The secrets of Nottingham’s sustainability success

This blog was written for the Environment Journal in August 2016. 
You can read it here.

Nottingham is earning a reputation for being a city with sustainability at its heart. So what makes it different to the other core cities in the UK?

Newly published government data shows that since 2011-12 there has been a significant fall in the city’s carbon emissions due to a reduction in domestic energy use. It indicates a 33% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005, beating a target set by Nottingham City Council to reach a 26% reduction by 2020.

Councillor Alan Clark, portfolio holder for energy and sustainability, said of the news: ‘It’s a great achievement to have met this important target four years early. Nottingham is at the forefront of sustainability awareness and these latest figures maintain the city’s position as the UK’s most energy self-sufficient city.’

Without doubt, there is political commitment to the agenda in the city where Robin Hood Energy has become a pioneering and leading, if small, player in the domestic electricity and gas markets and has fast gained a reputation for value for money, as shown by a recent Which? report. Borne out of the council’s quest to tackle fuel poverty, it’s a not-for-profit success.

But providing cheaper fuel on its own doesn’t reduce carbon emissions. It’s investment in low carbon alternatives and improving building stock that’s achieving that.

It’s no coincidence that Nottingham’s carbon emissions reduction coincides with its programme of ‘energy saving investments in social housing such as external wall insulation programmes which have also been open to private owners and the installation of solar panels on over 4,000 of council house roof tops’, said Clark.

But here’s the real insight – Nottingham has been prepared to acknowledge that carbon reduction goes hand-in-hand with economic success. You won’t hear people in the city saying ‘we can’t do that it will scare off developers or investors’. Quite the opposite, it’s attracting the sort of businesses who want to be part of this responsible growth. Its confident approach follows from investment in human capital as well with a number of experienced and respected officers joining the council to lead the agenda and support its cabinet’s ambitions.

Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport said: ‘A significant part of this reduction – around 13% – is due to the popularity of public transport, cycling and walking in Nottingham. We have Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses, the addition of the new Chilwell and Clifton tram routes and £6.1m invested in improving cycling routes to provide great alternatives to using cars to get around the city.’

It’s also galvanising the efforts of long-standing businesses in the city, like Boots and its two universities – both of which are considered to be amongst the most committed and highest performing universities in terms of sustainability.

The University of Nottingham has been placed first in the University of Indonesia’s Green Metric for the past three years and has never been out of the top two places since its inception. Nottingham Trent University consistently performs well in the index and, with a combined total of students well over 60,000, that’s a good proportion of the city covered.

Nottingham’s political commitment and clear strategy have brought confidence and a long-term approach that has enabled the city to invest its own money wisely as well as attract government funded programmes like Go Ultra Low.

The city council, together with Nottinghamshire County Council and Derby City Council, are among the UK’s exemplar Go Ultra Low Cities, implementing a wide range of new initiatives to make electric vehicles and sustainable transport more accessible. This is also embedded in the recent Metro Strategy for Nottingham and Derby recently put out for consultation.
At the same time, more than 50 gas-powered buses are heading to the streets of Nottingham after a successful bid for government funding was confirmed to augment the 50+-strong fleet of electric buses in the city.
Nottingham City Transport, in partnership with the council, has been awarded funding under the government’s OLEV Low emission bus scheme, meaning £4.4m has been awarded to buy 53 bio-methane fuelled double deckers and to install the fuelling infrastructure at its Parliament Street garage. The city council was also successful in its bid for £920,000, which will fund on-street rapid charging infrastructure, improving the range and flexibility of the council’s electric bus fleet – currently the largest in the UK and Europe. This funding will also be used to construct the charging base for the 13 new electric buses which are shortly to arrive in Nottingham.
The new gas double decker buses will be quieter, smoother and cleaner and will ultimately provide an estimated carbon emission saving to the city of 23,204,856 kilograms over the lifetime of the vehicles compared to conventional diesel buses.
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport, said successful bids like this are ‘enabling Nottingham to become a centre for low carbon, future-proofed transport, shaping our future as the UK’s greenest transport city with environmentally positive transport’.
He believes it will have a knock-on effect on the local economy and skills base, providing local opportunities to develop local pathways into employment, with bus companies also offering apprenticeships and work experience connected directly to this new technology.

