Growing Sustainably – The Elephant in the Room

The ‘Growing Sustainably‘ Cabinet report bound for the Sheffield City Council later this week (15th March) is now available online. It’s the Council’s response to the multi-agency, Council co-ordinated Green Commission which started in May 2014 under Councillor Jack Scott (the then Cabinet Lead) and taken on by Cllr Jayne Dunn subsequently. The Council’s response is prepared for a third Councillor, Cllr Mazher Iqbal.

The Council’s Cabinet report states that “We [Sheffield City Council] understand the vital contribution the Council can make in creating a sustainable future, and by identifying our five priority themes are providing a bold message of our commitment to take this forward.”

Since the Commission began the Council has seen a significant loss of staff with expertise in this area. Those responsible for previous (and similar) strategies have long since left the Council either because of ‘austerity’ or out of sheer frustration at the lack of commitment shown to this agenda since 2012. The Green Commission was, I believe, a sensible way of engaging a wider group of key stakeholders in the city. There are some talented and experienced individuals who contributed to the Commission. However, several have moved on and cut their ties with the city since the Commission reported. Two key partners, Veolia and Amey, appear to be at odds with either the public or the Council, or both at the time of writing.

I have written several Cabinet and Scrutiny reports, including in 2005 a 2 hour session at Full Council on climate change. Writing reports is the easy bit in many respects although the process is often tortuous and subject to the editing, cutting, pasting and redaction of anything that smacks of ambition. This report follows reports I have drafted and delivered on with limited resources, but the resources available to SCC now are less than they have ever been.

The report clearly states:

“There are no immediate direct financial or commercial implications arising out of this policy report as it does not propose to incur cost in respect of specific actions to realise the objectives of the Green Commission. In order to realise some of the city’s ambitions, specific actions will be required and the expenditure associated with these will be brought forward for approval under the Council’s existing Revenue and Capital Budget procedures. This may require the reprioritisation of expenditure as there is currently no budgetary provision for these activities.

So, in truth, this report sets out 5 key priorities (which align well with the previous Environment Excellence strategies), says they are important to a growing Sheffield faced with a changing climate, worsening air quality, reduced public transport patronage and increased carbon emissions. Except this time round there are no officers to deliver it and no budget. I applaud the Council for being prepared to re-state it’s commitment to this agenda but without staff to co-ordinate it or a budget to deliver it, I am afraid this is simply will not deliver the benefits to our city’s economy, health and wellbeing.

 

Renaissance of City Leadership

The UK Green Building Council hosted a conference to explore leadership in creating sustainable cities at The Studio, on the side of the river Aire in Leeds. Chaired by CEO, Julie Hirigoyen, and featuring a good number of respected commentators and contributors, it was a forum full of city leaders from Salford, Oxford, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Cities, with increasing urbanisation worldwide, are certainly central to sustainability. It was broadly acnkowledged that demand for and creation of innovation were particular to cities. To deliver it will take a new role for cities here in the UK and new leadership. In times of austerity it was recognised that city councils no longer have the same capacity or capability as they once did.

Fundamental to the debate was the challenging question – “How can policy makers and the private sector create more sustainable places to live and work?” and “Who are the new leaders?” because there was a clear recognition it’s not going to be just city councillors, nor officers. Indeed, the need for other players, including the private sector, universities and other public bodies was unanimously supported.

Supported by Arup, Genr8, British Land and Leeds City Council it felt like a return to a similar event 8 or 9 years ago when the Core Cities and Cabe ran a sustainable cities programme bringing together the 8 core cities outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield)  where similar questions with, perhaps, similar answers were positioned, challenged and agreed. Key learning points then, and now, are that we really need strong leadership taking a ‘whole place, whole system’ approach that takes an outcome led approach, doesn’t stifle creativity and innovation and trusts in collaboration in terms of partners and operating at a range of scales – increasingly at a city region and city region+ scale.

Key learning points:

a) redefine leadership and leaders – there’s a role for wider stakeholders.

b) Standards are important – operating across the UK, e.g. building regulations, EV charging points.

c) There’s still a need for some up-front enabling works for development

d) The social value in procurement should be more credibly used to demonstrate wider benefits

e) Devolution is a process not an outcome

Delivering housing, climate change targets, jobs and improving health and wellbeing is increasingly going to sit with cities. They have the governance, the scale and the demand. How they create the capacity and the capability to set the vision, the outcomes they are looking for the confidence is a challenge we hope the new industrial strategy will deliver.

