Spotlight on a Champion: Norman Harding, Hackney Council

16th April 2018

Over the last few years, Hackney Council has earned plenty of recognition for its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its vehicle fleet.

Much of the council’s progress has been guided by Corporate Fleet Manager Norman Harding, who has made it his mission to do all he can to reap the benefits of alternatively fuelled vehicles.

Norman’s dedication has not gone unnoticed.

Last month, he was presented with an Environmental Award by one of the City of London Corporation’s historic livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Carmen, as a result of his team’s achievements to date.

Norman Harding (third from left) with other award winners

Norman with other winners at the Worshipful Company of Carmen’s awards

It is the latest of four awards he has collected in the last two years, on top of several other commendations and shortlistings.

And Norman spoke to LoCITY to describe the council’s progress to date – and what it is doing to maintain its momentum.

“We have an excellent reputation for pioneering alternative fuels and we hope to eventually become totally fossil fuel free”, Norman said.

“Our aim is to introduce larger or heavier electric vehicles in due course, but in the interim we are looking at hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) as a ‘transition fuel’ until we reach that point.”

Norman joined Hackney Borough Council in 2007, when the focus was on global warming and CO2 reduction.

“The council’s fleet profile was, and still is, typical of any municipal authority; cars, LCVs, HGVs, wheelchair-accessible buses, heavy plant and agricultural plant.

“The environment was always on the agenda. Back then, biofuels were the obvious choice, with minimal conversion costs, no range issues and marginal maintenance implications.

“So, since 2008, we have been successfully running fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) biodiesel from waste cooking oil, saving hundreds of tonnes of CO2.”

Today, the council operates 150 vehicles – almost a third of its 470-strong fleet – on some form of biodiesel, as well as a further 45 electric vehicles.

Hackney-Council's-fleet

Hackney Council won the Green Fleet award at the What Van? Awards 2018

It is currently completing a fleet replacement of its LCV vehicles to bring them up to Euro 6 standards and implement electric replacements where possible.

Norman said: “We have come a long way, not just focusing on alternative fuels but also on vehicle specifications, driver behaviour, routes, technology, procurement processes and assessment of the supply chain.

“I am always looking at new ways to improve our fleet and capabilities.”

Hackney Council’s progress in upgrading its fleet is highly impressive, but being at the forefront of adopting new technologies and fuels has not been without its challenges.

“There have definitely been some foreseeable stumbling blocks along the way”, said Norman.

“For example, things like meeting EN standards, maintaining a regular supply at that quality and preventing fuel filter blockages are all known issues with FAME biodiesel, but we were well prepared for this and able to deal with it in our early specifications and processes.

“At present, I am looking to develop our depot-based charging infrastructure so it can cope with larger vehicles, which presents issues like power supply that we will need to investigate further.”

From his 11 years in the role, Norman has some informed advice for any organisation looking to reduce its fleet’s carbon footprint or do more to improve local air quality.

“We have seen encouraging results from HVO biodiesel that suggest others could benefit from following in our footsteps.

“The emissions testing we conducted at Millbrook Proving Ground in 2017 showed that HVO has great potential – especially as an alternative for those in the wider freight industry with national operations.”

Norman features in a LoCITY video that explains the vehicle testing process to understand the potential benefits of HVO as an alternative fuel to diesel.

But he is aware that he and the council can do even more themselves over the years ahead.

“Our operations, even for heavy vehicles, are very localised, so there is nothing to stop us becoming fully electric in the long term.”

“With the shift in emphasis to local air quality, we see the future for Hackney’s fleet being driven by electric vehicle technology.

“And when you consider the local nature of our business and most vehicles returning to a depot base, it seems an obvious choice.” Norman added.

As part of Hackney Council’s continued drive, it became a LoCITY Champion and participates regularly in helping to shape the programme and raise awareness of lower emission commercial vehicles.

Norman believes other London boroughs and private companies could benefit from becoming LoCITY Champions, joining Working Groups or attending one of the programme’s upcoming events.

“LoCITY is all about bringing the industry together, sharing best practice and working to reduce commercial vehicle emissions to improve our air quality.

“This is something we are passionate about at Hackney Council, and I am sure that many other authorities and organisations that share that view could benefit from getting involved the programme too.”

To find out more about becoming a LoCITY Champion like Hackney Council, or for information about joining a Working Group, email enquiries@locity.org.uk.