Take the City to the Capital

Yesterday’s occupation of the Houses of Parliament by representatives of the city of Nottingham were a lesson in relationship building. The City created a wonderfully diverse programme to showcase the city’s strengths, ideas, talent and assets to policy makers and decision takers – with an emphasis on ‘can do’ and a sense of fun (not least the noble way in which our University’s academics declined to win the University Challenge event Chaired by the Speaker of the House).

It wasn’t just fun though. There were some key messages that are worth repeating here:

a) There is an ever-strengthening role for universities to provide intellectual, asset and cultural offerings to their respective cities. Nottingham showcased it’s contributions in theatre, history, art, sport, science and engineering.

b) The scale of universities means they can be engines of economic success and growth when they work in partnership with their city government and across their wider economic partnership areas, such as D2N2. I blogged on this previously here.

c) Wider city objectives that embrace genuine sustainability and a low carbon future require their largest and most influential organisations to support them and help show them the way. I was impressed by the number of times I heard ‘low carbon’ mentioned. whilst other cities have shied away from this ambition and put it in the ‘too difficult’ box Nottingham’s leaders have made it a priority. They see the opportunity it provides.

img_5625The morning after ‘Nottingham in Parliament’ and you could ask, ‘well, what’s changed?’

Without doubt, Parliament knows Nottingham was there. You couldn’t turn a corner without the famous Nottingham Green being there. Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham, school children, gold medallists, sporting heroes, business leaders, Knights of the Realm, academics all contributed to the day. They built new relationships, they showcased what the city has to offer and they made Nottingham feel that bit closer to Parliament than maybe it has in the past.

More coverage in the Nottingham Post; the liveblog of the Day from the BBC, Chris Leslie MP’s video of the day; this video from The University and our FlickR page which has some images of events on the day, the journey down  and the Home of Sport activities

Interview with Emma Bridge, Community Energy England

ebridge-150x1502xThe world of renewable energy continues to get caught in the tossing and turning of government policy and in order to create this rapid growth ‘the community energy sector will need to adapt to new forms of funding and engage proactively with the energy market and traditional energy sector partners, whilst still holding true to the core principles that define community action,’ says Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England in my latest piece for the Environment Journal.

‘As rare as a Sheffield Flood’ – 9 Years on in Sheffield

The City Council in Sheffield, my home city, is consulting on its flood prevention strategy. In 2007 the city was hit by intense rainfall over a number of weeks and, eventually, with the soils saturated and the rivers full, the water spilled across and through the city. It was fatal, it was devastating for businesses and homes were very badly damaged in parts of the city.

floodingIn the aftermath there was significant scrutiny of the city’s flood protection in public. Experts gave evidence. Responsible persons gave evidence and, in time, it was clear that the city needed to invest more thought into how it should do this. Business has recognised it has a responsibility to work with the city council to achieve this. In all the papers I prepared for Councillors on climate change I made the point that there was ever greater variability, intensity and unpredictability in the future climate. Those messages are coming true now. Other cities have experienced the same issues – Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, Hull, York.

It’s good to see that as part of the planning and development of the city, the city council is now consulting on the ‘Protecting Sheffield from Flooding Programme‘ and is consulting with stakeholders, partners, business owners and members of the public inside and outside of flood risk areas. It’s an £83m package of interventions and whilst the programme focuses on two major river catchments, The River Don and the Sheaf (from which Sheffield gets its name) it considers the effect and impact of the serving tributaries. Those smaller rivers include the Porter and Rivelin, which take their water from the uplands to the west of the city and which flow, generally, west-east towards the lower lying lands before heading to the coast.

The programme justifies itself on supporting economic growth but it recognises the important role rivers and water have played (and continue to play) in the City’s heritage. It’s pleasing that amenity and biodiversity are included and the short animation accompanying the consultation references this. But what a pity it’s only had 6 views. It’s clear to me that we’re in danger of being complacent. The memories of 2007 may be fading but the threat of flood is only getting stronger.

Pleasingly, the strategy acknowledges it needs to create water storage when rivers burst and is proposing open spaces are used to provide temporary storage in, for example, parks. This is a well tried method in other countries and all power to the city for looking at its green spaces as blue spaces too. Slowing down the flow of water through the city is essential if communities downstream are to be protected and specific flood defences on vulnerable areas of low lying land are still going to be necessary.

The consultation has been running since the summer and I hope the response rate is higher than the YouTube views. It’s also encouraging that the city’s highway contractor, Amey are trialling state-of-the-art sensors into gullies in a trial aimed at preventing the flooding of roads. I just hope they trial them in Sheffield too.

My personal view is that this is a step in the right direction, but also a missed opportunity. Water is central to our lives. Where it falls, how it’s stored, moved, used, disposed of and re-used is part of a cycle. I would liked to have a seen a more comprehensive water strategy developed not just with the Environment Agency, but also with Yorkshire Water, so that the future needs of the city are better understood, joined up and planned. We now talk about ‘water sensitive cities’, ‘sponge cities’, green and blue space that recognises the importance of water as part of the health, wellbeing, economic and environmental agendas. As the climates of the future become more energised, less predictable and more intense we need to understand how we will deal not just with flood, but with drought and not for now – but for the climate we know is just round the corner.

There is still time to respond: http://www.floodprotectionsheffield.com/pages/consultation

 

‘Significant opportunities’ for low-carbon cities

Switching to a low-carbon economy offers cities ‘significant economic opportunities’, an assessment says. Low-carbon markets was worth US $33bn (£26bn) to London’s economy, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) says in its latest report. The report, It takes a city: the case for collaborative climate action, added that the cities spread over 89 nations had identified more than 1,000 economic opportunities linked to climate change. Almost 300 cities featured in the report were also developing new business industries, such as clean technology.
Source: http://environmentjournal.online/articles/significant-opportunities-for-low-carbon-cities/

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.

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