The commission, headed by Councillor James McKay, includes representatives of business – Amey and British Gas – academics and the environmental think-tank Green Alliance as well as, we are pleased to note, Northfield Eco-centre. However, there are some glaring omissions.
No representatives of the trades unions representing the interests, knowledge and expertise of the hundreds of thousands of working people in the city. Unions such as the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and the University and College Union (UCU) have been centrally involved in the Million Climate Jobs campaign They should have representation on this commission to balance the over-representation of business interests.
No representatives of environmental campaigns, in particular the key activist grouping Friends of the Earth. Birmingham FoE has already produced a set of policies for the city – we reprint their Ten Point Plan for a Better Birmingham below. Surely the Commission would benefit from their input?
And no representation of local communities. The Council is committed to more devolution and more local empowerment – why doesn’t it put it into practice by involving local communities in the Commission? We note that the Council’s Districts and Public Engagement O&S Committee has just launched an inquiry into ‘Devolution: Making it Real’ and they are inviting participation from trade unions and citizens – why doesn’t the Green Commission do likewise?
The Green Commission hasn’t yet published its schedule of work, but we would argue that it should include- before it draws up its findings – a series of public forums and/or a major public conference to take on board local views- not as a tokenistic ‘consultation’ exercise but in order to fully engage with the people of Birmingham.
What would a Green Birmingham mean?
Cllr James McKay is absolutely correct to say “we need a clear plan and carbon and energy road map if we are to drive that progress forward at the pace we need to.” However, if it is to really achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions, this road map will have to be one with far fewer cars on it than at present! Transport (accounting for approximately a quarter of carbon emissions), along with housing, energy efficiency and greater use of renewable sources, must be at the heart of the plan.
There needs to be a huge expansion in heavily subsidised, public transport linking all parts of the city- a carrot rather than a stick to reduce car use to a bare minimum. Clearly, bus deregulation has failed to deliver and the council should use its powers to the full extent to restore a publicly owned and funded service. This should go hand in hand with measures to pedestrianise more of the city, reduce speed limits in residential areas and make our roads much more cycle-friendly.
Domestic housing is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Britain yet the energy saving and insulation techniques to remedy this exist right now.
The city council has already announced ambitious plans to increase the numbers of houses built in the city of the next few years. We welcome this and intend to hold them to their promise, but we would go further and insist that all new housing developments be built to the highest possible standards of energy efficiency and utilizing only the most eco-friendly construction materials available.
However, the council must also draw up plans to properly insulate the entire stock of both private and social housing in the city. This cannot be left to the private sector. Council direct works departments must be expanded to recruit and train an army of bricklayers, glaziers, carpenters and electricians to take on this urgent task.
Finally, the council needs to set itself the short term goal of moving to 100% renewable energy. A city which prides itself on the creation of its own electric, gas and water supply utilities under Joseph Chamberlain in the late 19th century should show similar vision in investing in projects to generate its own electricity from wind, solar and geo-thermal sources.
Renewable energy is far more labour intensive per kilowatt hour than either fossil fuels or nuclear power so the transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon future would mean a net gain in high quality, skilled jobs. Let’s put thousands of former workers in the car and engineering industries back to work and also start to transfer the scientific, technical and engineering skills from industries such as aerospace and power generation to develop the green technologies of the future.
Birmingham Friends of the Earth – our ten-point plan for a better Birmingham
1. Plan to phase out the burning of rubbish as a fuel – make Birmingham a ‘no incineration’ city with a zero carbon waste system and clean air.
2. Create jobs by re-using or recycling waste items and working with social enterprises to help them develop locally relevant projects.
3. Street bins will have sections for recyclable items.
4. Aim to get 5% of journeys within the city made by bicycle in the next 4 years by prioritising safety on the roads through 20 mph speed limits and creating safe cycling corridors. Also, aim to massively increase the number of school journeys made by walking or cycling by resourcing “walking buses” or “bike trains”.
5. Plan a bus system for the 21st century, so people have a real alternative to the car – this would include better stops with cycle facilities, better interchange between different bus routes and bus and other modes, clear mapping of bus routes and interchanges, better frequency, dedicated lanes and smart ticketing.
6. Energy conservation should be made the major priority, especially on council-owned buildings, as it is deliverable much more quickly and the returns on investment are higher than any other measure.
7. Birmingham Energy Savers should be expanded in a way that maximises the potential for local job creation, the development of local manufacturing, training up young people and dealing with the most acute cases of fuel poverty first.
8. Local procurement should be a major part of the council’s strategy to create jobs and also drive sustainable practices amongst local companies by building in expectations on environmental standards to contracts.
9. Spaces for growing food should be an integral part of every neighbourhood and access to these spaces a right of every citizen. This should be part of local planning policy on new developments.
10. Recognition of the importance of Green Infrastructure (parks, trees and green spaces) needs to be core to planning every area of the city because of the benefits it provides.