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.

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 ….

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.

Air Quality Remains Poor – But the Blame has Shifted to the Car Manufacturers

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Air quality in cities has been increasingly poor for years. Sustainable cities need great air quality. As regulation tightened on industrial emissions from factories, construction and combustion the predominant source of particulate matter, sulphur, NOx and ozone shifted to combustion engines in vehicles.

Earlier this year I blogged ‘At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution’. The blame, at that time, was squarely on the British Government for failing to deliver on the legislation originating from Brussels.

Two years ago I suggested (in light of the Government’s 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. With the Labour Group in conference in Brighton – heartland of the Green Party, I wonder whether Corbyn will be willing to make some bold commitments – not least because last week we saw the blame shift from the Government to the manufacturers. It’s akin to blaming the bankers for providing the cash to everyone who wanted to borrow. If you want to buy a car, buy one – you’d think you were safe in the knowledge there are people monitoring the performance of cars in the same way there are watchdogs guarding the banks.

Today, in conference, Labour committed to getting the taxes owed by Starbucks, Google and others. Maybe tomorrow they’ll commit to ensuring multi-national car manufacturers will be brought to book for not just failing, downright deceptively avoiding, standards.

Government will be quick to confuse the issues of legislation, choice and deception. Government will suggest the cause of the issue is entirely down to the poor performance of new vehicles coming on to the market, a la VW. There isn’t many places the car manufacturers can go other than to fall on their catalytic convertors but the hiding place for national and local government wont be long lived.

If government’s don’t tighten up their regulation of the automakers and air quality there is only one loser – us. If government’s do respond we can see better vehicle technology deployed, an accelerated shift towards electric, gas and hydrogen engines and, as a result, cleaner air.

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Read also: http://www.citiesofthefuture.eu/volkswagen-cheating-an-opportunity-for-cities/

We need a new name for cities

In the past week I have travelled through the cities of Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and the lesser known Ningbo, in China. On my travels I flew over cities I didn’t know that we’re bigger than any I had seen in the UK or Europe. These cities extend for tens of miles east-west and north-south filling bays, rivers, deltas, hillsides, islands and deserts. They are home to tens of millions of people and they stretch high into the sky with buildings touching and penetrating the clouds that hang above them. They are places where engineering and science have allowed human populations to tolerate otherwise difficult, or even inhospitable, environments. They have been built where, ordinarily it would be considered uncomfortably or dangerously hot and humid. They have been built on flood plains where rivers swell in monsoon rains or on hillsides where those waters rush through from mountainous uplands. They are served by a network of roads, railways, canals and rivers that enable otherwise isolated parts of their country to be connected. Their airports are the size of large towns and have asset values that outstrip the cities of Western Europe. They sprawl, yes, but they also have very high population density, sacrificing personal living space for the desire to be urbanised and supported by the infrastructure those cities bring. To a European or North American they would, I guess, feel claustrophobic. 

They are, simply, mega. Mega cities that dwarf what we, in the UK at least, have come to refer to as cities. In comparison, whilst London might hold its own (just), the cities of the UK are smaller, less relevant to the global economy and its networks. Collectively, if you bundled all the top 10 cities in the UK together, it might get to approximately half the size of Shanghai. 

When cities have grown up, literally, building taller and taller towers in a show of architectural bravado, they are also growing underground. You can’t help but be impressed by Hong Kong’s subway system. Not only does it connect communities across Hong Kong’s islands it connects communities through the labyrinth of supporting infrastructure like tunnels, escalators and lifts – and they air condition it too so making it more comfortable than surface level transport. All of these things support denser urban form. So, there are 3 levels in Hong Kong – underground, surface and Sky. 

 
The view from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong at the Ozone Bar, the highest and in earth.

  The extensive subway network connects Hong Kong’s Islands and communities beneath the surface.

Hong Kong has been a significant city for some time. It now boasts some of the greatest wealth, best universities and global business trades there daily. But the cities forming across China are doing it at such a pace it’s hard to map it. Huge swathes of their countries are mined, quarried and felled to support the quest for growth. As described in a previous blog and talk from TedTalks here the buildings are going up faster than the governance and infra infrastructure can keep up with. One without the other is destabilising and can lead to systems failure, unrest and inequity. Even in more established cities the growth is financed by the labours of the many for the benefit of the few. 

