In its bid to unlock growth around the country, the government is turning to cities for help. The UK’s major urban hubs have been given decision-making powers, devolved funding and new financing models in return for drawing up growth plans. Eight of these ‘city deals’ were agreed in July 2012 with Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. And a further 20 cities now have the opportunity to do the same in a second wave of deals.
Green Alliance has already demonstrated that the low carbon economy is not only resilient to the recession, but is growing. And low carbon growth offers cities the surest route to prosperous and resilient futures. So did cities recognise the deals as an opportunity to make progress in that direction?
Low carbon futures
Across the existing eight city deals, our report Green Cities: using city deals to drive low carbon growth, found that cities clearly recognised the economic value and potential of the low carbon sector. Newcastle and Liverpool both concentrated on building their offshore energy industries, with Newcastle aiming to secure £500 million in investment and 8,000 jobs to for the sector, and Liverpool planning for £100 million in investment and 3,000 jobs. Birmingham used its city deal to net an additional £3million for their Green Deal programme. Manchester’s deal created a 50/50 joint venture to develop a portfolio of low carbon investment options for the Green Investment Bank. Sheffield worked on ensuring they benefit from new nuclear investment, and Nottingham plans to expand its district heating system and has a focus on sustainable transport.
But there was considerably variation in how central low carbon growth was to the deals. Leeds framed its approach to growth with a low carbon vision for the city, while others missed the opportunity to do so. Apart from Newcastle, few deals acknowledged the role of tackling climate change in securing resilient economic growth, focusing instead on low carbon manufacturing. And few deals embedded low carbon goals across all areas of their deals. Nottingham integrated low carbon energy into its infrastructure plans, and its transport goals focused on sustainability. But more progress will be needed on transport and skills in particular, if cities are to achieve low carbon futures.
Looking ahead, cities in wave two deals are being encouraged to focus on a single initiative, so the question of how they can frame their priorities with a focus on low carbon growth, and embed means of achieving progress across their deal is a pressing one. City deals are becoming a prominent means of ‘doing business’ with government, making them a good opportunity for cities to find ways to speed up progress on a range of existing commitments to low carbon and resource security goals at once.
From a government point of view, city deals offer a significant new opportunity to develop productive new relationships. Cities have a huge amount to offer departments like DECC and CLG in understanding how retrofit or heat network objectives become realities on the ground, and to take advantage of realising these ambitions at city scale. Cities are enthusiastic about this opportunity and the deals process should be capitalised on as a new way for cities and the centre to work together on tackling climate change and achieving low carbon growth.
Green Alliance will be working with wave two cities in the coming year to develop robust city deals with strong low carbon threads. For more info or to discuss this work please contact Edward Hobson, deputy director, on firstname.lastname@example.org
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images