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A panel of East Lincolnshire public and private sector organisations gathered last week for the latest in our ‘Simplify Sustainability’ roundtables, to discuss sustainability and the challenges the rural county faces to connect the dots.

Held at the newly renovated Blenkin Memorial Hall in Boston, the event saw the 12-strong panel of local experts discuss a wide range of topics from connectivity, the importance of momentum – especially when it comes to Levelling Up Funding (LUF) – and creating pathways for funding, education and placemaking.

Ed Reynolds, director at Willmott Dixon, said:

“This is the fourth event we’ve held in our Simplify Sustainability roundtable series, but the discussion here was incredibly unique and highlights that a national strategy doesn’t always work on a regional and local level.
“For example, we discussed at length how the sustainable transport routes and infrastructure, which are highly praised in cities such as Nottingham or Bristol, just aren’t feasible in East Lincolnshire thanks to the connectivity and transport barriers faced by the district.
“As a result, long-term vision planning that is aligned with national thinking doesn’t stack up against short-term local challenges, such as sustainable infrastructure, planning, jobs, resource and funding.”

Michelle Sacks, deputy chief executive (growth) for the South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership, elaborated on this point. She said:

“It’s all about connectivity – we have the largest food cluster in the UK, with 1,400 HGVs leaving Spalding every day but not reaching a dual carriageway until they leave the area. It’s no wonder people always say “It took a long time to get here” – an unnecessary obstacle that other counties don’t face.
“Connectivity has a massive impact not just on sustainability but on young people’s aspirations and lives, which is why our role of bringing people together, and the ripple effect of collaboration it creates, is crucial. Nick Heath, a Willmott Dixon director, sits on the Boston Town Deal board and has introduced us to such a wide variety of people we never would have met. By collecting partners, we create a chorus rather than a single voice – which is so much more powerful.
“This then filters down to the local community as these projects change the dynamics of an area and offer intangible benefits people aren’t even aware of – such as securing a job with Willmott Dixon thanks to a nearby project or receiving a high-quality education at Boston College, which is a direct result of Town Deal funding. It’s all about finding the golden thread and we’re trying to pull everyone along for the journey.”

The roundtable also turned to the importance of being on the same page when it comes to sustainability, with Ed outlining the discrepancy between terminology as one of the biggest challenges we’re facing right now. Nick Gregory, director at CPMG Architects, picked up on this thread identifying that sustainability should be embedded in the specification of a development project.

He said:

“In my experience, embedding sustainability at early stages of a project is crucial as it gets everyone on board and ensures each wave of work is progressing to higher and higher standards. However, thinking of the bigger picture – education is so important to influence behavioural change and help people understand how to use a building.
“You can design and build the most sustainable building in the world with the best fabric and material choices but if it is operated incorrectly and inefficiently, for the next 30 years it is no longer a sustainable building.”

Mike Gildersleeves, assistant director – planning and strategic infrastructure for the South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership, added:

“The push and pull of place and behaviour, and which comes first, is a great source for debate and touches on the earlier point of national policy not aligning with local challenges.
“For example, the Skegness Gateway project – which plans to transform the town with the development of a sustainable urban extension – is a legacy scheme that people want to be involved in and subsequently raises the bar for sustainability. As a result, we’ve been looking to implement Homes England guidance that has been used in other parts of the country but never in Lincolnshire. But how much value does it have in real terms for local people – especially when the ceiling price for property in Lincolnshire is below the national average?
“Therefore, for me, it comes down to brass tacks. We as a Partnership need to help drive investment levels and be as ready as possible to bid for and roll out funding once secured. Forums such as this are thus crucial for building up an evidence base to lobby government and enable us to act with real-time data to create a more sustainable future for South & East Lincolnshire.”

The video below highlights some key thoughts following the discussion:

The panel was chaired by Liz Cartwright (Cartwright Communications) and featured Ananthan Sivayoganathan (Collins Hall Green), Daniel Collins (PolkeyCollins), Dave Vernon (SCAPE), Debbie Holland (Boston College), Ed Reynolds (Willmott Dixon), Michelle Sacks (South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership), Mike Gildersleeves (South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership), Nick Gregory (CPMG Architects), Nick Heath (Willmott Dixon), Robbie Doughty (Robert Doughty Consultancy Limited), Sarah Baker (South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership) and Simone Codrington (Willmott Dixon).

The roundtable is part of a wider series of regional events taking place across the Midlands – with sessions already held in Birmingham, Nottingham and Lincoln – to tackle the challenges facing public and private sector firms when it comes to sustainability and how local issues impact how it is rolled out.