Friday, 14 October 2016

Solar energy in West Sussex

It was a year ago when our solar farm project at Tangmere was completed. At the time there was a lot of press interest as West Sussex was one of the first councils to embark on such a project in the country. Some may ask why a council would get involved in such a project, and it is a fair question.

For quite a long time we had been looking at various ways of providing alternative energy. Right back in 2005 we installed a biomass burner at Buchan Country Park to provide heat and hot water to our visitor centre and staff accommodation. This continues to be a great success and, once again, we were the first authority in the South East to use such technology. As the second most wooded county, it made perfect sense to harness natural resources to provide energy.

Since then we have continued to power ahead with our sustainable energy improvements and have put policies in place to ensure there is continual investment in new ways to save energy. We have combined this with our passion to develop low carbon energy using our natural resources across the county. One way we have achieved this is through our partnership project launched in 2014 called Your Energy Sussex. This has brought together local councils and construction company Carillion to work with residents and businesses to save energy, reduce their bills and generate renewable energy. This partnership has gone from strength-to-strength and shows what we can achieve by working together.

Solar power is a sensible option for West Sussex as we are the sunniest county in the country. We have had a range of small solar projects over the years, such as solar panels on the roofs of our office buildings, but the biggest commitment for us so far is the solar farm at Tangmere. These 18,000 solar panels sitting on 29 acres of County Council land have already generated almost 5,000 MWh of clean electricity - enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes for an entire year. As part of our agreement with Carillion, we used local contractors who did an excellent job completing the work on time and in budget as Council Tax payers would expect.

I don’t mind admitting that this project is important to me as it will help you to understand why I visited one year on to see if it has delivered all that was promised. The solar panels have been busy but still look in pristine condition. The benefits of planting a range of wild flowers to improve biodiversity on the site is working. Interestingly sheep regularly graze on the land so it still has agricultural usage and I am reliably told sheep use the panels to shelter from the rain and sun. Over its 25 years life span Tangmere will generate £13.8 million and pay back the cost of the project in less than ten years.

We are now looking to invest in more solar panels farms and are exploring areas which might be suitable. We are also looking at whether we can store the energy which will have even bigger benefits for our residents. These projects are a powerful step to protect our environment and provide much needed additional energy to our residents. It is something we believe should be happening across the country and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Partnership working alive and well in West Sussex

September has flown by and, as ever, it’s been a very busy one at County Hall.  I’ve been out and about a lot this month seeing what’s happening and meeting people – something I particularly enjoy.

One visit was to Selsey Academy where there was a large fire on August 21. Much of the building was destroyed and, standing looking at the burning embers on that day, the question was how would children be provided with their education?
Our Fire and Rescue Service is integrated with the County Council so, throughout the whole emergency response phase to that incident – the putting out of the fire and making sure everyone was safe and that neighbouring buildings were protected - our fire officers were liaising with teams from our Education and Children’s Services departments. It didn’t matter that it was a Sunday, staff from those departments were busy working to support and help Selsey Academy and its sponsor TKAT in every way possible from the minute the call came through to them.

Together, a plan was co-ordinated. Temporary accommodation was organised to provide classrooms on site (rather than children having to travel to other bases) and an interim school site being prepared to provide accommodation from October.

We did not lead on this work. TKAT must be commended for its swift planning and co-ordination in the face of this huge fire. But we stepped in to provide support and, I know they will be the first to say, we were instrumental in helping to get everything pulled together and ready for children for the start of the new school term. The temporary school buildings, for example, were from the Bohunt Academy in Worthing because they had just become available and were quickly reallocated over to Selsey.

So, 24 days after I stood watching firefighters put out the blaze and the community in Selsey rally to do everything they could to help, I found myself back at the Academy.

I visited the school and met with the head teacher who showed me around. It was good to see youngsters in class and learning and one had the feeling that it was very much ‘business as usual’. Of course the area will have to be cleared and the buildings replaced but for the children, they will be attending classes in Selsey.

Another of my visits out and about took me to Crawley where work has just started on the town centre refurbishment of Queen’s Square. We have been working on this project for some time with Crawley Borough Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, Coast to Capital. The contractors are now on site and work has started and I really believe this will be an asset to the town centre.

Another partnership project close to my heart has been the refurbishment of Montague Place in Worthing. It is a really important space that leads from the town centre to the seafront. Plans were put forward and consulted on for this joint project between Worthing Town Centre Initiative, Worthing Borough Council and West Sussex County Council and on Friday there was a celebration of the completed works. It was sunny Worthing at its very best and just demonstrated what an attractive open space it now is for people to walk through and enjoy.

There are ambitious plans for a phased refurbishment of much of Worthing Town Centre and we are currently awaiting the outcome of a bid for funds to progress these plans.

These are just a few of the very many examples that are happening here in West Sussex thanks to joint collaborative working.

Together we can achieve so much by pooling resources, talents and skills with our partners to help achieve the very best outcomes for our residents, whatever their ages.

This is very much the future and I am really pleased there are so many good examples of it already happening in West Sussex.