The city is already making waves towards becoming a trailblazer Low Emission City through:

  • Europe’s largest battery electric bus fleet with 45 fully battery electric buses in operation on our Linkbus network and 13 more electric buses on order
  • Expansion of the electric NET tram system to three lines spanning 34km
  • Inclusion of ULEVs as part of the council’s current fleet makeup
  • Electric vehicles operating in our growing car club
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure already in place at key Park and Ride services, workplaces and destinations
  • Two local private hire companies operating six full electric and 150 hybrid vehicles
  • Only Go Ultra Low shortlisted city to be awarded Lighthouse City status by EU. Funding secured for REMO Urban project for smart low carbon transport, energy and ICT projects
  • Local commitment to the electrification of the Midland Mainline
  • Local Authority owned, Robin Hood Energy and Enviroenergy generating and supplying local sustainable power for residents, businesses and transport
  • The council has prepared a prospectus highlighting the key investment areas which will help to support Nottingham’s ambition for becoming a low emission city.

All of this is impressive. The city, led in the main by the council, has made the low carbon agenda a priority. It makes good business sense to reduce its own consumption and bills, to reduce fuel poverty and create an environment that business can buy-in to and support. While other provincial core cities have downsized their capabilities, Nottingham has invested and is clearly reaping the rewards in the triple bottom line. Reduced costs, happier citizens, better business.

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Derby/Nottingham Metro Strategy – Out for Consultation

Derby and Nottingham haven’t always been so prepared to work together. As cities, they have a reputation as rivals not collaborators. This manifests itself when the respective city’s teams play each other in football and in cricket but it’s also been felt to be an uneasy relationship between the leaders of both cities – both competing against each other for ever diminishing funding and investment opportunities.

That all appears to be coming to an end though. Whilst the football rivalries will no doubt be as strong as ever, the leaders of both cities have made a significant step in developing a shared ‘metro strategy’ that fundamentally recognises that the two cities can thrive together rather than strive apart. The publication of the first Metro Strategy, now out for consultation, invites comment and input from citizens, community groups and businesses and will, no doubt, further strengthen the offer the Local Enterprise Partnership, D2N2 presents. It shows ambition, acknowledges the challenges and isn’t ducking any issues. Skills, connectivity, economic growth and an a commitment to improving the environment sit together well in a coherent strategy.

This first draft of our Metropolitan Strategy Action Plan outlines what we want to work on together over the next three years. It is based on the four themes of our Vision: Enterprise, Talent, Connectivity and City Living. As well as identifying areas for immediate collaboration, it lays the foundations for our longer term ambitions by exploring areas where a joint approach might bring longer term benefits.

 

The commitment to creating a ‘smart’ approach to urban living is welcomed. It is, in my view, the only way we will reduce the inefficiencies and increase the integration of systems – energy, water, waste, transport, data, good and services, etc.By committing to the value of information technologies to achieve this Nottingham and Derby can catch up on the cities that have taken the pacemaker’s role such as Bristol, Manchester and London.

Whilst many cities seem incapable of committing to a low carbon agenda for fear of scaring businesses, my own home city of Sheffield included, I was particularly pleased to see real commitment to reducing carbon emissions (something Nottingham has made significant commitments toward in achieving its 2020 target 4 years early) and for tackling poor air quality. With 40,000 commuters moving between the two cities on a regular basis there is a fantastic opportunity to create a low emission east-west corridor between the two cities linking into the Toton HS2 site through improved rail and tram services as well as further investment in electric and biomethane/biogas technologies to support low emission private vehicles too.

If I have one criticism of the document, it’s that, on the whole, it sees almost all of the key actions residing with either one of the city councils. If this strategy is to be delivered effectively it will require the commitment of the biggest and smallest stakeholders in the Derby/Nottingham conurbation. There is clearly a significant opportunity for all three of the universities to play a lead role in committing their buying power and operational scale to this agenda. More importantly, they have a significant intellectual contribution to make in shaping the metro strategy’s commitments to creating a climate resilient, blue-green space plan as well as supporting the challenging agenda to upskill and ensure opportunities for learning.

The strategy and action plan are here: http://www.derby.gov.uk/media/derbycitycouncil/contentassets/documents/consultationpapers/consultationdocuments/metro-strategy-action-plan.pdf

Does BEIS signal a change in direction for climate change policy?

Will the relocation of DECC’s staff be more than cosmetic, or will they continue to exist under a different secretary of state doing largely the same things alongside colleagues from elsewhere in the civil service?
By folding it into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and thereby creating a new ministry called the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) it goes back to the days before DECC existed and alignment of industrial strategy and energy strategy at least lived in the same place even if neither were particularly clear or coherent.

 

Read the full article here on the Environment Journal

Three UK universities that are leading the way on sustainable buildings

There is plenty of evidence of, not just good practice, but great practice in the universities and colleges across the UK. The 2016 Green Gown Awards shortlist has recently been announced and there are 115 shortlisted for a range of awards to be announced in November. – See more here.IMG_3318
Carbon-Neutral Laboratory of Sustainable Chemistry, University of Nottingham