Sustainable Edinburgh 2020

I was reminded by the Friends of the Earth Scotland (FOES) that the Sustainable Edinburgh 2020 consultation was still open (deadline 16th September). Here were my replies:

What do you think are the three most important priority actions needed for the sustainable development of Edinburgh?

My replies were:

  • Transport – e.g. pedestrian and cycle paths; low carbon public transport
  • Food/consumer products – e.g. local products; reduce food miles
  • Renewable energy – e.g. invest in renewable technologies: wind and solar power; biomass

I added, in the box for comments:

Needs to be a UK-wide joined-up policy – there should be funding at all levels on improving public transport, and an end to wasting money on pointless projects such as the trams debacle. The tramline as planned was being built for political purposes, and in order to be profitable will need to force a shutdown of other transport alternatives. Imagine how many cyclepaths the millions poured into the tramacle could have built! Also, while “biomass” looks good on smallscale close to forests, it’s clearly absurd anywhere like Edinburgh: the Leith Biomass plant should never be built.

I was particularly annoyed by the sneaky inclusion of “biomass”: what that means, on a city-wide scale, is using conventional fuel to transport wood from miles away to burn it in a giant stove to produce electricity and waste heat. As Greener Leith cites:

The report raises a host of environmental concerns over the growth in the use of biomass for electricity generation, but the graph that stood out is the one above which shows that a biomass plant that burns woody biomass from existing ‘managed forests’ for electricity – which is pretty much equivalent to the Leith Biomass proposals – could take almost 300 years to generate any carbon saving at all.

What do you think the Council should be doing to make Edinburgh more sustainable?

Stop funding political projects like the trams debacle. Stop giving planning permission to supermarkets – supermarkets are hideously unsustainable and destroy local shops and local smallscale food provision. Proactively: fund joinedup local transport projects for cycle paths and foot paths. Proactively support useful smallscale energy projects – solar panels on roofs, loft insulation – rather than big commercial pieces of crap like the Leith Biomass Plant.

Supermarkets exemplify everything unsustainable about the food industry, from growers to sellers. They bankrupt smallscale farmers, they waste fuel transporting food from where it’s grown to a central depot to where it’s sold, they invariably ruin local high streets – all the best places for shopping in Edinburgh didn’t have a supermarket anywhere nearby for years and years. (The council’s decision to make an economic wreck of Broughton Street by allowing Tesco to open a branch in Picardy Place is particularly hard to understand.) Yet Edinburgh Council loves supermarkets and is always ready to let them open a new branch anywhere they like. If Sustainable Edinburgh 2020 means anything, it ought to make Edinburgh Council the enemy of supermarkets instead of their loving friend.

Are you currently engaged in projects or initiatives to make Edinburgh more sustainable?

I don’t own a car: I walk or take the bus everywhere. I shop at supermarkets as little as I can, trying to support small local businesses and local producers. I use my red and blue boxes to recycle. I have one of the small black “compost bins” to recycle organic waste.

And the sad thing is, that of all these relentlessly trivial efforts to save the planet, probably refusing to shop at supermarkets is the big one.

Do you know of any other projects or initiatives that are working towards a more sustainable Edinburgh?

There seem to be a lot of recycling projects going on, and this is great, but individual recycling isn’t going to save the planet. (Also the current council policy of encouraging individuals to flytip rather than use a special uplift to get rid of large rubbish items seems incredibly shortsighted.) I’ve heard about an energy-efficient project which is supposed to help out with insulation and solar panels, but they’re hard to get hold of on the phone.

We would like to establish some indicators to measure how we are making progress with Sustainable Edinburgh 2020. In your opinion what would be the best way to measure this?

Fewer supermarkets. More local traders and food providers. Fewer unsustainable buildings with huge glass frontage. More homes with solar panels. More corporate recycling. Less flytipping. More joined-up transport policy connecting foot, bike, and public transport, and cheaper fares for bus and train. Leith Biomass Plant will have been cancelled.

One aspect which I didn’t touch on at all because it seems to me much larger than Edinburgh – the homelessness and poverty which make any city unsustainable. Edinburgh needs to build more good quality council housing, on LRT bus routes. But no city is allowed to use money from selling off council housing to build new – every city has a shortage of council homes. Edinburgh’s problem is acute because, since the Scottish Parliament opened, house prices have gone skyhigh. I bought my first home in 1997 – a little two-room flatlet in Albert Street – for £32K, or twice my annual salary (I had saved enough to put down a 5% deposit). I sold it seven years later for over double the price. Now it would have tripled. Of course the place I bought cost more too – now, and then. Who can afford to buy now, as I did, after saving for a couple of years, and get a mortgage twice their annual salary?

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Filed under Poverty, Scottish Politics, Sustainable Politics

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