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 ….

How to make a mess of the UK’s Energy Planning

Spot on summary Sandy

Green Urbanist

The Cabinet Office published a remarkable report today on energy “Red Tape”. Why is it remarkable? Because reading it closely and between the lines, there couldn’t be a more damning indictment of this government’s handling of UK energy policy since 2010.

To be frank it is a complete mess. And all caused by the huge policy disruptions, contradictions and plain stupidity engendered by DECC and HM Treasury. Of course this “Red Tape” report and Cabinet Office can’t use such language. That would be too honest, and totally off the agenda as far as this government is concerned.

But just look at what is said in the report.

  • “We have spoken to a wide range of businesses, from large and established energy companies to new starters and small and medium enterprises. We found the consultation process insightful and it was enlightening to hear views from such a variety of organisations”.

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Want to see more efficient spending of public money? Move to the city.

The Urban Observer

It probably no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of city living. I love being able to hop on my bike, the bus, or walk down the street to one of my favorite neighborhood pubs or cafés. There’s a real sense of freedom that comes when not having a car-centric lifestyle. Each and every time I hop on my bike (rain or shine) I fall in love with my city again.

But let’s talk about a different aspect of the suburban vs. urban decision. Let’s talk about money. According to the Canadian organization, Sustainable Prosperity, in a recent report, a city’s public cost for each suburban home is more than double that of each urban home. (See graphic below). That’s public money… our taxes going disproportionately to suburban living, because a sprawling public plan costs more: for policing, transportation, park planning, emergency services and the likes. Sustainable Prosperity has…

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Sheffield’s Green Commitment (Again)

This week saw the publication of ‘Sheffield’s Green Commitment‘ for consultation. The report brings together the outputs from the 12 month plus process led by Cllr Jayne Dunn with the expert input of 14 ‘commissioners’ contributing towards the new vision for Sheffield’s environment:

Sheffield Green Commission – an independent commission made up of 14 individuals from business, industry, the public sector and both Sheffield universities and chaired by Cabinet Member Councillor Jayne Dunn – was tasked with hearing and reviewing written and verbal evidence from a wide range of expert witnesses and using this evidence to make recommendations for securing Sheffield’s environmental, social and economic future.
The final report of the Sheffield Green Commission, “Sheffield’s Green Commitment”, has now been published and we are inviting citywide stakeholders to respond to this report, help develop it further, and set their own firm targets to make this into a deliverable, measurable, programme of change over the next 15-20 years.

The council will develop a city-wide implementation strategy having allowed time for different sector responses arising from the consultation.

The approach borrows from that taken by Birmingham and Liverpool in recent times and was an idea initiated by the former Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Jack Scott, who’s interest, knowledge and commitment to this agenda was both refreshing and unwavering.

In its favour, the process of developing the commitment has given experts the opportunity to provide quality input to the vision, ambition and plan set out. It has also enabled the opportunity for a winder input, through the public hearings, to be made. There is no doubt that the make-up of the commissioners was sound and brought together respected individuals and organisations in an attempt to provide a more holistic vision that knitted together the economic, social and environmental challenges for the city. To its credit, the report mentions an ambition to be ‘smart’ and to address health inequalities.

It’s eminently readable. As a document it’s accessible and could be readily digested in 20 minutes. It’s tried to remain jargon free and understandable. The report headlines 4 principles for its vision of a sustainable city:

  1. A Connected City -A city with transportation systems that are efficient and affordable, reliable and clean, simple and intuitive,networked and integrated, and low-emission. A city digitally connected to reduce avoidable travel. A city where there is a modal-shift towards active travel, where people move more on foot or by cycle, particularly for short-distances of under 5k/3 miles.
  2. Transformative Energy – An energy secure city with transformative affordable,clean, efficient, low-emission, networked, renewable, resilient,simple and locally owned energy solutions.
  3. European Green City – Sheffield is a green city both in its urban core and its surrounding landscape and this is part of its attractiveness and distinctiveness. A city with an accessible, ambitious, bold, biodiverse, equitable and high-quality, well-designed formal and informal landscape that is sustainable to maintain and delivers a myriad of benefits. An outdoor city that provides legacy in terms of its place-making. Green space which when linked together into a permeable network is game-changing for people, and for wildlife. An outdoor city ecosystem.
  4. Learning City – A Core City and Eurocity which, building on its unique resources and capabilities,collaborates with partners in order to innovate and learn from its residents and from others in moving towards a more sustainable future. Sheffield is committed to continuously learning about how to make Sheffield a smart, sustainable future city.

