, no one is the finished product. 

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What political figure inspires you?

In this polarised age it’s easy to fall into binary hero and villain tropes, but there are plenty of shades of grey with all political figures in the world. I’m inspired by the personal qualities of determination, decency and good humour! Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, overcame many personal setbacks, and fought to change the country to one that was fairer and more equal, becoming one of the most respected world leaders. He was also an early pioneer in protecting and preserving nature.

What policy or fund is the UK government getting right?

We welcomed Michael Gove’s plan to reform local authority funding by moving away from disjointed pots towards allocation-based settlements, as we did when Labour committed to ending the beauty parade of council funding. This long-awaited shake-up addresses councils’ difficulties in long-term planning and collaboration. If implemented ambitiously, it would be transformative for empowering local net-zero delivery and getting our economy growing.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

The government should scrap the effective ban on new onshore wind farms brought in through planning changes in 2015. It is an example of short-term political opportunism for a small group of people, which has had long-term consequences for all of us. It stalled the cheapest form of renewable energy and made reaching net zero more difficult and expensive. Reversing this would empower local areas to deploy onshore wind where it has local support, accelerating cheap, clean power.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

It’s great to see that the new Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate is coming into force in 2024. Transport remains the largest emitting sector in the UK, with emissions remaining difficult to shift. While public transport and active transport are key to important modal shifts, the ZEV mandate is a crucial policy for getting us where we need to go on transport decarbonisation. It also signals certainty for businesses, investors, drivers and the UK100 members who are pioneering electric-vehicle infrastructure rollout locally and accelerating uptake.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

Many European countries have pursued far more ambitious devolution of powers and funding to regional and local governments than the UK. I often look to Germany as one of the best and nearest examples of this. This empowerment drives greater accountability, citizen participation, and locally attuned climate solutions. The UK must learn from this model if we are to achieve national climate targets, boost democratic engagement, and realise the benefits, like new green jobs, that community climate action can bring. Devolution works, we must catch up.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

For me, it would be a Net Zero Local Powers Bill that permits and obliges the relevant levels of local authorities to deliver an effective pathway to net zero. This bill is needed to empower communities and unlock the benefits of place-based climate action. It must provide a framework of supportive national policies and long-term, needs-based finance that enables local leaders to act decisively for people and planet.

[See also: The Conservatives no longer conserve]

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