Reflecting on 3 Years: Good Progress and Higher Impact.

It’s been three years since I took up post here at The University of Nottingham as Director of Sustainability. Three years in is a good time to reflect on what’s changed, what’s been achieved and what’s still left to do.

What struck me immediately was the sheer scale of the organisation. Spread across three main teaching campuses, but also operating out of Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, Derby and the King’s Meadow Campus, home of Bullseye, Supermarket Sweep and The Price is Right in a former life as Carlton TV studios.

So, in that 3 year period, what has changed? The Sustainability Directorate has led, supported and cajoled our closest and not so close colleagues to adopt ever more sustainable practices and we’ve achieved quite a bit through quiet revolution and ramping up of activity.

The things we did before I arrived have been stepped up and we’re recognising that where we can’t deliver ourselves we can create opportunity for others to do so. My favourite example of this being our partnership with Enactus Nottingham in delivering our cycle hire scheme. 18 months ago, as the funding from the local authority dried up we had to do things differently and we needed entrepreneurial, customer-focused enthusiasm and energy. We gifted Enactus the assets of 300 or so cycles and created a dedicated facility for them to operate from and the scheme has gone from strength to strength. The scheme now operates closer to where our students are and is run by their peers.

Alongside UCycle, we’ve supported Enactus’ Re-covered project giving them a warehouse/ showroom and providing them with furniture for refurbishment and re-sale that means those with the greatest need in Nottingham have access to affordable furniture that turns a house in to a home.

Both projects have a fantastic impact on the local community, student experience and support the University’s strategic objectives of promoting employability skills in our students. Not only did Enactus Nottingham win the finals of the Enactus Nationals in 2016, they went on to the semi-final of the Enactus World Cup this August when representing the UK in Toronto. Inspiring stuff from them made in Nottingham.

External recognition is helpful and it’s always nice to be recognised for what you’ve achieved. In 2014 the University’s massive open online course, or MOOC, ‘Sustainability, Society and You’ was highly commended at the Green Gown Awards held in the stunning Whitworth Hall in Manchester. In 2015 we were Highly Commended for our work on Carbon Management and a finalist for our famous Creative Energy Homes as well as Highly Commended for our innovative helium recycling scheme. Enactus Nottingham impressed the judges in 2015 with their wonderful work in the enterprise and employability category and this year’s awards brought around our first ever student-award, with Andy Stride, Enactus President winning the Student Sustainability Champion Award whilst we picked up final placings for the creation of our Diamond Wood in the Community Category and for our work on transport and sustainable mobility in the continuous improvement category.

The University is renowned for its attractive campuses worldwide and it’s something that is cherished by the University. Both University Park and Jubilee campus have retained their Green Flag status and the University has been a key component of the Nottingham in bloom success.

We have seen significant improvements to the campus environment and the beginnings of realising our ambition to develop University Park into an arboretum of national importance. Following the creation of the Trent Parterre in 2014, in 2016 a new centre piece Theatre Garden was opened between the Trent Building and Hallward Library adjacent to the walled garden. This project has created an inspiring and useable space for outdoor performance and socialising and has significantly enhanced the external environment of the centre of Campus. Similarly the central landscape enhancements at Sutton Bonington have created a central boulevard of both hard and soft landscaping that enhances the centre of campus creating a social space that is used for events such as the award winning farmer’s market held monthly on the campus.

In addition to the Theatre Garden, numerous projects have been completed over the last year that enhance the environment of the University including:

  • A fitness trail at University Parkimg_20150910_102820
  • A trim trail at Sutton Bonington Diamond Wood
  • Working with the conservation society on habitat clearance works
  • Landscaping works along the newly opened tram line
  • Enhancements to the Science and Engineering areas of the campus

Nottingham, officially Home of Sport has seen both the city and the University invest in new facilities. We’ve invested both in terms of indoor facilities and external playing surfaces. I was delighted when we picked up our first prestigious award from the Institute of Groundsmanship for the management of our artificial surfaces at the University.