Compare this, then, to the Environmental Excellence Strategy of 2009, signed off less than 7 years ago by the Sheffield First Board, which also had 4 ambitions:

Environmental Excellence is the framework for Sheffield’s sustainable development and the Big Ambition in the City Strategy of Sheffield being,” An Attractive, Sustainable Low Carbon City”. Sheffield aspires to become a world leader on sustainable development with a growing reputation for innovation and creativity in energy and environmental technology industries, strong leadership through the Sheffield First Partnership strategic frameworks and those of its partners.

[Within the Environmental Excellence Strategy.] There are 4 key challenges for environmental excellence and the big ambition of becoming “An Attractive, Sustainable, Low Carbon City”.
These are listed as follows –
1. Realise the ambition for Sheffield to become a low carbon city that adapts effectively to a changing climate and mitigates carbon emissions.
2. Deliver an attractive and effective public transport network providing real opportunities for active, low carbon lifestyles.
3. Sustain Sheffield’s distinctive character and enhance the quality of its built and green environment.
4. Achieve a behavioural shift in consumption patters and waste generation – this involves everyone, householders, businesses as well as the third sector and public sector.

I will leave you to determine how far apart these ambitions are and how much further on the thinking has developed.What can be confirmed though is the commitment of the Sheffield First Environment Partnership in that 2009 paper “to meeting bi-monthly and monitoring progress on the strategy at each meeting, with an annual report and review session with key stakeholders”. There is an apparent lack of governance and ownership over the next steps for the Commitment although the report does say”:

The council will develop a city-wide implementation strategy having allowed time for different sector responses arising from the consultation.

The report comes at an interesting time for the city. Its development has come at a time when the resources available within the City Council are at an all time low. 10 years ago, as Head of Environmental Strategy, I had a team of 8 officers in place to develop the City’s Environmental Excellence Strategy. Today, there are no members of staff identified to deliver this piece of work. They have all been allowed to leave or take on other roles as austerity bites and the Council’s commitment to this agenda wanes. If the City Council is to resource the development of an implementation strategy and monitor it serious consideration is needed about the resource needed to do that and the governance and oversight of it. It wont be enough to leave this to the Council, of course. The launch of the Commitment is a ‘Call to Action’ and needs the commitment, motivation, costs and benefits to be owned by more than the City Council. What role is there here for Sheffield First, the Sheffield City Region, the Chamber of Commerce, the universities and colleges in the city?

As a resident of Sheffield I value the quality of the local environment. It was important to me in choosing a city to locate to and live in. I love the green spaces, the wildlife, the open moorlands that give peace and tranquility. I enjoy the parks that give green lungs to our city and provide enviable places to relax, socialise and enjoy time with friends and family.

I also recognise the city can, and should, make a meaningful contribution to the global agenda too. It can only do that by making bigger, bolder contributions which appear missing from the Commitment. The opportunity to develop citizens of the city through our schools to understand sustainability, climate change, the global ecosystem would help ensure future generations do not repeat the mistakes of the past. To build on the excellence that both Sheffield’s universities offer in this area would further contribute as graduates take that learning to the workplace, or develop new technologies, products and materials for global market places. It’s pleasing then, to see, mention of the Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at The University of Sheffield mentioned.

If I am honest, I don’t see too much new thinking here. Many of the elements in the Commitment are evident in previous strategies. The Transformative Energy ambition references the E.ON 30MW biomass plant and the Veolia district heating network. The former is a recent development and one of a handful of significant heat networks to be developed in the UK. The latter is starting to show it’s age and Veolia’s commitment to it questionable. Schemes to install solar PV on social housing stock or create a municipal energy company in the way Nottingham City Council has have fallen by the wayside. The resources within the Council to develop new projects are virtually zero.

Similarly, the vision and ambition for transport still relies on things the City has been talking about for years and just not developed. No mention of tram extensions; no real commitment to low emission vehicles or the policies to promote air quality improvements. The language in the report (see page 10) where ‘organisations with large return to base fleet (such as the NHS and local authority and their sub-contractors) consider the feasibility, and possible benefits, of using clean vehicle technology” is weak. Where vision and commitment is needed the Commitment requires consideration of the possibility when the City needs action.

