Following Sir Albert Bore’s decision in early October to resign as leader of Birmingham City Council, a race for leadership is now underway, with five Labour cabinet members fighting for the top spot. The new leader of the Labour group will be elected on the 23rd of November and become leader of Birmingham City Council on the 1st of December. So what could this mean for the city and our current environmental campaigns? Will a new leader spark progress?

Back in March, Birmingham FOE asked party candidates running in the Birmingham City Council election how they would respond to our biggest environmental concerns. Unsurprisingly, many of these issues are yet to be addressed. In the run up to the election, we have selected five key issues on the Birmingham green agenda that we believe a new Labour leader should make a priority.

1. The current waste system in Birmingham is exactly that; wasteful. Despite the fact that 40% of household rubbish could be composted or put into a food collection service, it is burnt at the Tyseley Incinerator to produce warm air, CO2, and very little useful energy. Given that almost any waste, including food and numerous plastics, can be digested, composted, re-used or recycled into usable materials, the transformation of our wasteful waste system is a no-brainer.

Permanent closure of the Tyseley Incinerator will see vast improvements in our air quality, a reduction in our carbon footprint, and benefits for our local economy. We would like to see our new leader commit to decommissioning the incinerator by 2025, by:
• Making it easier for people to recycle our inedible waste by introducing a food waste collection service and supporting home and community composting
• Making it easier for people to recycle more types of waste from home
• Using local companies to process our waste

2. The global Fossil Free movement is calling for organisations, institutions and authorities around the world to end their financial investments in the fossil fuel industry. As well as targeting UK universities, there is now a growing campaign directed at UK local government pension schemes, which are currently investing £14 billion in fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel divestment has incredible potential but is only made possible with support from decision makers. We would like to see our new council leader endorse the call for West Midlands Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels and ask Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall leaders to present a united front and do the same.

3. Local or community currency is money that can only be spent in one city or region. It is designed to develop a strong local economy by encouraging people to spend money at local, independent businesses. The Bristol Pound is the largest local currency of this kind in the UK and has been a great success for the city. Birmingham has a vibrant and widespread community of independent businesses that would thrive on a complimentary currency and the local circulation of money that this would encourage. Support for a Birmingham Pound from the new Labour leader could have a real impact on the city’s economy and its current and future independent traders.

4. Cycling is a free, fast, healthy and sustainable way of travelling around the city. While that might seem enough to encourage the people of Birmingham to saddle up, safe and accessible cycle routes are essential. Without them, cycling in the city can be a daunting mode of travel. The cycle revolution in Birmingham is well underway, including the development of new and improved cycle routes in some areas of the city. As these developments are currently funded by Central Government, we want to see the Labour leader sustain the revolution by ensuring that cycle infrastructure continues to be improved and expanded across Birmingham in the future.

5. Low Emission Zones can have a real impact on air pollution by asking heavily polluting vehicles such as coaches, lorries, mini-buses and service vehicles to pay a charge if they wish to drive through certain areas of the city. The scheme is designed to reduce emissions from road traffic and improve overall air quality in the city.

The levels of air pollution in Birmingham are dangerous and unacceptable. Council data has shown that many roads in Birmingham exceed EU limits for nitrogen dioxide. Introducing a Low Emission Zone scheme across the conurbation would be a really good way of improving air quality in the city. It would also fund the improvements in sustainable transport that we so desperately need in order to tackle the root causes of poor air quality. We want to see our Birmingham City Council leader support its introduction in Birmingham, and work with other leaders to implement a Low Emission Zone across the conurbation.

A new leader for the Birmingham Labour party is a great opportunity for progress. If the successful candidate chooses to support these five campaigns for change there is a lot that can be achieved for our city. Addressing key issues on the Birmingham green agenda will have a considerable impact on our local environment and global carbon footprint.