phil beardmore 1Sustainability consultant Phil Beardmore spoke to the Central England Quakers’ sustainability forum which is taking forward their commitment to become a low-carbon, sustainable community. A few days later came news of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s interest and support for Green New Deal work, including some Birmingham activity as an exemplar/case study of green/new economy activity, maximising local value. This was followed by the council’s 25-year Birmingham Mobility Action Plan, outlining proposals to introduce some solar-powered buses, green travel zones and raising the possibility of banning vans and trucks with high C02 emissions.

Phil, a member of the city council’s Green Commission, recorded the city’s ambition to become one of the greenest in the world, recalling that Summerfield took up the challenge issued in 2009 by Birmingham City Council which called for each area to become an eco-neighbourhood. He continued:

“About five years ago we saw the beginnings of a low carbon movement at neighbourhood level. There were some Transition groups, either independent or affiliated to the Transition Network. Locally these include Sustainable Moseley and Balsall Heath is Our Planet.

“One achievement was the growth of the low carbon retrofit (installing solar panels and exterior insulation) of houses, places of worship and community buildings. Some of this was self-funded and some groups were able to access funding. By visiting such retrofits hundreds have been inspired”.

Some of those groups have become social enterprises or co-operatives, gaining a sense of permanence and becoming more likely to attract funding. Hockerton raised capital for wind turbines via shares. The challenge is to make decisions strategically and prioritise the various options by assessing which will make the most impact and which will be achievable by the group.

sandy

In September, Sandy Taylor, Head of Climate Change and Environment Birmingham City Council, set out three priorities in the Green Commission’s vision document at the Retrofit Roadshow:

  • heating and powering the city
  • building energy efficiency
  • and creating more local energy.

Phil Beardmore then showed the model presented by the former government’s Sustainable Development Commission – the 4 Es promoting behaviour change – which he said should be more widely used.

SDC 4Es

Council leader Albert Bore and Cllr James Mackay are active in promoting this vision for the city and council departments should note the progress made by housing associations in Redditch, Sandwell and Dudley, building low carbon homes and retrofitting in conservation areas. Though the focus is currently on energy prices, increasing energy efficiency is the most effective way of lowering bills.

The city has been asked to build 50,000 new homes but some planners fear that developers will be unwilling to build to high environmental standards – however these multinationals are already doing so in China and the Middle East.

However, as the Peak Oil threat appears to have receded due to fracking – though many argue that the environmental costs are unacceptable – climate change has now gone further down the political agenda leading to loss of momentum and feelings of powerlessness.

Government supports health and social care community interest companies and should also see the advantages of promoting the invention and development of low carbon products and technologies, because sustainable development offers wider benefits: improved health, the impact of energy efficiency on fuel poverty, added employment opportunities and regional economic recovery due to ‘local spend’.

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