Birmingham comes under green spotlight
Birmingham's environmental performance came under scrutiny from 1st-5th March when a panel of experts from other European towns gathered for the Peer Review for Sustainable Development (PRESUD).
The aim of the Review was to assist Birmingham in advancing sustainability through good leadership and effective management, establish the progress that has been made by the City Council following the earlier assessment in November 2002, and identify emerging issues and challenges within the City.
In a week-long and very hectic schedule, the Review Team assessed transport, waste management, water, biodiversity, energy, localisation and many other aspects of sustainable urban management before delivering their verdict on Friday, in the council chamber.
Stakeholders were invited to express their views at the Orange cafe on Wednesday. I was a bit late and almost walked in on a corporate seminar before locating the PRESUD meeting; a disappointingly small group of a dozen or so guys chatting round a table.
On Friday, my initial forecast of blood-letting in the Council Chamber (Council sees red over green issues?) proved wrong. The tone was more carrot than stick, constructive not confrontational, and overall performance was rated as good. Maybe Im too cynical but I couldnt help but feel that a sense of urgency was missing; will there be enough incentive to push for even better performance in future?
The plastic sack waste collections were described as shocking in the discussion but had been upgraded to poor practice in Fridays presentation. The Teams recommendations included the pilot introduction of wheeled-bins together with better kerb-side collections to increase recycling rates. There was praise for the progressive removal of fly tipped waste from private land as part of the Clean & Safe campaign.
Nitrogen dioxide levels from heavy traffic are still too high and action plans are needed as part of transport planning. A range of initiatives were singled out as show[ing] promise e.g. walking and cycling strategies, walk to school and company travel schemes. Initiatives such as Bus Showcase schemes should be extended to stop decline in bus usage and measures introduced to reduce environmental impact of buses. The transport strategy being developed for Eastside should become the standard for all development in the City.
On energy explicit action is needed and commitments made to set a carbon dioxide reduction target (BCC signed the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change in summer 2002). The two community energy schemes at Broad Street and Eastside should be developed as benchmarks for good practice city-wide. Building developments should fully integrate energy management.
Protected habitat and species surveys should be kept up-to-date to ensure that inappropriate development does not take place.
Theres need for champions of sustainability in the City Council, to connect strategies, policies and performance. Interaction must be two-way, with clear feedback to residents and stakeholders. Peoples contributions, their skills, knowledge and expertise must be valued. A better balance between short-term wins and longer term changes needs to be achieved.
The draft Report of the PRESUD Review Team will be published in the next ten weeks, followed by a conference in early September in The Hague.