If these are mega cities where does that leave cities of the UK? Individually they are no bigger, on a global scale, than a village is to a city like London. Collectively they might just be significant. For that to happen in the UK will mean all the Core Cities, plus London, Belfast, Southampton, Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt to collaborate. To support this will require transport links between cities, over water, through mountains and in the air. And to do it without ripping up the natural capital we need to support our cities. The British Government doesn’t get this at all. It still sees itself as aglobal player when in reality it isn’t. The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a response to inward looking economic agendas instead of sing the opportunity for the UK to compete as a whole in the mega city economy. Extracting the UK from Europe would only hasten that inward looking agenda.

Official – Time to Act on Air Quality in the UK

At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we now know, better than ever, what the causes of poor air quality are and what is needed to do it. Central to that is political will both at the national and local level. Unfortunately, therein lies the issue. Nationally there is reluctance to tell local authorities what to do and the trend has been to incentivise them to do the right thing through the provision of small pots of money to remedy dirty buses or encourage the uptake of electric vehicle charge points. Locally there has been real fear of appearing anti-car. It has meant local authorities have got themselves into a proper tangle with conflicting policies for regeneration and growth overriding policies to promote air quality.

Whilst the announcement is welcome, how convenient for it to come during Purdah such that no politician has been able to step up and take responsibility for the inaction of the current government or previous governments. Yes, this really has been a failing of both Labour and the Conservative / LibDem coalition. Instead a fairly weak comment from DEFRA A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. “It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.” ClientEarth lawyers recently told a hearing that enforcement by the court was the only “effective remedy” for the UK’s “ongoing breach” of European Union law.

Previous blogs I have suggested what the solution might be. These words were drafted when I worked for the City Council in Sheffield, a city that has a better understanding of its air quality issues than most, but has yet to make any real inroads, despite some great things happening with EVs.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modeled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have identified a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.

 

Stirling Efforts Among Universities 

I attended my first conference convened by The Association of University Directors of Estates this week hosted in the wonderful grounds of Stirling University. Sat in the carved valley of the Forth surrounded by white capped hills and mountains it made for a spectacular setting.

But it wasn’t all about appearances. There was some really good substance to the conference too. Ian Diamond attended to give a timely insight in to his recently published report to universities. There was honesty and inspiration in spades too – some fabulous ‘lessons learned’ sessions in open plenary with both The University of Birmingham and Glasgow School of Arts sharing their stories of recovery from fires which had devastating impacts on their operations spreading over days in the case of the former and months in the case of the latter.

There were sessions that inspired too. I attended a workshop session led by Atelier Ten who gave an overview of the work they have been doing to ‘Green the Ivy League’ with long term strategic planning in the estates of Yale and Harvard Business School where they have developed plans, standards, policies and solutions that will get them to their carbon reduction targets. They are doing this through ensuring new build projects meet the highest standards possible, by identifying how they can invest in larger scale energy infrastructure and, crucially, how they will improve the existing building stock. We know that universities all over the world are well motivated to invest in inspirational, complex, low carbon buildings. It’s equally recognised how challenging it can be to keep older existing stock performing well. The nature of capital rich and revenue poor businesses. The challenge hasn’t gone away but the case study presented at Yale was an excellent example of a deep refurb that creates better, healthier, more productive working environments for staff and students alike. Who wouldn’t want that?

There was some lively debate about the future of sustainability metrics and reporting performance within the sector. AUDE has shown some real leadership on this and is working with Arup to develop ideas in partnership with the EAUC and People and Planet over the coming months. The session was a scene setter for forthcoming regional workshops AUDE are running to which Directors of Estates and sustainability professionals are invited to attend to help shape this further.

On the final day after an fantastically hospitable and enjoyable evening in the setting of Stirling Castle, complete with pipers, haggis and a wee dram, it was left to Philip Ross of Unwork to share his insights into how technology is changing the very nature of society, communities and interaction. It’s profound impact on the type of spaces we require and desire in the future is clear. Generation Z just don’t work generations before them. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) really is just the start. The level of interactivity is only going to increase.

With insight from the current Union of Student President at Stirling and one its more famous alumni, Lord Reid of Cardowan, it was a fitting end it a thought provoking conference, reminding us to take the longer term view, to remain optimistic and resilient and to Kiss with Confidence.