Birmingham City Council’s new green commission policy lacks ambition to truly tackle carbon emissions and could do more to cut fuel bills for ordinary citizens, according to the Green Party leader.
Natalie Bennett was commenting on the Carbon Roadmap issued by Birmingham’s Green Commission last month which outlined measures to cut carbon emissions over the next 15 years.
But while praising the Green Commission, a committee of city council officials, academics and representatives of business and community groups, for putting the environmental issues to the fore, she said the policy could have gone much further.
It was driven with the aim of ensuring Birmingham meets its targets of lowering carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2027, based on a 1990 baseline.
Birmingham is slightly ahead of target, but a huge contributor to this has been the economic slowdown and it is expected to fall behind as the economy picks up.
Measures outlined in the policy included a pledge to cut the council’s own energy bill by half in the next five years and further pledges to help homeowners and businesses cut the fuel bills with investment in cleaner energy sources and insulation.
The wide-ranging document also covers transport, green technology in industry, the city’s parks and open spaces and waste and recycling collection.
Ms Bennett, a journalist, became Green Party leader in September last year. She was elected after the Green Party’s most famous politician, Brighton MP Caroline Lucas decided to step down due to her Parliamentary workload and to allow others to come to the fore.
She was in Birmingham for a Green Party Christmas fund raiser and cast her eye over the carbon roadmap.
“Setting the carbon policy out and putting a reasonable emphasis on this is a positive step. But it could be so much more ambitious.
“There should be more done to tackle fuel poverty.
“Warm, comfortable and more energy efficient homes leads to lower fuel bills, has a positive impact on climate change and would lift people out of fuel poverty.”
She said that both national and local government should place an increasing focus on insulating homes and reducing bills through more efficient boilers, district heating systems and so on.
She said that if the Government looked at the eco tax income over ten years and used that to upgrade all homes, making them more energy efficient this would create jobs, reduce bills and carbon emissions.
Local government can also play its part. Bristol is putting up a very large wind turbine, raising £400,00 per year. They are funding this with prudential borrowing because they know they are getting a return.
Ms Bennett said: “There are creative things that can be done. Bristol is putting up a very large wind turbine, it will raise £400,000 per year. They are funding this with prudential borrowing because they know they are getting a return, there’s very little risk.”
And she said while plans for a Birmingham City Council run energy company to produce and buy energy wholesale were promising, “A quick search can find alternatives which are as effective and can be quick to set up.
“Brighton and Hove has a company which gets small groups of individuals together to bulk buy. They approach all the energy companies and say who can offer the best deal. That’s a quick way to cut bills,”
As Green Party leader, Ms Bennett was also in demand this week to comment on the controversial decision to add new runways to Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, while shelving a second runway for Birmingham until 2050 at the earliest.
The Green Party campaigns against further development of airport capacity, but is especially opposed to development in the London or the home counties.
“We don’t believe in any airport expansion in the South East. The expansion we’re talking about doesn’t fit in with the climate change targets.”
To illustrate the problem she said: “57 per cent of flights from Heathrow are to Europe and domestic flights.
“We need a much higher percentage of flights to go to the fast developing nations and a lot less to near destinations.”
She called for a shift to rail to reach near European destinations.
“To do that we need to look at the barriers to rail travel, these are pricing and the linkage to the rail network.”
She added that the Greens would also support a rebalancing of the economy to reduce the amount being shipped around the world. “We need to rebalance the economy, create strong local economies, bring manufacturing and production back to Britain.”