Smart, Low Carbon, City Regions

The new emerging governance of City Regions in the UK is not only establishing, it has to embrace new roles, opportunities and responsibilities in response to the expectations of the European Commission and the needs of the UK economy. Unfortunately, there remains little political support.

The Heseltine Review, No Stone Unturned : in pursuit of growth’ was published 8 months ago next week. It was, largely supported by the UK’s cities as an opportunity to strengthen local economic leadership through city regions. Whilst Heseltine continues to promote its messages, the divisions in policy within Whitehall continue to undermine what is, ostensibly, a sound and rational argument for devolution.

Within the text of the review are some significant proposals supported by examples from City Region Local Enterprise Partnerships, such as Cumbria and the Isles of Scilly, illustrating how they might show leadership on local energy generation and low carbon growth.

These LEPs, and others in the UK, are developing their local growth plans alongside their investment proposals for the EU funding programme 2014-2020. They’re asked to ringfence up to 20% of the total of their ERDF funding towards low carbon activities over that 7 year period. Imagine how much more effective that could be if the proposals outlined in the Heseltine Review were enacted and the funding identified in the ‘single pot’ and the European funds could be used as a catalyst for growth instead of a sticking plaster on collapsed economies.

Energy policy has become central to recent poltical exchanges in Whitehall as wholesale energy prices rise, profits and payrises for the ‘big 6’ appear to be unfair and out of kilter with the mood of the nation. And whilst both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have offered proposals to control/intervene in the market there has been little consideration of the devolution of energy to cities, their city regions and their people at a time when there is an appetite (amongst the Core Cities) and proposals for such an approach.

In the past week two large LEPs with a track record in this field have made very clear statements on their role to boost low carbon activity, create jobs, reduce emissions, increase exports of low carbon goods and services and deliver the kind of proposals Heseltine would have wanted to see.

The Humber LEP spoke with great clarity at the Renewables UK conference, outlining how it brings together Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire – together with the Humber LEP to communicate the Humber’s strong offshore-wind and renewables offer to businesses who could invest in the area. With significant investment in the ‘Green Port’ model, the Humber has the opportunity to be the gateway for the development, manufacture and transport of large scale wind turbines.

Last week also saw the launch of a consultation draft of the D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Nottingham) low carbon plan with a clear commitment to low carbon growth and sustainability.

Both these LEPs should be commended for their vision, commitment and understanding of the importance of this agenda and the opportunity it provides to solve local challenges (fuel poverty, health, unemployment, carbon reduction) with local opportunities to create new global markets which will create jobs, boost GVA and improve the health and wellbeing of their citizens as a result.

But LEPs were never set up to have a socio-environmental responsibility. Their focus has always been on the economic grounds for investment and until such time that LEPs and their emerging city region governance recognise that, it will fail to develop truly sustainable plans.

Over the next few weeks LEPs will digest the feedback they have received from the Government on their (more rounded) EU funding proposals. It will, no doubt, propose greater emphasis on sustainable development and the opportunities for low carbon investment. If (and it is an ‘if’) the proposals Michael Heseltine laid out in his report 8 months ago were enacted, it is likely this would happen much quicker.

Garden cities for C21 – Green Alliance Blog by Hugh Ellis

Hugh Ellis, chief planner at the Town and Country Planning Association writes on the Green Alliance blog:

It is clear that the housing crisis is having a desperate impact on British people’s lives. It is also clear that the next government will have to face an acute economic and environmental crisis. The current national response to these complex challenges won’t secure the lasting progress we need. Welfare benefit reform is driving a whole new set of housing needs and new patterns of migration, and it’s increasing inequality and social division. Our deregulated planning system with no strategic teeth is at a low ebb and the ideologies of nudge theory and neoliberalism, although practically ineffective, still dominate the zeitgeist.

Why is it important that universities keep investing in their Estate Departments?

Why is it important that universities keep investing in their Estate Departments? “The Student Perspective” | The Technical Recruitment Company.

