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YEF members pitch City leader their ‘Green Christmas Wish List’

20 December 2012

Members of York Environment Forum presented Cllr James Alexander, Leader of the City of York Council, with their ‘Green Christmas Wish List’ at a meeting on 3 December meeting 2012 at The Guildhall in York.

Attendees at the meeting were invited to pitch one ‘big idea’ and one ‘quick win’ – or to ask a question – in a timed two-minute presentation per person.

Pitches ranged from the ambitious (a Rapid Transit Line across York, solar footbridge, new public park)  to the pragmatic  (grow veg instead of flowers, bike racks at bus stops, a grand ‘freecycle’ day), and from the controversial (admit a lack of interest in the natural environment, return Rowntree Park to flood meadow) to the strategic (take over the bus service, encourage low-carbon jobs).

Councillor Alexander listened to all the pitches and responded briefly to each – with some provocative and revealing answers himself. The news that there are ‘no guarantees’ that York’s ‘green wedges’ will be protected was a particular concern to Forum members, as was the implication that the city ecologist’s team face a very uncertain future. Cllr Alexander made a particular call for interest to set up an energy co-operative in York. York Environment Forum plans to follow up with him over that and the other ideas he responded positively to.

A summary of the ideas and James Alexander’s responses is given below.

1. RAPID TRANSIT LINE: build a good-quality rapid transit line across York and locate all major traffic generators along it over the next 10-15 years. Start now with feasibility study. [Alastair Cooper, York Quakers (Friargate)]

James Alexander: I am keen on tram links, York is ripe for a tram. There has been European Investment Bank/ERDF underspend in our region; a tram line could be built for 200 million euros at a very low interest rate.

2. GIVE POLICIES WIDER FOCUS, NOT JUST CITY CENTRE [Alastair Cooper]

JA: I would like to look at York extending the Park & Ride service beyond the Local Authority boundaries, which would reduce car usage and congestion.

3. HOW CAN YOU ENCOURAGE PEOPLE IN YORK TO LIVE LOW-CARBON LIFESTYLES? The Climate Change Act requires us to reduce our emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. While this is a global challenge, we need to hit the targets at local level too. How can this be done? [John Cossham, York Rotters]

JA: One way for us to achieve a reduction in local emissions is through carbon credits. We need to learn more about how carbon credit trading schemes work and whether we could use them in York.

 4. GRAND ‘FREECYCLE DAY’: nominate a day for a parish, village or urban area to take part in a grand ‘swap’. People put unwanted items to give away outside their houses and residents remove what they can re-use. Council to remove/recycle the remainder. [Carole Green, Bishopthorpe PC]

JA: I really like this idea and would like to pilot it in York.

5. WHAT PROPORTION OF COUNCIL-OWNED PROPERTIES WITH SUITABLE ROOFS HAVE PV PANELS? What is the target percentage? And can the total of PV electricity generated by CYC be publicly displayed? [Maurice Vassie, Just York]

JA: Photovoltaic panels are on about a third of CYC properties – we’ve completed all the feasible properties. But we’re still missing opportunities to generate our own electricity. I would like to see energy co-operatives starting up that people can buy into, so that they can have a share of the benefits. I would also like to see solar thermal – in the form of solar evacuated heating tubes – being rolled out, too.

6. WHAT IS CYC’S PURCHASING POLICY FOR FAIRTRADE PRODUCTS FOR COUNCIL USE? [Maurice Vassie]

JA: York is a Fairtrade city and has a Fairtrade procurement contract. The commitment is up for renewal soon. The new council building West Offices will use Fairtrade tea and coffee.

7. EXTEND THE CENTRAL YORK CAR-FREE ZONE INTO DAVEYGATE/INCREASE NO. OF FOOTSTREETS WITHIN HISTORIC CORE. [Ron Healey, CTC]

JA: The number of footstreets is being extended [as part of the Footstreets Review]. Daveygate will be included too, but this is controversial because it means getting rid of disabled parking. We are going to trial it.