We’ve promoted our wonderful campuses with the production of two wildlife calendars in both 2016 and 2017, with photographs taken by talented members of staff from across the University. The profits from these go to the University’s Impact campaign raising millions of pounds to support medical research in childhood cancers, dementia and other health related disciplines. The University’s commitment to fundraising through its ongoing and annual endurance cycle rides is undiminished and personally led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir David Greenaway.

Over the past three years the capital programme of the University has been without precedent. Last year alone we invested around £100m in the completion of the George Green Library development, enhancements to the chemistry façade and windows, the completion of the David Ross Sports Village, the opening of the Ingenuity Centre, Jubilee Campus and the completion of Barn at Sutton Bonington.

IMG_3318Perhaps, of all the buildings we have created in the past three years, the one closest to my heart has been the The GlaxoSmithKline Centre for Sustainable Chemistry. It’s a stunning building, unique in so many ways and, in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), The University set about delivering a carbon neutral laboratory building. In order for the carbon neutral concept to be achieved the building needed to make no overall contribution to greenhouse gases or the acceleration of climate change throughout the entire carbon footprint of the design, from offsite procurement, site construction, occupation and to eventual demolition.

The building has been constructed to achieve both LEED ‘Platinum’ and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ status, as a result of which high standards of construction and site management must be achieved. Throughout every stage of the project, from its inception to completion, great care was taken to minimize the impact of the building on its environment (both in the local and wider contexts).

The energy supply for the building is met from over 1000m2 of photo-voltaic panels to provide energy for running the building during its operational life. img_3325A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) engine has also been installed to operate on low-carbon fuel (fish oil) to heat the laboratory building and the nearby Romax and Ingenuity buildings. The building is a naturally ventilated laboratory and is seen as a landmark development and the first of its kind.

The University’s carbon management plan (CMP) was refreshed in 2015/16 and includes targets for reductions in emissions of CO2 from energy consumption.  It identifies the principal areas of energy use and our investment programmes to improve energy efficiency, reduce consumption and generate energy from lower carbon and renewable energy sources.

In 2015/16 our Scope 1 and 2[1] carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute reduction of 9% (5,312t) from 2014/15 and down 15,714 t from 2009/10 baseline of 67,998 t CO2. In the programme’s sixth year The University made its biggest annual investment to date with £4.4m in projects across all areas of the CMP. This included our single biggest project (Sutton Bonington CHP and district heating scheme) with predicted annual savings totalling £400k and 1,616 tonnes of CO2.  Since 2010 our CMP has invested in excess of £15.2m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 12,673 tonnes of CO2.

Over the past year investments have continued to focus on energy and carbon intensive buildings and processes across our campuses. These have covered a range of areas, including boilers and chillers upgrades and replacement, lighting upgrades and the continuation of insulation and double glazing projects along with energy saving fume cupboard upgrades. Targeted action at the Medical School continues with projects to replace the large centralised chilled water production which achieved carbon reductions this summer of 460t CO2.

With the investment in energy efficient equipment and subsequent investment in CHP the University was able, for the first time in recorded history, reduce its consumption of grid-delivered electricity by just over 3%.

p1020959Since the publication of the first CMP in 2010 the University has continued to grow in size and the carbon associated with the University’s development exceeded its projected additional carbon of 3,000 tonnes by the end of 2012. This trend has continued though to 2016 and can be explained by the impact of increased activity especially in areas of energy intensive research.

The University’s challenge of feeding over 30,000 students every day is not a small one. We’re working hard to do that ever more sustainably and the development of our sustainable food policy and strategy in 2016 was a step up in our commitments.

We continue to see our overall landfill diversion rates increase with more than 99% of the total waste generated through our main waste contract being diverted from landfill, with just under 40% of that waste segregated at source through our comprehensive bin provision for recyclable material and food waste.  Further recovery and recycling by the waste contractor ensures that a very small amount of waste, around 8 tonnes out of total of 3,100 tonnes in 2015/16, is sent to landfill, resulting in a very low carbon waste disposal process.

We have seen a continued year-on-year increase in the amount of food waste that is being diverted from general waste to dedicated food waste collection, which not only cleans up the general waste but also allows the waste to be processed and its energy recovered via anaerobic digestion thereby creating usable energy. We have continued to roll out more on-street and internal recycling infrastructure to further enhance the opportunities for the University community to recycle. It hasn’t all been about recycling and recovery, we have been working with suppliers to reduce waste associated with products and goods we receive and also reuse more items.  Our on line waste exchange facility continues to attract more and more users and now has over 300 active members.

