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The road to a greener urban future

Thursday 22 March 2018

Dr Nick Davies, an expert in urban geography and planning, takes in Andy Burnham's GM summit and the prospect of real change towards a greener city.

I very much welcome Greater Manchester’s pledge to become a world-leading city region for sustainability. 

Yesterday’s green summit, devised and chaired by the GM Mayor Andy Burnham, united 600 citizens – everyone from businesses to schools - to help make it happen.  

The Mayor’s ambitious pledge is that Greater Manchester will become carbon neutral by 2040 or even before – a full decade before the rest of the country.  Burnham’s thinking is that devolution gives our city-region greater powers to improve sustainable transport, make buildings zero carbon and radically overhaul our energy systems, so let’s get on and do it.

The immediacy of the climate change issue as outlined by yesterday’s speakers shows that large-scale action is urgently required, not just here in the North West of England  – everywhere.  

Cities now constitute over half of the world’s population (set to rise to 70% in 2030).  They have been rapidly urbanised at the expense of green space over the last two centuries or so.  They do not drain water as effectively as natural areas.  Drainage systems are old and cannot cope with the increase in population.  Because of this, the rise in air pollution and urban heat, and an increasing need to address public health issues, restoring green infrastructure is becoming increasingly important for environmental policy in urban areas.

This region has a history of radical change and is perhaps better equipped than most to meet the challenge.  I particularly welcome the Mayor’s pledge to invest £50m every  year starting from 2019 in walking and cycling.  As a researcher with interests in zero-carbon travel, and also as someone who travels frequently around the area, I would suggest this is one of the most urgent yet effective things which can be done.  I would also suggest that although cycling is a good headline grabber, walking is accessible to a wider proportion of the population, yet perhaps does not receive as much attention.  Making more places and spaces which are easy and pleasurable to walk in can have a powerful effect on the local economy, as well as meeting health and low-carbon goals.

Among this University’s representatives at #GMGreenCity were Professor Will Swan, Director of Energy House, a key strategic research resource with impacts in home energy, fuel poverty, retrofitting and vehicle-2-grid technology; Professor Philip James, of our Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre, and Professor Hisham Elkadi, dean of our School of Built Environment and an adviser to the GM Low Carbon Hub.

The University of Salford is delighted to be playing itspart. Significantly, the University was among the first to make to pledge to support GMCA’s ambition. In particular with regard to our new Campus Masterplan (evolving along the A6 corridor in conjunction with Salford City Council).Plans include “an energy strategy towards a zero carbon future, which could see a 59% reduction in energy consumption and up to 7% of our energy generated by solar, helping us reach our goal of an 81% cut in our carbon emissions.”

And this is to be achieved by 2020, so that’s more good news!

Dr Nick Davies is a research fellow in the School of Built Environment at The University of Salford