West Midlands Combined Authority speaks at our 'Sustainable Cities' forum
Mayor of West Midlands Combined Authority Andy Street visiting the Voi e-scooter warehouse in Birmingham (WMCA)
Future Cities Forum was delighted that Cllr Ian Courts, portfolio lead for the environment, clean energy and HS2 at West Midlands Combined Authority and Leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, spoke at our 'Sustainable Cities' event this week.
He has recently been involved in a launch to local businesses organised by the Combined Authority Mayor, Andy Street, to promote why the West Midlands should be seen as one of the UK's leading regions in supporting the race to net zero.
Ian told Future Cities Forum:
'The West Midlands has always been at the centre of the industrial revolution and now a green industrial revolution. We have always had a strong industrial base and statistics show that our de-carbonisation efforts have really been going great guns - the fastest growth in any of our sectors.
'We looked very carefully at what would be an appropriate time for our net zero goals and consulted with people. We launched our five year plan based very much on research and the climate change agenda. It is not just about carbon zero making, it is also much about reduction in pollution and (helping) wildlife species. We want our people to have connected green spaces and our plans are not just about business for its own sake. How do we get there? Retrofit of housing is important. As an ex-housing developer, I can tell you that building houses is easy, however with retrofit every house is different and requires an individual solution. We are attempting to create a net zero neighbourhood with a dozen houses or so, to try out different systems. Engagement with people is vital, as some want to get involved in retrofit, some won't want to do it even with a subsidy. We need understanding of the best process but we must tackle it as a third of carbon emissions comes from our domestic houses.'
Ian was then asked about the benefits of off site modular construction and planning green infrastructure. He commented:
'There is local commitment to creating net zero goals and local stakeholders are all interested in the local environment. As far as planning is concerned, as an ex-developer I am aware that you can run rings round the system, so certain things need to be mandatory and one of them is a respect for green infrastructure.
'I applaud the John Lewis Partnership for the move into housing but with all housing, where is the land? Building flats in the centre of cities is complex. In Solihull there is an area where we want to reduce 70 per cent of retail to make way for housing but when comes to practicalities, things need to be done at scale, otherwise the set up costs are out of order. I think it's important to consider modern methods of construction however I was responsible once for an MMC factory and in the end it got closed because it didn't have capacity to appeal to lots of different markets. We need to work out a system of components that can be used in different areas and build the most energy efficient homes, but comes down to behaviour from the end users. We need to understand behaviour and how to influence it. The WMCA has done a lot of work in understanding this.
'The building process is very energy intensive and we shouldn't shy away from off-set. Business often has a conscience which we want to harness. We have a big agenda and we need to break it down into bite size chunks. We need support from government to achieve our goals. We also want devolution on energy planning so that we can plan for energy production alongside the development of High Speed 2. We need to work on the circular economy, in re-using products. The building industry uses materials and then throws things out. We should make local, buy local and manufacture our own materials in the UK, as far too much comes from overseas. Everyone believes in sustainability - it is the art of the possible but we do need to experiment and learn about human behaviour.'
WMCA has recently announced that its' trial in the use of e-scooters in Birmingham has meant a reduction of 66 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the city centre. Almost a third of the 450,000 e-scooter trips taken in Birmingham since a trial was launched in September have replaced car journeys according to a survey of riders.