Significant research around alternative fuels is on-going throughout the University with one of the first hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK in operation on the Jubilee Campus.  Electric Estates Vans 07-2015 (6)Over the last year the University welcomed nine electric vehicles to its fleet. These vehicles used by the Estates office and catering teams on a daily basis and have many benefits over vehicles which run on fossil fuels like petrol and diesel including: zero CO2 emissions at the tailpipe resulting in cleaner air and cutting the University’s carbon emissions. They’re cost-effective and quiet running, reducing noise pollution. This is just one example of how we’re promoting sustainable transport alongside the wider provision of extensive cycling infrastructure, public transport (including the tram network now serving the Medical School, University Park and Highfields Sports Ground).

In the coming months, we’ll be working with the City of Nottingham’s Go Ultra Low programme to further develop our electric vehicle charging infrastructure whilst continuing to research and develop prototype hydrogen fuels for both vehicles and buildings.

In fact, The University is working with the City on a number of fronts, including the exciting Trent Basin housing development and the creation of a smart city vision drawing on the University’s expertise in data, energy and transport and the City’s political commitment to sustainable travel, low energy homes and innovation.

Looking back over the three years I have been delighted to see us develop a rigorous, targeted and evidence-based approach to reducing our negative impacts. We’ve identified those high carbon buildings and worked hard to reduce their emissions through investment in energy efficiency and on-site generation.

We’ve continued to be ambitious in our construction programme, not least in the creation of the carbon neutral laboratory and look out for the Passivhaus designs for our next Research Acceleration and Demonstration (RAD) Building on the Jubilee Campus. We’re re-shaping the landscape at University Park with the creation of a wonderful new amphitheatre north of the Portland Building and the creation, over time, of an arboretum across the campus.

Whilst other sectors have been tasked with downsizing the university sector has been given the opportunity to grow, to innovate and to develop and to be part of that is an exciting thing.

You can read more about the University’s sustainability programme at www.nottingham.ac.uk/sustainability

[1] Scope 1 combustion of Natural Gas. Scope 2 ‘Grid’ supplied Electricity consumption

‘Radical’ flood management model can deliver holistic strategy

The report illustrates the benefits of upland management, including the Moors for the Future and Slow the Flow projects. Both demonstrate the importance of using upland management to absorb, slow and release water at a rate that downstream capacity can cope with. It feels very much like a return to pre-agricultural revolution times.

In a sense, this feels like the reversal of the fragmentation created by the formation of the Environment Agency (and the NRA) and tackling the issue that has been so obvious to us all. A holistic view of flood risks, catchment management and protection can only happen if there is more joined-up thinking.

England has seen more frequent and more hard-hitting floods in recent years. They’ve been uncompromising in where they’ve hit and have impacted on the vulnerable, the wealthy and the marginalised. Many major rivers across England have experienced flooding that has resulted in homes being lost, badly damaged and destroyed and in some cases people have lost their lives. Now MPs are calling for an overhaul of flood management to tackle the rising risk to communities from climate change.

Publishing the Future flood prevention report, the environment, food and rural affairs committee identified the lack of a robust national strategy and a short-term a focus to be obstacles to improving flood prevention. It follows the environmental audit committee’s criticism of the government for responding to specific flood events reactively, rather than proactively developing plans adequate to respond to rising flood risk.

The report identifies governance problems where there is ‘poor clarity’ in roles and responsibilities for flood management and a ‘lack of transparency and accountability’ in national decision making not helped by ‘a proliferation’ of flood risk management bodies. The general lack of funding is acknowledged and, where it is available, is known to be complex and unwieldy.
The report illustrates the benefits of upland management, including the Moors for the Future and Slow the Flow projects. Both demonstrate the importance of using upland management to absorb, slow and release water at a rate that downstream capacity can cope with. It feels very much like a return to pre-agricultural revolution times.

You can read the full article published in the EJ here:

Read my earlier blog on Sheffield’s local flood protection consultation here.
To be frank – there are no blue polices for blue space can be read here.

