Heather Watkinson - My City Science Journey

4 May 2023

What’s your position at City Science (and what does that mean)?

I am an Associate Director of Net Zero Transport at City Science.

In this role, I help organisations understand how to decarbonise road transport. For example, I’ve led on four EV strategies since joining the City Science team. I also lead the transport decarbonisation pathway work, which is an essential activity to help local authorities understand their emissions from transport and how to address them.

Many organisations want to be net zero, but they don’t often have a meaningful plan. We help them understand where they are - for example, what are their current emissions and what are their pathways to their net zero goals - then we develop evidence-based action plans that are relevant, feasible, and will have a big impact.

How did you come to be working at City Science?

My entire 20+ year career has been around climate change and sustainability. Most recently, I worked at Transport for London (TfL) for 11 years, where I met Simon Lusby (now City Science’s Head of Transport & Sustainability).

I was ready for a new challenge and one day I ran into Simon by the River Thames when I was out with my family. He made it clear City Science was looking for someone with experience in transport decarbonisation and electric vehicles. I applied, went through the interview process and was delighted to be offered the role.

My aspirations and goals really align with what City Science does, and I was excited about the opportunity to work on both transport and broader sustainability projects. At bigger organisations, you can quite easily get stuck in a very specific area of work, whereas what City Science does is so broad that there’s more room to breathe

Can you give an example of a project you're either working on or have been working on?

I thoroughly enjoyed working on the ELVIS project (Electric Vehicles Insights Study), which was undertaken for Transport East and England’s Economic Heartland to prepare the UK for the expected surge in electric vehicle demand as petrol and diesel vehicles are phased out.

This innovative project involved using City Science’s bespoke EV maturity model to assess where local authorities require additional EV support. It also analysed private sector plans (both charge point operators and retail organisations) to help understand the role of the public sector in EV deployment.

With 13 years of experience in EV strategies and delivery, it was refreshing to approach the topic from a new perspective. For example, our research showed that there was a big difference between what the public sector expects and what’s happening on the ground. For instance, whilst charge point operators have significant funding they lack access to land, and the large retail chains have made only small public commitments (if any) to charge point delivery. This realisation points to the significant role that the public sector can play as landowners.

We also learnt the important role that knowledge sharing and upskilling between local authorities can play, to overcome procurement fears and to share best practice and innovation. Encouraging cross-regional learning and support can play a significant role in ensuring sustainable EV deployment.

What motivates you most about the work you do at City Science?

I'm incredibly passionate about driving real action on the ground, and this is where the work we do at City Science really stands out.

Our focus is on closing the gap between strategies and implementation, supporting our clients to prioritise their interests, and providing evidence-based solutions that can have a real impact. So we don't just develop documents that end up on shelves; we provide practical measures that are developed in close collaboration with our partners, and we work hard to get buy-in from all stakeholders.

On a personal level, I have young children, and I really didn't want to have to work Fridays. City Science was really open to this, so that made working here even more attractive because I now have one day a week for myself.

What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I’m really lucky because, as just explained, I don't work on Fridays and both my kids are in school. I live in London and I love London. So I do try and go to galleries, music events and the theatre as much as I can. And, of course, I spend a lot of time in the local park with the kids as well.

If you could wave a wand and change some aspect of policy or legislation what would that be and why?

Although policy is important, as individuals, we must also take responsibility for living more sustainable lives. While many of us care about climate change, we are not doing enough to make a difference. Therefore, it is essential to encourage behavioural changes and accountability in individuals, which can be supported and influenced by policy.

One way to do this is by implementing policies that require new homes to be built to a high standard, such as Passivhaus, to reduce energy demand from the grid and increase energy efficiency. This would also support affordability, noise reduction, and comfort.

There should also be more funding to retrofit older homes and improve their energy efficiency, which is especially pertinent given the cost of living crisis.