Local government in this country is an essentially conservative institution which often wrestles unhappily with radical change. Tackling global warming by adopting sustainability policies is an agenda very much of its time but is also something that many councils regard with suspicion.
In Birmingham, where political and business leaders say they want a green revolution, progress has been moderate. Certainly far more moderate than the free-thinking sustainability and climate change scrutiny committee envisaged when it published a ground-breaking report last year.
There are a number of good intentions - pledges to make Eastside and Longbridge sustainability exemplars - and a promising start has been made on city centre combined heat and power projects. There is also an effective and highly voluable sustainability champion in the shape of deputy council leader Paul Tilsley, an indication that the subject is at least being taken seriously at the top table.
All the more disappointing, therefore, that Coun Tilsley should be so timid in his reaction to plans to impose green covenants on developers, who would be required to hand over cash deposits to the council which would be returned only if completed building projects met the highest sustainability standards. This, it is argued, would concentrate minds and make it far more likely that promises made at planning permission stage to include green features in housing and office development were actually delivered.
It is, of course, laudable that the council leadership does not wish to impose additional costs on businesses during the current difficult economic circumstances, but is there really any evidence that sustainability bonds would have anything more than a minor impact on Birmingham's reputation as a regeneration hot spot? We report today that city living is on the increase, with far more apartments being built within the outer ring road than envisaged, while hardly a month seems to go by without news of another lucrative land sale or the opening of a high-quality office block.
There is another reason, too, why green covenants would no longer meet with much resistance. Developers are increasingly pencilling in the cost of sustainability measures when planning building projects in the knowledge that councils and the public are increasingly demanding a green perspective to residential and commercial development.
When even the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce gives a cautious welcome to green covenants, it is time for the city council to send out a message that it, too, is serious about sustainability.