 

 

‘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

 

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

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

Universities as Drivers of Econmic Prosperity – The Israeli Experience

I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time and to experience the very different culture, climate, geography and politics in the country. I was there speaking on behalf of The University of Nottingham at the invitation of the Green Campus network active in Israel to speak at their conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Nagev.

BeerSheba, a mystical sounding desert city that has developed massively in the past decade or so. My knowledge of this city was limited prior to the visit but what became clear to me very quickly was the strategic importance placed on it by Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion.

“Only through a united effort by the State … by a people ready fora great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by creative heroism, by scientists liberated by the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country … we can succeed in carrying out the great and fateful taskof developing the South and the Negev.”

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion University

As the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel it is often referred to as the “Capital of the Negev” and is the centre of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel with a population of over 200,000 people. It’s around a 90 minute drive from Tel Aviv which, by Israeli standards; is some distance in a small country of less than 8 million living in around 40% of the land space.

Whilst development of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem has come about because of their geography (port cities) and their religious and historical importance, Beersheba has needed more deliberate investment. The Blueprint Nagev project includes the Beersheba River Walk, a 900-acre (3.6 km2) riverfront district with green spaces, hiking trails, a 3,000-seat sports hall, a 15-acre boating lake filled with recycled waste water, promenades, restaurants, cafés, galleries, boat rentals, a 12,000-seat amphitheater, playgrounds, and a bridge along the route of the city’s Mekorot water pipes. The plans include building new homes overlooking the park and neighborhood. Four new shopping malls are planned. The first, Kanyon Beersheba, will be a 115,000-square meter ecologically planned mall with pools for collecting rainwater and lighting generated by solar panels on the roof. It will be situated next to an 8,000-meter park with bicycle paths. Another mall will be a farmer’s market, the first ever in Israel. It will be an enclosed, circular complex with 400 spaces for vendors, and it will be surrounded by parks and greenery.

In recent years, some $10.5 million has been invested in renovating Beersheba’s Old City, preserving historical buildings and upgrading infrastructure. The Turkish Quarter is also being redeveloped with newly cobbled streets, widened sidewalks, and the restoration of Turkish homes into areas for dining and shopping.

Today, the city is undergoing a major construction boom, which includes both development of urban design elements, such as water fountains and bridges, and environmental development such as playgrounds and parks.

3026C6B5-88B0-4CCD-BFA5-A64B4FE76A67

Ben-Gurion University Library – its first building

A considerable part of the city’s regeneration plan rests on the university named after Ben-Gurion himself. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev aspires to be among the best inter-disciplinary research universities in the world, a leader in scientific innovation, inter-disciplinary research and applied sciences – all of which impact daily life. It is committed to social and environmental responsibility and is working to develop the Negev, Israel and the world. As one of Israel’s leading research universities it has around 20,000 students and 4,000 faculty members in the Faculties of Engineering Sciences; Health Sciences; Natural Sciences; the Pinchas Sapir Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management; the Joyce and Irving Goldman School of Medicine; the Kreitman School of Advanced Graduate Studies; and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies. More than 100,000 alumni play important roles in all areas of research and development, industry, health care, the economy, society, culture and education in Israel.

What struck me was the pace of development and the important regeneration benefits the university brought to otherwise deprived areas of the city. Whilst there was high-end development in the bio-tech disciplines, there was also massive infrastructure projects such as the relocation of the rail station to serve both the University and the forthcoming technology park on the other side of the rail line.

But the university isn’t all about buildings – it’s put people in its local community at heart – and is a University with a conscience, where high standards of research are integrated with community involvement. The Community Action Department bring BGU into the heart of disadvantaged neighborhoods while outreach programs make higher education accessible to all the residents of the region. I heard, for myself, about a great project where students of the university can live rent free in one of 70 university-owned properties across the city if they commit to give 8 hours a week of their time to community projects. These included dance classes, homework work support and community cooking. Alongside that, BGU is committed (like Technion University) to allowing its students to train guide dogs across campus and it’s not unusual to see them in lecture theatres, cafes or across the campus. Alongside this, more fundamentally, there are now over 500 Bedouin students – over half women – at BGU thanks to outreach and retention programs spearheaded by the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development.

