This piece was originally published in October 2023 in the Local Government Chronicle.

Too many local authorities are failing to take enough action to reduce emissions from the transport sector, writes the co-director of Climate Emergency UK.

We launched the Council Climate Action Scorecards last week, the first ever holistic assessment of all UK local authorities’ climate action. At Climate Emergency UK we truly believe in the power of local government to help our communities reach net zero and, despite national barriers, councils can do more to reduce emissions.

The scorecards, covering up to 91 questions across seven sections, show the best practice in the sector, highlighting the action councils have done which can help councils learn from each other where comparable climate policy or programmes exist in another local authority.

While there were some standout performers in individual sections, the scorecards demonstrated there is a long way to go for all councils in the race to reach net zero and to embed climate action into every service and function.

One sector where councils are lagging behind is transport, with an average score of 16% across all UK councils. What is most shocking is that councils are scoring poorly on even the most achievable actions.

Stop committing harm

For example, only 19% of UK councils have electric vehicles making up 10% or more of their total vehicle fleet. And it doesn’t get any better for the actions that have a greater impact on emissions, which are often more politically difficult.

Only 17 councils have 30 or more school streets in their area and Nottingham City Council is still the only UK council that has been brave enough to implement a workplace parking levy.

Councils need to get serious about decarbonising transport in their area. Local authorities must stop building or expanding new roads and airports, with 14 of the 21 county councils having built new roads in the UK since 2019.

The first step is always to stop committing harm, as seen in West Yorkshire CA’s connectivity infrastructure plan, which states: “There will be a pause on developing new road schemes, unless they bring equitable benefits for all road users and there is a plan to mitigate impacts on our carbon target.”

Parking issues

Local authorities also have the powers to reduce emissions from the transport sector and councils know the solutions. In a 2022 research article that ranked the most effective ways to get cars out of cities, introducing workplace parking levies and removing free parking were two of the top five.

Yet only 12 councils — for example Camden LBC — have introduced residential parking permits across their whole area. Of course, as well as discouraging short trips by car, the revenue raised by these actions can be reinvested into improving public transport and/or active travel infrastructure, creating a virtuous cycle.

To replace a council fleet, councils can choose to only buy electric vehicles as replacements for older vehicles, as Leeds City Council is doing. To encourage children to walk and cycle to school, while tackling congestion, councils should also introduce a school streets programme as Merton and Lewisham LBCs have done.

But why is it that the majority of transport decarbonisation initiatives happen in a few London boroughs? Let’s take the example of the school street – a simple initiative which pedestrianises roads outside of schools during drop-off and pick-up times, while allowing residents to still use the road.

Why do Manchester and Bristol city councils only have seven school streets across their whole area? The vast majority of UK authorities also have dense market towns, which are suited for active travel and public transport improvements. Why should the thousands of children in towns such as Salisbury, Hereford or Lincoln not have a safe and easily accessible walking route to their local schools?

Time to step up

Somerset Council launched four school street pilots in Frome this year, so clearly it can be done. Active Travel England has funded many councils projects that improve walking and cycling routes for schools, even after its budget was slashed by the government last year, so clearly there is funding available for these types of projects.

Herefordshire and Wiltshire councils and Lincolnshire CC, along with dozens of other councils, should consider spending their money on active travel instead of ploughing millions into new road building schemes, which only increase emissions and pollution.

The Scorecards demonstrate that among a few councils there is the will, ambition and action to take the necessary action to decarbonise the transport sector. However, too few councils have taken those actions and we need more of them to step up and get serious about decarbonising the transport sector.

This would be the most powerful way to counter Rishi Sunak’s turn against active travel and climate transport initiatives, while also creating healthier, safer and low-emission neighbourhoods.

View the Council Climate Action Scorecards at