Learn how Blaenau Gwent set up a citizens assembly for £50,000 and made sure local people have a say on climate decisions in Wales. Listening to local people forms Action 6 in the 50-point Climate Action Plan for councils – review and improve how we involve citizens in our existing decision-making processes.

08 Sep 2022

How is Action 6 tackling the climate crisis?

Citizens’ Assemblies help ordinary people from all backgrounds understand the climate crisis and work together to suggest solutions that can create a better future for everyone. Blaenau Gwent Council in Wales joined forces with local and national organisations, as well as volunteers from the area, to deliver a citizen’s assembly for the relatively small sum of £50,000.

The assembly’s recommendations included creating an integrated transport system throughout the authority area, more help for people to train in green construction, and a programme of woodland preservation and restoration.

The assembly process was designed, launched and managed by the Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board Climate Mitigation Steering Group. The group’s members include the council, environmental action groups, housing associations and electoral reform organisations.

The assembly creators worked with the Sortition Foundation, who are experts at bringing together groups of local people reflecting an area’s different attitudes and social and ethnic backgrounds. The foundation selected a group of 50 assembly members, and in March 2021 these members took part in 23 hours of online climate literacy sessions on key issues like housing, transport and nature.

They were asked to think about how to tackle the climate crisis in a way that’s fair and improves living standards for everyone. The members debated and agreed on five key proposals that the council and others should adopt in order to tackle the climate crisis.

What impact has this project had?

Although the assembly’s recommendations are not legally binding, Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board has committed to respond to all recommendations. At the end of the process, three assembly members took part in public service board meetings, discussing how their work can form the basis of future policy plans.

What made this work?

The Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board Climate Mitigation Steering Group was well-placed to develop a strategy and process that included key local stakeholders. As well as helping assembly members engage with the climate crisis, the group also made sure the assembly’s recommendations could be used by Blaenau Gwent public bodies in their decarbonisation plans.

The stakeholders included four housing associations, United Welsh, Tai Calon, Linc Cymru and Melin Homes, that between them control 24% of housing in the area.

There was council-wide buy-in to support this project. This was crucial, as political will is needed to make sure that a Citizen’s Assembly can be delivered through a fair process that sparks real change.

What resources were needed?

The Citizens’ Assembly was funded through the Welsh government’s Innovative Housing Programme – Optimised Retrofit Programme, with the project costing £50,000 in total. This is a relatively low amount for a citizens’ assembly, and volunteers were needed to support or carry out almost every role in the process.

Up to eight council staff members were needed to run the assembly sessions, with local housing association staff also involved. The housing associations also played a key role here in securing initial funding to deliver this project.

Lessons from Blaenau Gwent

The council found it challenging to complete this work within the budget, which limited its capacity to make the sessions as engaging as possible. As a result, some people taking part said they felt rushed during the learning, deliberation and recommendation phases of the assembly. If the council was to run an assembly again, it would create more time for people to take on board information on specific themes.

Running the assembly was a tough administrative challenge. Creating a design team, as well as appointing project managers, would have helped.

"The people at the Climate Assembly were passionate about our environment and their recommendations will help to focus our minds even further on tackling this issue."

Cllr Dai Davies, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Regeneration & the Economic Development

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We've found other examples of councils engaging their communities on climate action.

Friends of the Earth view

It’s great that Blaenau Gwent put community engagement at the heart of their plans to tackle climate change and that this has given the council more impetus to tackle the issues locally.

Councils should also consider how to make sure that the voices of the most vulnerable communities in their areas are heard, covered in Action 12 of the Climate Action Plan.

Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing.

This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

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