IMG_2341

Satellite Image of Haifa

Leaving the desert and heading west along an increasingly green corridor towards the coast, via Tel Aviv, towards Haifa I came to the Technion University which sits amongst the northern reaches of the Carmel mountain. It’s an extensive campus with some impressive civil engineering and architecture to make a coherent and accessible campus across the terracing of the mountain. It’s certainly impressive and in any other city might be considered a real attraction but, then, it sits not far from the hugely impressive Baha’i Gardens overlooking the sea with immaculate, tended gardens with an army of devoted volunteers. On the slopes of Mount Carmel it’s certainly an impressive view towards the coast. Coach loads of tourists, from all over the world by the looks of it, gather to take in the art form of gardening to a new height.

IMG_2330

Haifa – The Port.

The Technion University vies for the status of Israel’s oldest/ first university with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Whilst these things matter to universities they are less important to guests and there is certainly much more to enjoy than age alone. The Technion University certainly knows how to greet its guests with a specially created visitor centre telling the history of the University, its notable academics (including Nobel Prize winners), and the University’s role in creating and building Israel.

P1010698

Guide Dog Homage

The Hebrew University, home to extensive correspondence from, and to, Albert Einstein, who was a frequent visitor, contributes to its city in a different way. Unlike Haifa and Beersheba, Jerusalem would still be its own city if its universities left. It’s not, in any way, a university town. But not because it’s universities are insignificant. Quite the opposite in fact – but what happens beyond the security fences and turnstiles feels a million miles from the hubbub and rush of the city. The HU has created a wonderful green lung in the city providing space for biodiversity, urban cooling, run-off suppression and spaces that people can enjoy. Its sheer mass of numbers, around 24,000 staff and students, create demand for services and pressure on infrastructure. It was great, then, to see investment in a light rail (tram) extension that will connect the city centre, its two main teaching campuses for science/engineering and humanities, and the Government Quarter.

Having visited all three universities in the space of just under 4 days, it would be easy to make assumptions, but I saw three universities who saw social, economic and environmental contributions to their local, regional and national communities as important and central to their mission. Whilst there are many questions still to be answered in Israel, there are some shining examples of good practice too.

 

Smart Cities and Communities – Sustainable?

In the recent blogs I have composed about city ambitions for sustainability it seems the concept of a ‘smart city’ is falling between the cracks of silo-thinking when it has the opportunity to integrate, unify and deliver multi-ambitions and objectives. Too often the comment is ‘well, I am in charge of transport but the person in charge of ‘smart’ is over there in economic development’ … or, ‘we’ll do the smart bit when we’ve cracked this highways contract and decided what to do with the economic regeneration plan, I’ll have more time then’.

Big missed opportunities.

It was heartening, then, to attend the excellent Smart Cities and Communities conference last week in Manchester where several cities and agencies showed how they were actively integrating their ambitions for growth, quality, citizen engagement, transport, energy, asset management, governance and performance. Many were trialing things at a manageable (albeit still ambitious) scale – such as the work underway in the Manchester Oxford Rd corridor and across Peterborough.

One cannot help but be impressed by the commitment to the smart agenda in Singapore – a city half the size of Manchester but with twice the population. Culturally atuned to technology and acting smarter it’s invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to achieve its positioning in the global economy and to ensure that it is able to embrace opportunity.

I would like to see other cities, like Nottingham and Sheffield (where I work and live) embrace these opportunities so that they can achieve their ambitions for carbon reduction, liveability, traffic congestion, air quality improvements, etc. Birmingham and Bristol have embraced this in their ‘commissioned’ strategies. Sheffield‘s recent Green Commission report paid lip service to ‘smart’ but it showed a lack of understanding. In Nottingham, I hope, it will be seen as an opportunity to harness the collective agencies for transport, energy, planning, regeneration, business growth, citizen engagement, green and blue space management, healthcare, security, etc. But there is some catching up to do.

So the question posed by Cedric Price remains a good one. It’s not all about technology, of course, but without a vision, leadership, some projects, willing partners and a desire to make the sum of the parts add up a little better, you’ll not be smart. And that makes you ….

A Grey, Blue, Green Implementation Spectrum

This is my second blog on the Sheffield Green Commission. 