Despite the Higher Education environment recently experiencing unsettling changes and funding cuts, it has become apparent that investment in universities Estate Departments is more crucial than ever. As a current Higher Education student I have experienced this situation first hand, and whilst completing an internship at The Technical Recruitment Company, my attention has been drawn to the necessity for investment in this sector of the built environment.

DECC announce £6 million funding for local authority heat networks

Great to see Government’s commitment to heat being supported through a new £6 million grant funding programme to help Local Authorities (LAs) in England and Wales to develop new heating and cooling networks, and expand existing networks. 

To win a share of the funding, local authorities must bring forward ambitious and innovative proposals to develop and deliver heat networks that – as much as possible – draw their heat energy from renewable, sustainable or recoverable sources. 

This could include any system in which heat is generated off-site by renewable or recovered sources such as waste heat from industry, energy from waste plants and biomass combined heat and power.  Many university campuses, new mixed commercial and residential developments and high rise flats draw their heat from these systems. 

“Local authorities are at the heart of creating new city centre district heating schemes, and this welcome announcement shows that central government is serious about supporting them in this task”.

This is a great opportunity for cities in the UK to deliver projects and align with the EU Funding programme in development across the local enterprises across the country. Currently, District Heating only provides about 1 to 2 per cent of the U.K.’s heat demand, yet analysis has shown, that it could supply as much as 14 per cent of the U.K.’s heat demand over time. This would be a cost-effective and ultimately viable alternative to individual energy efficient technologies and also help reduce energy bills for customers.

Best suited in urban areas with a mix of varying building types and a high heat demand, district heating has the ability to generate heat at minimum costs and thus, in effect, can contribute towards the ultimate aim, of a reduction in fuel poverty and an increase in the U.K.’s overall energy efficiency as a result. Around 200,000 dwellings in the UK are estimated as being served by the district heating scheme to date.

The scheme is currently used, in the main, by buildings with an area of community ownership, such as a university campus or hospital site. Further use has been seen in the non-dwelling sector, one example of such a scheme being in Sheffield. This is the U.K.’s largest district heating schemes, consisting of 44 Km of pipe work, serving 140 buildings across the city, including two universities and various municipal buildings.

DECC announce £6 million funding for local authority heat networks.

More about Sheffield’s District Heating.

Heat Mapping and Development in Sheffield

How to use open data to connect local government with the public | Guardian

How to use open data to connect local government with the public | Local Leaders Network | Guardian Professional.

Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available for everyone to use and republish as they wish. The philosophy behind open data has been long established, but the term itself is relatively new and it is gaining popularity.

Here are a few examples of how open data is being used by local government.

How to Design a City for Women

A great piece on research that helps urban planners design and implement cities that work better for us all — How to Design a City for Women – The Atlantic Cities.

In 1999, officials in Vienna, Austria, asked residents of the city’s ninth district how often and why they used public transportation. “Most of the men filled out the questionnaire in less than five minutes,” says Ursula Bauer, one of the city administrators tasked with carrying out the survey. “But the women couldn’t stop writing.”

The majority of men reported using either a car or public transit twice a day — to go to work in the morning and come home at night. Women, on the other hand, used the city’s network of sidewalks, bus routes, subway lines and streetcars more frequently and for a myriad reasons.

Driving growth – Labour and electric cars > Article :: IPPR

Driving growth – Labour and electric cars > Article :: IPPR.

Last week, the government updated its electric car strategy. There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda.

IPPR research has shown that in other countries innovative local policies drives sales. In Amsterdam, electric cars don’t pay the €5 an hour charge and are put to the top of the five-year waiting list for a permit. In the global capital for electric cars, Oslo, drivers can use the bus lanes. In China, electric cars are exempt from Beijing’s licence plate lottery which limits the days on which drivers can use their cars.

Smart Cities : The 2nd Electrification : Definitions and Standards

Just how smart are our cities now and how fast are they becoming smarter? A short discussion led by The Economist suggests there are parallels with the way in which cities took advantage of electrification to change their scale, their topography and their form.

It’s a very worthwhile sub-6 minute discussion that promotes a view that smart cities need to have both ‘top down’ approaches to build the data platforms and a thriving ‘bottom up’ community to exploit those rich data veins that are full of opportunity.