So, what next? The Commitment smacks of motherhood and apple pie. It says great things but not even the City Council is committing to anything new here. In fact, it’s diluting commitments it has made in previous policies. Who’s going to sign up to this document? What will they commit? What difference will it make? If they don’t deliver, what are the consequences?

The process of developing this Commitment was, unquestionably, valuable. I am sure, by engaging stakeholders in the debate and the discussion there was a better understanding of the need and the solutions. The City is inviting comment and I would encourage you to do so by going to this website: https://sheffield.citizenspace.com/place-business-strategy/sheffield-green-commission

I would encourage you to comment not only on the governance but also on the content of the Commitment. I will be making comment – particularly where I see gaps in its scope, not least around climate adaptation (resilience is fleetingly mentioned).

 

 

 

Universities can lead the way to local growth

In a previous blog I wrote about the contribution The University of Nottingham made to the local, regional and national economy.

Today, HEFCE has blogged “Universities can lead the way to local growth”

They say, “to deliver new Local Growth Deals successfully will require local institutions, including universities, to contribute in a more active way.”

The University of Nottingham reported that it contributes £1.1bn a year to the UK economy and supports around 18,000 jobs across the country according to a new report.

‘The Economic Impact of The University of Nottingham’ – outlines the wider economic, social and cultural impact the University has on the city of Nottingham, the region and the nation.

According to the report, the University is one of the East Midlands’ most significant institutions, with 92 per cent of its workforce living in the region, and one in every 24 jobs in Nottingham being reliant in some part on the University. The total economic impact generated across the East Midlands each year by the University is £781m, and along with its £500m research portfolio, the University is at the heart of the Midlands Engine for Growth.

This contribution, both economically, and socially has to be set in context to the environmental sustainability of the organisation too. The concept of ‘net-positive’, where you consider the whole contribution of an organisation, helps best understand the core business of the organisation (in this case, teaching and research) and it’s contribution against the backdrop of other activities. So, whilst our carbon and energy reports show continued progress towards carbon emission reduction (for example) we know and acknowledge we still have a negative environmental impact but that we aim to minimise it. You can read about our energy and carbon performance here.

Nottingham Invests in Ultra Low Emissions

£6.1m awarded to Nottingham by the Government to accelerate low emission vehicles announced.

Nottingham has secured funding to become one of the UK’s exemplar Go Ultra Low Cities, enabling the city to implement a wide range of new initiatives to make electric vehicles and sustainable transport more accessible. The £6.1m for the period April 2016 – March 2021 from the Government’s Go Ultra Low City Scheme will help the city boost its sustainability agenda still further, making a real difference to the environment and quality of life for local residents and businesses. Watch Portfolio Holder for Jobs, Growth and Transport Councillor Nick McDonald‘s response to the announcement and find out more about the project by visiting www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/golownottm

Nottingham is already one of the UK’s exemplar cities for integrated sustainable transport and energy generation. We are committed to working with our local partners, industry and Government to implement measures to drive uptake in Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) to address local air quality and environmental health issues, attract inward investment and create job opportunities in the growing low carbon transport technology sector.

Nottinghamshire and Derby will use £6 million of funding to install 230 charge points and will offer ULEV owners discount parking, as well as access to over 13 miles of bus lanes along key routes across the cities. The investment will also pay for a new business support programme, letting local companies ‘try before they buy’.

The city’s ambitions to be a ‘Low Emission City’ are already shown by:

  • Europe’s largest electric bus fleet with 45 full 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 6 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.

Whilst delighted that Nottingham has been successful it leaves a number of cities without access to the same sort of funding to make real impact on the UK’s failing air quality objectives. Cities with a known air quality problem, like Leeds, Manchester and my home city of Sheffield will not get the benefit this kind of intervention can achieve. It is these cities where scale, density and ambition can make a faster and deeper difference. Meanwhile, they continue to fail to achieve their local air quality objectives and more and more people are subjected to poor air quality and the health impacts it causes. Bristol, London and Milton Keynes (which appears to be technology-led rather than air quality led) will also benefit from this funding.