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.

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).

 

 

 

An Honest Look at Oneself: The State of Sheffield 2015

Today saw Sheffield publish its annual ‘State of Sheffield’ report – reflecting on progress (or otherwise) and how Sheffield sits in comparison to other cities in the UK and around the world. It’s another fine example of reflective, evidence-based research that stimulates thinking and informs policy making. You can read the blog produced by the Director of the the Sheffield First partnership here: https://sheffieldfirst.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/the-state-of-sheffield-2015/

What did prompt me to write this blog was the statement “Climate change remains a major future challenge. Sheffield and its City Region has the “green capital” to be a leader in this area but needs to work to strengthen its response. The Green Commission will be important in this.”

Yes, climate change and the exhaustion of finite natural resources should be of concern to Sheffield. To ignore this would be entirely folly and would undermine the unsustainable economic quest the city and city region has set itself. Climate change magnifies and amplifies the negative impacts our poorest communities are already experiencing. Three years ago the Director of Public Health in Sheffield made it very clear: If you live down wind, down stream or down hill you’ll suffer worst. From poor air quality, poor water quality, poorer soils and flooding.

But most importantly is the emphasis placed on the Green Commission in providing a coherent response to this challenge. Perhaps the single biggest set of external factors (climate change, global energy markets, deforestation, acidification, habitat loss) directly and indirectly affecting the city are being chewed over by a select group of experts. The initiator of this process, Cllr Jack Scott, has stood down from his position, leaving a new and inexperienced Cabinet Member in Cllr Jayne Dunn to come in and pick up the reins. Attendance, by the looks of it, has been patchy and the conclusions well, inconclusive, so far.

I am pleased that the annual report in to Sheffield’s health has, again, identified environmental issues as important. I am not optimistic there is sufficient architecture and commitment in place to address it though.