At the start of May, the people of Birmingham voted for a change in the Council and elected a majority Labour administration to replace the previous Lib Dem/Conservative coalition. Any change in government provides new opportunities, so Birmingham Friends of the Earth have been keen to open up a constructive dialogue with the new Leader of the Council, Cllr Sir Albert Bore.

Prior to the elections, we wrote to each of the main parties with our top ten policy recommendations, summarised below:

  1. Plan to phase out the burning of rubbish as a fuel

  2. Create jobs by re-using or recycling waste items and working with social enterprises

  3. Street bins will have sections for recyclable items

  4. Aim to get 5% of journeys within the City made by bicycle in the next four years

  5. Plan a bus system for the 21st Century, so people have a real alternative to the car

  6. Energy conservation should be made the major priority, especially on council-owned buildings

  7. Birmingham Energy Savers should be expanded to maximise local job creation, manufacturing, training up young people, and dealing with the most acute cases of fuel poverty first

  8. Local procurement should be a major part of the Council’s strategy

  9. Spaces for growing food should be an integral part of every neighbourhood and access to these spaces a right of every citizen

  10. Recognition of the importance of Green Infrastructure (parks, trees and green spaces) needs to be core to planning every area of the city

A more extensive list of recommendations can be found on our website, along with the full list of responses from the candidates. Cllr Sir Albert Bore’s response was largely encouraging and positive, stating that sustainability and making Birmingham a green, smart and safe city were ‘very high up’ on their agenda. He continued: ‘It is my intention to create a new Cabinet position specifically to tackle these vital issues.’ The Cabinet Member has since been announced as Cllr James McKay, an ex-Leeds FOE coordinator! We were sent a paper outlining Labour’s strategic thinking for the new Cabinet Member, some of the main points from which are outlined below.

The Cabinet Member for a green, smart and safe city would help make Birmingham an exemplar city, providing strategic leadership on the green agenda which includes objectives such as:

  • Retrofitting of public and private buildings with energy saving measures

  • The identification of locations for new district heating schemes

  • An increase in energy and resource efficiency through smart initiatives/ technologies, including maximising the use of waste to generate energy

  • The development of green jobs

  • Support for the development and introduction of low carbon transport

  • The reduction of CO2 emissions in Birmingham by 60% by 2026

The Cabinet Member would set up immediately a Green City Commission with membership drawn from the business community, academic institutions and the third sector. This would replace other partnership arrangements in which the City Council participates and will be the City Council’s vehicle for developing Birmingham as a sustainable, green city.

Having committed to these aims, and been encouraging about the policy improvement, we would like to see, it is really important for us to try to flesh out these ideas and support the Council over the next few months in implementing a green agenda. At the time of writing, we were working to set up a meeting with Sir Albert and Cllr McKay in order to discuss our policy aspirations in greater detail, and hope to see the election pledges of Spring turn into actual policies now that a Labour council is back in control.