Brighton’s residents are driving greater sustainability

On the eve of the election, it’s a great time to assess the progress that the majority Green council have made over the past five years in curbing carbon emissions and reducing Brighton’s effect on the environment.

Over the last five years, the city has achieved a lot. Brighton and the area surrounding it have been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, an initiative which aims to encourage conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, as well as development that is culturally and ecologically sustainable (see the video below).

Our city has also earned several awards and plaudits: it was named City of the Year in the CIVITAS awards 2014, in recognition of the council’s policies to promote cycling and bus travel. The installation of new segregated cycle lanes in Lewes Road has been particularly successful, leading to a 14 per cent increase in cycling journeys.

Brighton also received the Soil Association’s silver award for sustainable food, acknowledging the city’s many community growing projects and the council’s work in ensuring that the thousands of meals served through its food contracts met minimum health and sustainability standards.

However, the picture is not all rosy. City dwellers might not be surprised to hear that Brighton also has one of the lowest recycling rates in the country, with only 25.8% of waste re-used – despite the Green party’s pledge in 2011 that 70% of all domestic waste would be recycled by the end of May 2015.

Luckily, organisations and citizens have been taking matters into their own hands.

Brighton University recently constructed a Waste House – Europe’s first permanent public building made almost entirely from material thrown away or not wanted, and a low energy building to boot. This will hopefully inspire and challenge construction firms throughout the city to consider how they can re-use materials in their designs.

The city also has thriving Freecycle and Freegle communities where people pass on things they no longer need, ensuring that these items go to a good home rather than a landfill.

In other ways, too, residents of Brighton are taking action to reduce their impact on the environment. You might not heard of them, but the Brighton Energy Co-operative is going from strength to strength. In June 2014 the Co-operative completed their fifth community-owned solar installation, and the company now owns more than £700,000’s-worth of community-funded solar panels in the Brighton area.

Members of the Co-operative come together to invest in large solar installations, and can sell the power they generate to the National Grid; investors receive a 5% share of any profits as well as a 30% tax break on the money they invest.

Another energy co-operative, the Brighton and Hove Energy Saving Co-operative (BHESCo), opened a £1m share offer on Sunday (3 May), hoping to raise enough money from the local community to fund 10 renewable energy projects across the city. Projects include a biomass boiler for a school in Hove, and solar panels for buildings around the city.

Among the Green party’s election pledges this time round are promises to ‘improve air quality and road safety by making walking and cycling safer, and by encouraging cleaner public transport’, and to ‘improve energy efficiency in our city’s buildings to fight fuel poverty and reduce the city’s carbon emissions’.

The outcome of the election is up in the air at the time of writing, and even if the Greens do manage to retain a majority, we can’t yet know whether they will achieve these goals. But whatever the result of tomorrow’s elections, it’s clear that there is strong grassroots support among residents for improving the city’s already impressive sustainability credentials.

This is important, not just for our health and for the health of our planet, but also for our local economy. The head of Brighton University’s planning school recently warned that coastal towns and cities need to reinvent themselves in order to guarantee prosperity in the future. Brighton must not rest on its laurels over the next five years – instead, we should build on our successes and strengthen our reputation as a world-leading city for sustainable and eco-friendly living.

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