Rochdale’s journey to net zero 2020-38

By Sara Rowbotham, borough of Rochdale

Rochdale is one of the 10 boroughs of the Greater Manchester city region. It is located to the north east of the region and has a population of approximately 218,000. It was one of the first industrial towns in the nineteenth century and was famous for textile manufacturing.

Rochdale is the birthplace of the co-operative movement. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844, has provided the model and inspiration for all those involved in co-operation.[1]

The Council is one of the founding members of the Co-Operative Councils network which was established in 2012[2] and has been at the forefront of supporting local co-operative bodies such as Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the UK’s first tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society.

The values and aspirations of this co-operative heritage underpins the Council’s approach and the way in which it engages with communities and demonstrates civic leadership in tackling climate change.

Declaring a Climate Emergency

Rochdale Council joined a growing number of UK local authorities in declaring a climate emergency in July 2019, stating:

“This Council believes that the world is in the midst of a climate emergency and that action is required at all levels of Government – local, national and international – in order to protect our planet for future generations.”

We have set ourselves an ambitious target to work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2038, in line with the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s ambition for the city region, and 12 years ahead of the UK government’s own target.[3]

 Response to the Climate Emergency

In January 2020, the Council’s Executive set out how it proposed to respond to the Climate Emergency declaration.[4] This involved:

  • establishing a Climate Emergency Working Group as a cross party multi-stakeholder body to agree the Climate Change Strategy and co-ordinate the development of an action plan to deliver on the Council’s ambition to get to net zero emissions
  • approving a capital allocation of £1 million (€1,110,850) per year over a five-year period to support the Council’s climate change objectives
  • setting out the range of projects and activities that the Council is already involved in which contribute to reducing carbon emissions
  • considering the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly to seek residents’ views on climate change and the Green agenda

Our plan of action for the planet

Credit: diamond geezer on Flickr

The Council’s strategy for tackling climate change is set out in a document called ‘Our plan of action for the planet’. This sets out high level targets including:

  • Carbon dioxide – Bringing emissions to net zero by 2038 with a 10% reduction in heating and cooling demand by 2025, and a 22% reduction by 2038; 38% reduction in industrial emissions by 2025 with a 50-77% reduction by 2038
  • Nitrogen dioxide – Reducing emissions on road links where modelling has identified exceedances beyond 2020 and ensuring that 100% of all cars and buses are zero emissions by 2035
  • Renewable energy – Contributing to increasing the amount of new renewable energy generation across Greater Manchester by 45MW and ensuring that all new developments have at least 20% renewable energy generation
  • Waste management – Limiting any increase in the quantity of waste produced to 20% and achieving a recycling rate of 65% by 2035
  • Natural environment – Contributing to planting three million trees across Greater Manchester by 2035 and a further one to two million by 2050 and restoring 50-75% of peatlands by 2038

As well as tackling the worst impacts of climate change the Council recognises that there are also other important objectives which contribute to the wellbeing of our communities. The UN Sustainable Development Goals[5] are a crucial part of Rochdale’s approach, which includes a commitment to achieving social, economic and environmental sustainability outcomes. This involves addressing issues such as fuel and food poverty; building sustainable and resilient homes and communities; providing affordable and clean energy; and promoting active travel and lifestyles.

Climate Emergency Working Group

We are establishing a Climate Emergency Working Group involving the main political parties, local businesses, the community and voluntary sector, young people, and strategic and public sector partners covering health, education, leisure and housing, to drive forward a programme of local actions to tackle climate change.

The working group is developing a Climate Change Action Plan for the borough to set out a programme of actions over a 5-, 10- and 18-year timescale to achieve our strategic objectives. The action plan will set out the costs and/or potential savings of interventions to reduce carbon emissions including co-benefits such as clean air, health and wellbeing, addressing fuel poverty and, importantly, opportunities in terms of income generation, cost savings, economic development and the green economy, skills and training and local supply chains.

What have we done so far?

Rochdale is involved in a number of initiatives and projects to support our climate change objectives.

Credit: Tim Green on Flickr

Renewable energy

We have secured funding through the European Regional Development Fund to build a 5MW solar farm on the site of a former urban farm. It will produce enough energy to power 1,250 homes – or 1.4% of the borough’s homes – annually, over a 30-year lifespan and will also contribute to the Greater Manchester target of increasing renewable energy generation by 45MW by 2024.[6]

Council vehicle fleet

We have replaced 12 small diesel vans with a fleet of 12 Nissan fully electric small vans. This removes harmful emissions from approximately 10% of the borough’s fleet and saves £1,700 (€1,900) running costs per annum for each vehicle. We intend to purchase fully electric medium-sized vans as soon as they are available.

Housing retrofit

The Council provides grants for lasting energy-saving improvements to private sector properties, such as external and cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, and small measures (LED lighting, radiator reflector panels, heating controls, etc).

Energy advice and support

We work with a community interest company, Energyworks, who provide energy advice and grant funding across the borough to homes of all tenure types but with an emphasis on supporting low-income households to save on their energy bills.

Tree planting projects

We are in the process of planting trees to enhance the borough’s green infrastructure, increasing biodiversity and contributing to our climate resilience. This is part of the five-year Trees for Climate programme in Greater Manchester. So far we are planting 3,500 trees and shrubs on a 1.4 hectare site at Wardle and 8,000 trees on a 1.9 hectare site near Littleborough. Both sites will be open to the public to enjoy.

 The role of the Council in the energy transition

Two of the largest onshore wind farms in England are located in Rochdale. These are at Scout Moor, which has 26 turbines with a capacity of 65 MW, and Crook Hill, which has 12 turbines with a capacity of 36MW.

Both of these valuable renewable assets are privately owned and whilst they contribute towards clean energy generation and decarbonising the electricity grid, they contribute very little in terms of wider energy democracy and the energy transition at a local level.

As the home of the co-operative movement, Rochdale is committed to an equitable energy transition which benefits communities and ensures the widest engagement in ownership of our energy system. We are at the beginning of our journey towards carbon neutrality, but the Council will play an important strategic and leadership role in ensuring that the borough meets its objectives.

About the author:

Sara Rowbotham is a local councillor in RochdaleGreater Manchester, representing North Middleton. She was first elected to Rochdale Borough Council in 2015, and since January 2018 she is the deputy leader of the council, and Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Sustainability. Sara also represents Rochdale on the Greater Manchester Green City Board.

[1] Our history | ICA

[2] About Us ~ Co-operative Councils Innovation Network


[4] Decision – Response to Climate Emergency Motion (

[5] Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals – United Nations Sustainable Development

[6] Rochdale News | News Headlines | Plans for a 27-acre solar farm on green belt between Rochdale and Heywood approved – Rochdale Online

Title Image Credit: Alan Burnett on Flickr