Monday, 11 April 2011

Scrutiny Cttee Meeting on sustainability, Friday 9th April

I was invited along to give evidence to the scrutiny committee of Birmingham City Council last week. There was a pre-meeting in the week before, which is kind of like a rehearsal so you understand what to do on the day when it's in public and as it was my first appearance of this kind, I was quite glad of that and also the briefing I got from the helpful staff members - I certainly am not one to dismiss the worth of public servants.

Our work on the core strategy had certainly not gone unnoticed - our 25-page response to the consultation is available in the downloads section on our website - so I produced a summary of this for the committee and was asked to speak in response to what Sandy Taylor (Head of Sustainability and Climate Change) said to the committee in his report.
There is work to congratulate the city council on - their work on Combined Heating and Power (CHP) has been very good in the centre of the city and there was also a report on this, while the Birmingham Energy Savers project is truly pioneering and not only will it have a great effect on the homes concerned, but should also sustain a considerable number of local jobs, too. I saw my role at this meeting partly as one of saying "look what can be done when you show some ambition, so let's have more of it".
The biggest areas of controversy in what I said turned out to be on supporting local shops v supermarkets, the incinerator (which some councillors still believe is green!!) versus other forms of dealing with waste and transport, as these are the areas on which the council is doing worst in terms of sustainability.
After so many defeats in fighting off supermarket planning applications recently, the council had to be challenged on why they talk about boosting local shops, but do nothing to protect or support them. There was some support for this amongst the elected representatives, but Cllr Deirdre Alden took issue with this "idealistic notion" that we can go back to have corner shops within walking distance as most people can't afford to shop there! We're not just talking about corner shops, though, but vibrant local shopping streets with different types of independently owned retailers. People would in fact, find that overall this would be just as affordable and if you take out the need for a car to get there, that's even more money saved. See Tescopoly on food poverty.
The same councillor also challenged me on the incinerator, as she'd had a tour of it and been informed by Veolia that it was in fact very green as it generates electricity. In fact, I informed them that from a climate change perspective, incineration is worse than gas- or coal-fired power stations for generating electricity! I suggested that what we need is a truly ambitious programme of community recycling ventures all over the city, dealing with our resource use to make sure nothing is wasted, creating jobs and stopping the health-damaging emissions from Tyseley.
Cllr Alden also seemed to think that because there are places with no reliable bus service now and because the roads are too dangerous to cycle on (she fell off once and will never cycle again), that we won't be able to get people out of cars. Fortunately there are other people on the council with a better understanding of integrated transport, but unless the most ambitious parts of the city's vision for movement, connected city and cycling strategy are out in place urgently, not only could we suffer more gridlock as recently, but when oil prices rise even further, some people are going to be really stuck!
Are we going to get more ambitious measures from the council to hit their CO2 reduction targets? I really hope so, but it needs to be an ambition that is taken on by the whole cabinet, not just the officers and one or two members.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done for going to this.