Birmingham’s claim to be leading the way on delivering the green agenda has been questioned after the city council’s head of climate change and sustainability was unable to prove that a pledge to slash carbon emissions was on course.
Sandy Taylor insisted that Birmingham was making great strides towards reducing carbon, but admitted he had no data to demonstrate the extent to which the city was delivering on a target to cut CO2 by 60 per cent by 2026.
Mr Taylor found himself in difficulties when quizzed by a scrutiny committee.
Following a presentation in which he outlined numerous green initiatives, including the £1.3 billion Birmingham Energy Savers scheme which aims to end fuel poverty for 200,000 households through better insulation of Victorian and Edwardian properties, he was asked for evidence that the city was on track to hit the 60 per cent emissions reduction within the timescale set out.
Mr Taylor said it would be “very difficult” to be certain about the amount by which CO2 had reduced since a Climate Change Plan was agreed a year ago.
He told the committee: “I completely agree that there is data and statistics but we haven’t brought it to you in a way that would be useful.
“We do need effective monitoring of our progress.”
He rejected claims that city planning officials were obstructing green projects, insisting that “sustainability is at the heart of everything we do”.
Examples of Birmingham leading the way in sustainability included the city’s combined heat and power stations (CHP), where the heat generated by making electricity is recycled to provide heating and air-conditioning for buildings. Carbon savings from CHP are substantial, Mr Taylor said.
Over the next five years half of Birmingham’s street lights will be switched to energy-efficient LED bulbs, while plans to encourage electric cars and roll out more recharging points are under way.
CHP has been installed at the International Convention Centre in Broad Street, at Aston University and the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
The intention is to encourage nearby businesses to tap into CHP and eventually extend the system across the city centre.
But the committee heard that one of Birmingham’s newest buildings, Ronald McDonald House, which is part of the Children’s Hospital, was not connected to CHP and relied on electric heating instead because the construction costs had been cheaper.
The city planning committee was unable to insist on CHP for the new building.
Mr Taylor added: “I feel that significant progress has been made, although I realise there are a lot of areas where we would like to do more.
“The coming year will be quite challenging, but there is a strong commitment to take this forward.”
Scrutiny committee chairman Alistair Dow called for a “road map” to be drawn up showing how Birmingham would reach the CO2 target.
Coun Dow (Lib Dem Selly Oak) added: “We have heard about lots of good practice that’s happening and things that are promised, but how does this fit into a time frame? We do need something so that as a plan is passed we can tick a box to say we have achieved that, or to say we haven’t got there yet.”
Competing interests between championing sustainability and the planning system under which councils have to work are preventing further progress towards developing a greener city, according to Joe Peacock from Birmingham Friends of the Earth.
Mr Peacock described the Eastside redevelopment site at Digbeth as “an example of how not to do generation”.
He told the committee: “You have flattened all the buildings, many were sustainable businesses, and left a huge building site which will be vacant for years.”
He believed the council’s Core Strategy, setting out the future development of Birmingham, paid scant attention to sustainability.
There was insufficient protection for small shops and independent retailing, nor was there any commitment by the council to buy goods and food from local producers. He demanded a presumption in favour of supporting retail developments that make a contribution to sustaining local food producers.
He continued: “In the area of transport, priorities are contradictory and not based on sustainability.
‘‘There needs to be a re-ordering of these to put pedestrians at the top, with car commuters at the bottom.
“Airport expansion and any encouragement to increase commuting over long distances should not be included in a plan with sustainability at its heart.
“Reducing the need to travel through planning should be key for sustainability, as should a target to reduce the number of journeys by private motor car.”
He called for a 20mph speed limit to be imposed on all residential roads and action to make cycling safer.”