8. INVESTIGATE GREEN COMPOSTING SCHEMES (especially for removal of ‘arisings’ from mowing of verges, which would permit more wildflowers  to grow and improve biodiversity). [Sara Robin, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust]

9. KEEP ECOLOGIST TEAM IN POST to retain learning and obtain maximum biodiversity gain from new developments. [Sara Robin]

JA: the cost of this has  to be understood in the context of our wider funding challenges. Alot of councils will go bust by 2015/16 – to ensure this doesn’t happen in York we will need  to reduce our cost base.

10. DEVELOP YORK INTO ‘THE CITY OF ADAPTATION’ : use the lifecycle of the River Ouse to tell ‘The Water Story’ for York – ie how it impacts on businesses and homes and how we can adapt to the impact of flooding. [Helen Shiels, CO2 Sense]

JA: We are sharing best practice about businesses and homes’ adaptation to flooding at a major conference of insurance providers to be held in York in 2013.

11. ESTABLISH A GROUP-BUYING INITIATIVE FOR INDEPENDENT RETAILERS TO HELP REDUCE COSTS AND IMPACTS [Helen Shiels]

JA: Independent retailers have diverse needs so it’s hard to get a unified voice on something like this

12. AN EFFICIENT, RELIABLE BUS SERVICE THAT HAS A LATE-NIGHT SERVICE ON KEY ROUTES FROM CITY CENTRE TO 2300HRS & EXTEND PARK & RIDE TO 2300 HRS. [Chris Chambers, Strensall & Towthorpe PC]

JA: Sustaining evening bus services requires a cultural shift on behalf of retailers (as well as public). Transport and retail are linked: if shops stay open for longer, keeping public transport viable is possible. At the moment, York shuts down between 5.00 and 7.00pm. If they stayed open until 7.00pm  that would facilitate better public transport by creating a ‘critical mass’ for buses. Regarding a later Park & Ride service, a 3-4 month trial will explore the uptake of this.

13. ENCOURAGE MOTORISTS TO SWITCH OFF ENGINES IN TRAFFIC QUEUES. [Chris Chambers]

JA: Agreed – we need to educate people about switching off their engines, which will reduce pollution and emissions and save them money.

14. RETAIN YORK’S ‘GREEN WEDGES’ AND DISALLOW ANY DEVELOPMENT ON THEM [Dot Lawton, Heslington PC]

JA: The ‘Green Wedges’ are difficult. We will stick to the RSS [Regional Spatial Strategy] figures for the next 2 years. Essentially the Local Plan needs to be passed. There are no guarantees that the green wedges will be protected.

 15.  CYC TO SUPPORT ‘ARK IN THE PARK’ RESILIENCE CENTRE/COMMUNITY BUILDING IN ROWNTREE PARK (£250K): architectural plans for this already drawn up and planning permission has been granted. Friends of Rowntree Park have tried to get lottery funding but failed, though its amphibious design was recognised as highly innovative. This could be a flagship project for York, demonstrating how new buildings can be designed to cope with and remain dry in flood-prone areas. [Phil Bixby, Constructive Individuals]

JA: I like this idea and I would like to hear more about it.

16. SUPPLEMENTARY PLANNING GUIDANCE TO ENCOURAGE/REQUIRE PASSIVHAUS STANDARD FOR ALL NEW HOMES IN YORK [Phil Bixby]

JA: We need to move quickly with house-building: I am impatient for more. I would like us to explore modular house design (being used in Fulham) which is very flexible.

17. LINK YORK’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY TO THE MINI-STERN REPORT FOR YORK, ENCOURAGING INVESTMENT IN LOW-CARBON AND GREEN JOBS. [Anna Bialkowska, Tang Hall Community Centre]

JA: I am frustrated about the lack of knowledge surrounding the ‘green economy’. People don’t understand what it means in practice. What is our specialism in the green economy? There needs to be something more around that – we need specifics to differentiate what we can actually do in York. 

[Note: A Low Carbon Investment Pipeline for York for city heat distribution has recently been secured from Leeds City Region funding]

18. CITY OF YORK COUNCIL TO HIGHLIGHT GREEN INITIATIVES THROUGH ITS OWN WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA. [Anna Bialkowska]

JA: City of York Council website is currently undergoing a revamp. I am still waiting for material from Treemendous York for the website.