Academics like Ricky Burdett of the London School of Economics (LSE) see integrated systems for collecting, processing and acting on data as offering a “second electrification” to the world’s metropolises. The power cables that penetrated cities in the late 19th century transformed their shape (there are no tall buildings without lifts), their transit systems, their nightlife, their sewerage (cities need a lot of pumps). Ubiquitous data services might have impacts as wide-ranging: they could make cities more liveable, more efficient, more sustainable, perhaps more democratic. In an era of mass urbanisation—the United Nations expects the number of city dwellers to reach 6.3 billion by 2050, as many people as there were on the planet ten years ago—that could matter a lot.

The use of data in cities pits top-down against bottom-up in a similar way. One side stresses the need for citywide planning and control, the other advocates just providing access to data that lets citizens make their own decisions. “The technology giants building smart cities are mostly paying attention to technology, not people…ignoring the creative process of harnessing technology at the grass roots,” writes Anthony Townsend of New York University in his forthcoming book, “Smart Cities: Big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new Utopia”. But the two sides need not necessarily be opposed.

But, irrespective of how you get there – what ratio is delivered by state-driven, public sector centric and how much is from communities of data miners and entrepreneurs – doesn’t change the outcome we’re looking for.  We all want our cities to become better functioning, more efficient, with integration between related and key systems such as modes of transport or energy, healthcare, education. The Future Cities Catapult video is a decent stab at explaining what it could be.

As the concept, narrative and description around Future Cities and Smart Cities develops, it’s worth noting that there is a BSI Consultation on Smart City Framework live now. The PAS 181, Smart city framework – Guidance for decision-makers in smart cities and communities is a sponsored, fast-track, consensus-building informal standard that is produced by the UK national standards body, BSI Standards Limited. The development of PAS 181 has been sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

To download, review and comment on the draft, please go to and register for free online (new users) and log in.

The closing date for consultation is 20 September 2013.

European Structural Funds to Deliver Low Carbon Performance

Local Enterprise Partnerships are currently occupied by the task of developing their ‘Growth Plans’ – strategies that set out how they will turn around their economies and deliver growth. In simple terms, they are looking for ways in which they can deliver jobs and improve their own share of the UK’s GVA.

LEPs are, and were, set up to deliver economic growth. Only now are they being asked to take a broader role, recognising the need to influence and lead policy, strategy and delivery of housing, transport and, increasingly energy and waste infrastructure.

Whilst many have argued for ‘City Region’ leadership on energy and waste matters it is only now that the EU Structural Funds are in development for the 2014-2020 period, that LEPs are fully engaging. Whilst the settlements for LEPs from Europe have been lower than any of us would have liked, the funding available to LEPs to deliver on key strategic objectives means they are all playing the game. The UK Government issued clear guidance and expects EC Combined Structural Fund proposals to be submitted for review in early October. The timescale is tight, and runs parallel to the development of the overarching Growth Plans.

Across the 39 LEPs, stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary, community and faith sectors are actively engaging in shaping their EU plans. Sheffield City Region, where I am based, is hosting a consultation event on Monday 9th September, to facilitate this process.

A key objective and a priority of the UK Government is investment in ‘low carbon’ activities and falls across 4 areas:

  1. Stimulating the supply chains and capacity for delivery on domestic energy efficiency including skills investment;
  2. Developing non-domestic energy efficiency;
  3. ‘Whole Place Solutions’ – which broadly expects investment in larger scale infrastructure and investments;  and
  4. Research and development.

There’s an excellent presentation available on the framework at  and updated guidance available from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

The opportunity to integrate low carbon activity in to Growth Plans in the 39 LEPs across England is facilitated and incentivised by the availability of EU funding over the next 7 years. Whilst the funding is relatively modest, there is an expectation that around 20% of each LEPs settlement must be directed towards low carbon activity. The real trick is to integrate it across the wider skills, supply chain, education, health, energy and transport objectives. To do that LEPs probably do need to have a bigger role in energy strategies. Watch this space.