What is it?

A real opportunity to reduce our contribution to climate change! The Strategy is a plan developed over the past 18 months which aims to reduce Birmingham’s carbon emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2010, and 60% by 2050. At the time of writing, the plan was not yet out for consultation, so this article is based on a draft version. However, by the time you read this, the final consultation document should be ready for you to send in your views.

Who wrote it?

The Strategy was developed by The Birmingham Strategic Partnership, or BSP. This is effectively Birmingham City Council in co-operation with Birmingham Sustainable Energy Partnership, the Environment Agency and a variety of governmental, business and voluntary organisations, including Birmingham Friends of the Earth.

Is it any good?

Judge for yourself! I believe that, if fully implemented, it would represent a good start in reducing Birmingham’s emissions and preparing Birmingham for the impacts of climate change. Some areas are disappointing, particularly transport and aviation, and there is the potential for an increase in incineration, though this may be preferable to increased methane emissions from landfill. In its current form, it does represent a major opportunity for Birmingham Friends of the Earth to change the planning framework and even the mindset of Birmingham towards climate change.

What’s in it?

The strategy comprises two documents, the Main Document and the Executive Summary and Action Plan. At least to start with, I'd suggest that you look at the table of targets and actions grouped by theme in the latter of the two documents. What follows is a selective overview of some of the most important targets for 2010, with comments attached. I have also highlighted where I feel the strategy is inadequate.

Sustainable Procurement: Targets include: “The BSP members should have sustainable procurement strategies and agreed reporting mechanisms by 2010, with baselines developed by 2008. There should be a 20% reduction in procured “product miles” by 2010.” These targets should ensure greater purchasing of locally produced and recycled goods.

Transport: Targets include: “Any increase in CO2 emissions from road transport should be kept to less than the increase in road traffic.” This is weak; such a shift in emissions should be happening anyway with more fuel efficient and hybrid vehicles. Unfortunately, we were told that we could not expect anything going further than the Local Transport Plan does. The strategy states that “All schools should have travel plans by 2011”, and that “30% of all employees in the city to work in companies with travel plans by 2011”. Whilst this is to be welcomed, I believe that Birmingham needs congestion charging and more bus lanes and cycle-friendly routes.

The airport is dealt with under transport. It is beyond the power of the BSP to raise tax on air travel. However, the strategy does not make clear enough the enormous negative impact of air travel on our climate. It has a target to “establish an airport offset scheme” at Birmingham International Airport. If it became widely used by members of the public, this would be a real step forward; making people realise how much CO2 they are responsible for is the first step towards getting them to reduce it.

Buildings: Targets include: “Ensure regulatory building standards are met by 2015”, “Ensure there is a climate change champion in every public building or office” and “Ensure all homes have an energy rating by 2015”. BFoE can take some credit for the first two, though the Council should be doing them anyway!! The subsequent targets on reducing CO2 emissions from domestic housing and public buildings by 30% by 2010 from a 1995 baseline are targets the Council was already committed to, by the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and the Nottingham Declaration respectively.

Land Use and Planning: Targets include: “New developments above 15 homes or 1000 m2 to have at least 10% of energy sourced from on-site renewables by 2010” and “New developments above 10 homes or 500 m2 to have at least 10% of energy sourced from on-site renewables by 2015.” These follow the example of Merton and Croydon London Boroughs. They should lead to plenty of small wind turbines, solar water heaters, PV panels etc.

Other targets are “Ensure that all new housing developments meet EcoHomes ‘very good’ standard as a minimum and all non-housing developments meet BREEAM ‘very good’ standard as a minimum” and “All new developments to have integrated waste segregation facilities.” If met, these targets could make a real difference to the sustainability of all new buildings in Birmingham. (Ecohomes and BREEAM are mechanisms for assessing how sustainable and climate-friendly domestic and commercial buildings are.) We must try and ensure that they become a mandatory requirement for planning permission as part of the Local Development Framework. This is a big opportunity for us. We can take some of the credit for these targets appearing in the strategy – now we must follow it through.

Energy Use Actions include “Establish a Climate Change Energy Agency for Birmingham to support a programme of decentralised power generation” and "Establish a domestic and small business renewable energy grants scheme”. Currently around two thirds of the electricity generated by power stations is lost in transmission. More local generation helps to avoid this. People need to be made aware that there are grants for renewable energy systems out there, such as those from the Low Carbon Buildings Fund. More for Birmingham would obviously be good. There are targets which aim to “ensure that 15% of energy use in Birmingham is from renewable sources and that 30% of it is generated locally by 2020”. Unfortunately, there are no interim targets, which would have more impact on politicians in the meantime!

Waste Targets include "Stabilise waste production from the city by 2015" and "Ensure 30% of domestic waste is recycled by 2010." This is a big step up from the current level of around 18% domestic recycling, but the rollout of the currently piloted kerbside collection scheme will help to achieve it. However in the longer term we should expect the city to reach a much higher level. Batteries and oil are still a concern. Localised waste to energy plants are mentioned – i.e. incinerators. The more we recycle, the less will go for incineration, and twice as much energy is saved by recycling plastic as is produced by incinerating it.

Where can I find it?

You should be able to find it online at the website of the Birmingham Strategic Partnership at www.bhamsp.org.uk (click on “climate change”.) Note that the version currently uploaded (12th September) is only the most recent draft. Links to any relevant pages for consultation will be posted on the Birmingham FoE website at www.birminghamfoe.org.uk.

Will Birmingham Friends of the Earth be making a collective response?

Yes, and if you would like your thoughts included in a formal consultation response, please e-mail them to Andrew Hanson at and793.hanson@tesco.net. (I will leave Tesco one day, I promise…) Alternatively, come along to the regular Monday night meeting on Monday 16th October and we will discuss it then.

Watch this space!

The progress of the strategy will be reviewed each year. We will be keeping an eye on it, and will be campaigning to check that the new planning structure incorporates the key points. Letters to your local councillor raising the good or bad points of the strategy are much appreciated!

Andrew Hanson.