With time to re-read, reflect and review the output of the Green Commission, would like to make the following observations:

  1. The report covers 4 key areas – ‘Connected City’; ‘Transformative Energy’; ‘European Green City’; and ‘Learning City’.
  2. It’s been facilitated by the City Council and co-Chaired by a City Councillor but has no new policy commitments from the City Council within it (nor any real commitment to develop new policy).
  3. It makes recommendations but it’s not clear who will follow through these proposals and has neither incentives nor sanctions for those acting (or failing to) on them.
  4. The scope is laudable, comprehensive and builds on the City’s strengths but ignores some difficult areas and conflicts.
  5. The Commissioners involved in the process are respected, knowledgeable and committed to the City but they have no levers, influence or clout to deliver their work – other than their own personal commitment to this agenda.
  6. The recommendations are written as if the people of Sheffield have a choice and there is a ‘policy-on’ or ‘policy-off’ choice. There isn’t. Successful cities have embraced the kind of recommendations proposed here. They’ve demonstrated how the social, economic and environmental commitments made are mutually reinforcing and effective.
  7. Sadly, there appears to be little input from the private sector and its representative bodies, with the notable exception of E.on, Veolia and Amey – two of whom are contractually linked to the City Council. The Chamber of Commerce representative left the Commission before the concluding report was published.
  8. The report is written in a passive, hopeful voice. It, too often, suggests ‘Sheffield considers’ and ought to have a few more verbs in it – strategy and policy are good, but there needs to be a sense of action, with timeframes.

Whilst this might sound critical, there is much to like on the visioning. A highly connected city, with smart ambitions, commitment to public transport, walking and cycling with smart cards and high speed internet connectivity sounds wonderful. Imagine a city where everyone can get where they want to, when they want to, how they want to without creating choking air pollution or pumping more Co2 in to the atmosphere. Sounds great.

I love the vision of a learning city where Sheffield actively engages with its UK city counterparts through Core Cities and with leading European Cities through the Eurocities network, bringing knowledge, experience and opportunity to benefit the citizens and businesses of Sheffield. Sadly the City Council’s commitment to the Core Cities Energy & Climate Change work has been inconsistent in the past 2-3 years and its involvement in Eurocities weak. Officers fail to attend or bring back the lessons learned.

At last, Sheffield is recognising that its green assets should form the central core of its ambitions – but recognising it must invest less in grey infrastructure and consider blue space, water and its ability to adapt to future climate change.

Lastly, who wouldn’t want a city more resilient to the frailties of the UK Government’s weak energy policy. More investment in localised energy generation and distribution of both heat and power is the cornerstone of any successful city. There are some interesting ideas posed in the report about ways in which finance can be raised to invest and references Bristol’s work in this area. I would suggest that other cities are also acknowledged – not just to borrow ideas but to give the confidence to decision makers to get on and make this happen. Nottingham is buying gas and electricity wholesale and acting as a supplier through its Robin Hood Energy Company to pass on those benefits to its citizens.

In my previous blog I wrote about my concerns for the lack of governance and monitoring of implementation. The report is honest in its appraisal of what is needed but the City is kidding itself if it thinks it’s really committed politically. It’s not the politicians fault either. Successively, over the last 5 years the expertise the city had has been allowed to retire, retreat or just fade away leaving fewer and fewer to do what the Council does best: govern. Even if all recommendations are supported there is no-one left to oversee their implementation. None of the City Council’s own employees lasted the duration of the Commission – at the end of the process there wasn’t a City Council officer – just the co-Chair, Cllr Jayne Dunn – to take the next steps.

The Council has several roles it can play, but fundamentally it can take direct action by commissioning, contracting and writing and implementing policy; or it can make things happen indirectly by facilitating investment, derisking it and working with the private sector (such as happened with the E.ON investment in the Lower Don Valley). Unlike previous policies this paper doesn’t commit what the role of the Council should be. Sadly, in times of reducing resources I fear the City Council will keep its head down and hope this all blows over.

Any of you who know me personally and/or professionally will know I am positive, optimistic and supportive of good ideas. There is much to like in this report in terms of vision and ambition. But until there are clear policy commitments to tackling carbon emissions, investing in blue infrastructure, air quality and to smart city ambitions I am afraid this will be just another document. The commissioners involved in this process deserve the elected Members of Council to show real commitment to delivering this. Time to step up SCC.

You should read the report and can contribute your own thoughts to the consultation here.