Last week I selected five key issues on the Birmingham green agenda that we would like to see Birmingham City Council’s new Labour leader support. With the election drawing near, I decided to contact the candidates to try and find out more about where they stand on these issues. In an email, I asked the candidates five questions based on these key issues and gave them a week to respond. Cllr Mike Leddy, Cllr Penny Holbrook and Cllr Barry Henley took the time to reply, providing an interesting insight into their stance on what we feel are Birmingham’s most pressing green issues. I will note here that since replying to my email, Mike Leddy decided to leave the race for leadership, but I have included his answers for comparison.
On the question of introducing a zero waste strategy in Birmingham, Cllr Henley and Cllr Leddy said they would not support the decommissioning of the Tyseley Incinerator and, therefore, a zero waste aim. Both Cllr Leddy and Cllr Henley said that they would support significant waste reduction in Birmingham through a strategy that includes a food waste collection service, community composting and infrastructure that makes it easier for everyone to recycle more types of waste from home. With regards to the possibility of waste disposal through local companies, Cllr Henley said he would support this, while Cllr Leddy said yes if this means upcycling but otherwise no.
Cllr Holbrook’s stance on waste seems stronger and more ambitious. In her response, Cllr Holbrook said that the implementation of a new food waste plan is a ‘key priority’. She believes we can transform our waste system and actually use it to support clean energy by finding ways to ‘localise food waste to promised electricity’. Support for better recycling infrastructure in Birmingham is a step in the right direction. However keeping the incinerator with one big contract as Cllr Leddy and Cllr Henley suggest makes it much more difficult to increase rates of re-use and recycling, as resources diverted to be burnt in the incinerator ensure its viability. If our new leader is in favour of the Tyseley Incinerator, it will make a zero waste city that much harder to achieve. If our new leader has Cllr Holbrook’s progressive attitude towards alternative uses of waste, Birmingham’s wasteful waste system could be well on its way to transformation.
It was great to see that all three councillors would support the call for West Midlands Pension fund to divest from fossil fuels. Cllr Leddy and Cllr Henley simply gave the nod, while Cllr Holbrook provided some information about action currently being taken by the council to address the issue. She said, ‘at the end of the month, Cllr Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for Sustainability, will meet with the Director of Investment on this issue’. This is a good sign. Cllr Holbrook’s response suggests that things are in motion and if our new leader is a strong supporter of divestment, fellow decision makers in Sandwell, Walsall, Coventry and Dudley might follow.
Unfortunately Cllr Holbrook was the only candidate to confirm that she would support the introduction of a Birmingham Pound. In a promising response, she said ‘yes, supporting local investment and just as importantly the groups that are developing this proposal is essential’.
More positively, all three councillors showed some support for the cycle revolution, albeit in varying degrees. Cllr Henley confirmed that new routes are currently under discussion, for which there is ‘substantial funding’; Cllr Holbrook said that the existing infrastructure is ‘sustainable’ and that the council has ‘investment in models that will embed skills and cycling into the city for the years to come’; and Cllr Leddy said that he would ‘continue with further development of cycle routes and partnership with CRT for canalside and riverside routes’. Finally, while Cllr Leddy said he might support the introduction of a Low Emission Zone, Cllr Henley and Cllr Holbrook both said yes, they would. Providing a little more detail, Cllr Holbrook said that there are a number of ways to combat air pollution and a Low Emission Zone is on her list.
If we were to give each of these councillors a green score, Cllr Leddy might get a four, Cllr Henley perhaps a six, and Cllr Holbrook a winning eight or nine. Cllr Leddy and Cllr Henley both seem keen to support some improvements in our waste system and further developments in cycle infrastructure but, with the exception of fossil fuel divestment, fall short of full support for what we feel is really needed for a sustainable city. Cllr Holbrook trumped this survey with her dynamic stance on waste and support for a Birmingham Pound. If Cllr Henley or Cllr Holbrook were to become the new Labour leader, we would see some support for green issues. However these responses suggest that a more ambitious, holistic and forward thinking approach might be seen under Cllr Holbrook’s leadership. Of course, Cllr Henley, Cllr Holbrook, and, despite leaving the race early, Cllr Leddy all get a bonus point for taking the time to give us their thoughts.
We obviously don’t endorse any candidate, and our green score and analysis is purely based on candidates’ responses rather than any political preference.