 19. WILDFLOWER PLANTING ON CITY WALLS AND RAMPARTS, ESPECIALLY OUTSIDE YORK STATION. [Hugh Cripps, Yorkshire Energy Partnership]

JA: We are working on free phone apps for tourists that would ping into place when you get off the train and encourage pedestrian movement towards Micklegate.

NB:No specific response to wildflowering on walls

20. EXCHANGE VISITS TO THE PHILIPPINES! [Hugh Cripps]

JA: No –  but I have been to London to meet the Philippine Ambassador to discuss greater economic links and, especially, the flood warden system they have, to see what we can learn from them.

21. PILOT A GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE COST-BENEFIT TOOLKIT & LINK WITH LEEDS CITY REGION ON BIDS [Barry Otley, Wheatlands Community Woodland]

JA: York is part of LCR but we have no contiguous border with it because North Yorks didn’t want to do it.

NB: No specific response to GI toolkit proposal

22. YORK TO HAVE FEWER FLOWER BEDS AND MORE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES GROWING IN CITY-CENTRE GARDENS, BEDS AND PLANTERS [Penny Bainbridge, Edible York]

JA: I prefer veg anyway – I’m not mad about flowers. York in Bloom encourages vegetable and fruit-growing now.

23. A ‘CYCLE AND RIDE’ SCHEME, WITH BIKE RACKS AT BUS STOPS. This would allow people to cycle to the nearest bus stop and then get the bus into town, cutting car use. [Penny Bainbridge]

JA:  I really like this and would like to look into this more, especially to see how we can upgrade bus stops to incorporate bike racks.

24.  CYC TO REGULATE THE BUSES! Necessary for improve evening service and bus connections to the villages and to halt the rural to urban migration. [Isobel Waddington, Murton PC]

JA: LCR supports this too. Bus companies’ charges are too high. Having a reliable bus service to villages would help address the decrease in the young population in rural areas.

25. CITY OF YORK COUNCIL ‘TO PUBLICLY ADMIT THEIR LACK OF CONCERN FOR THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT in the light of 16 years of paying lip-service only to it’  [Mick Phythian, YNET]

26. RETURN ROWNTREE PARK TO ‘FLOOD MEADOW’ AND MAKE CLIFFORDS TOWER A PUBLIC PARK INSTEAD. [Mick Phythian]

JA: No to letting Rowntree Park become a flood meadow. But personally supportive of a park at Cliffords Tower. However, the company that bought the land hasn’t got their money back and cost of land requires high quantum of retail, so a park is unlikely. I raised the park concept with them previously but was told to  ‘get real’.  There is a problem with land banking on the Cliffords Tower site. I would like to be able to tax companies that bank land, but local government doesn’t have that power. But even if a park did happen, where would the current car park move to?

27.  SOLAR PEDESTRIAN/CYCLE BRIDGE OVER THE OUSE BETWEEN OUSE BRIDGE AND LENDAL BRIDGE (either a new build footbridge with solar array on top, like the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane) or look at converting and improving pedestrian/cycleway adjoining Scarborough Bridge and adding solar PV (along the lines of the solar array on Blackfriars Bridge in London, now producing 50 per cent of Blackfriars Station’s energy). [Kate Lock, Planet Southbank & Chair of YEF]

JA: Like the idea but it’s expensive – where would funding come from? I am interested in solar arrays on other structures though, eg over car parks.

28. YORK TO HAVE A FULLY CONCEIVED CLIMATE ADAPTATION PLAN along the lines of Copenhagen’s, one that recognises the central role of ‘green and blue’ infrastructure (grass, trees, parks, gardens, streams, lakes, rivers, roof terraces, unpaved cycle tracks, etc) in adapting the city to the threats of flooding and also extreme heat. [Professor Colin Campbell, University of York Sustainability Forum]

JA:  I am interested in the role green infrastructure could play in adapting York to flooding.

Other ideas that were not pitched verbally (and therefore not responded directly to by JA) include:

  • A new deciduous forest
  • Proposals for York NW should include swales for surface water management , green spaces, trees, beehives on roofs, communal renewable energy
  • Proposals for Piccadilly/Foss Basin should include partnership working with volunteers and the natural features suggested for York NW (above).
  • Ensure all the council’s estate is energy efficient
  • Make the work done on the York Central site publicly available
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