Stroud District Green Party's submission to the Gloucestershire 2050 Consultation

30 July 2018

Gloucestershire Green Party’s vision for 2050

 

In this document Gloucestershire Green Parties respond to the Vision 2050 consultation by presenting our own alternative vision for the future of the county. We are supportive of many of the existing Vision 2050’s ambitions, and some of its ideas, yet we have identified several problems. It prioritises short-term economic wins from unrelated big infrastructure projects over a long-term sustainable plan, and makes proposals that would harm rather than improve the environment. There is no a plan to protect the vibrancy of the county, lack of consideration of the major issue of our time: the changing climate, and a failure to promote safe, healthy lives by addressing the public health obesity epidemic. It also does not address the fundamental issue of the ageing population, or where the workforce will come from. Gloucestershire has the potential to transform into a truly sustainable county that retains its young people and serves as an example to others; we must take advantage of this. 

We consider the county’s greatest strengths to be:

  • Its resilient, caring and innovative people, who have a ‘can do’ attitude and a history of speaking truth to power.
  • Its beautiful and varied landscape, providing great locations for outdoors activities and good (but threatened) habitats for wildlife.
  • Its variety of settlements, ranging from picture-postcard villages to creative, alternative towns and multicultural cities.
  • Its central location with respect to the rest of England and Wales.

As we look to the future, we need to build on these strengths and ensure they continue.

We have divided our vision into sections, but there are many overlaps between them, reflecting the aim to form a coherent whole rather than a series of separate proposals.

 

A sustainable environment

A healthy natural world is key to our future: without it human society cannot function. We therefore need to work to ensure Gloucestershire’s countryside and urban areas are improved so they become healthy and resilient. The climate is changing, and we need to adapt to these changes and minimise their extent by reducing our carbon emissions. We are astonished that the current 2050 Vision does not take into account any changes to the county’s environment that will have occurred as a result of the changing climate.

Zero-carbon Gloucestershire. By 2050, the county requires near-zero net carbon emissions. To achieve this we need action in many sectors, including energy production and use, transport, agriculture and land management. Reaching this goal will have a positive impact on all aspects of our lives. Businesses, home owners, land owners and local government will need to consider climate change as a factor in all decisions they make.

A county self-sufficient in energy. Molly Scott Cato MEP [1] shows how the South West region has the potential to produce more energy than it needs using renewables. The report states: ‘Gloucestershire has excellent renewable energy potential yet some of the lowest levels of installation of any county in the South West. Potentially there is a wide spread of renewable resources providing significant local smart grid energy storage [that can respond to varying demand] is installed. Gloucestershire’s greatest untapped potential lies in tidal lagoons, onshore wind and biomass which could provide 60% of the renewable energy mix.’ By 2050, we believe this report’s recommendations should be implemented. This presents a tremendous opportunity for energy schemes to be owned by local communities and small businesseswith appropriate support from local authorities (by financial and political means, and through the planning process).

A county self-sufficient in food. Gloucestershire is full of fantastic food producers. We want to build on this so that the county produces as much food as it consumes, but without harming the environment. To do this we would like to see more sustainable farming practises, with less emphasis on animal agriculture and large monocultures.

A county that uses land sustainably. Current patterns of land use are often environmentally destructive and inefficient. To improve resilience to extreme weather events such as flooding we would encourage greater use of Natural Flood Management to 'slow the flow' and reduce erosion. Part of this would involve creating more extensive native tree cover. By using land for agriculture more efficiently, we would like to see more land returned to a wilder state and to provide more outdoors spaces for people to enjoy recreationally.

A county with thriving wildlife. We would like to see the county as a place where wildlife can co-exist with humans, resulting in greater biodiversity and bioabundance. To achieve this we would encourage re-wilding of land, provision of habitat in urban areas, and the formation of ecological corridors. There is a stunning opportunity to link wildlife habitats across the county from the Forest of Dean over to the Cotswold escarpment then east through the ANOB to the Bathurst Estate woodland, then through to Cotswold Water Park to the Thames.

Sustainable transport

Transport is a major and increasing source of carbon emissions, and it is also a major cause of frustration and annoyance: we spend much of our lives stuck in traffic jams, breathing polluted air and polluting those around us. We aim for a future where transport is low-carbon and low-pollution, and where motorised-transport via the internal combustion engine is no longer the default.

A county where active transport is the norm. Cycling (including using electric bikes), walking and other active forms of transport provide many benefits: health gains from exercise, reduced pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Cycle-ways and footpaths should be included in all new developments and added to existing transport corridors. We see a future where it is possible to cycle to and around any Gloucestershire town on safe and secure cycle-ways.

A county with reliable, affordable transport system that does not add to congestion, air pollution or climate change. This will take different forms throughout the county. The network should be sufficiently comprehensive and affordable that people use it as their first choice. We envisage trams within urban areas, a joined up train service linking the larger urban centres and electric buses and self-driving cars servicing the smaller rural settlements. Efficient cost-effectivetransport linking towns and villages to the larger urban centres is key to enabling younger people to remain in the areas in which they grew up. It is also essential for older people and those without cars to provide access to services, employment and education. 

A county where cars are shared and electric. The technology of electric and driverless cars has the potential to transform transport in urban and rural communities, making private car ownership historic. Gloucestershire should be open to this transformation, and support and investment should be put in place now to ensure it has the necessary infrastructure so its residents benefit from this technology.

Sustainable jobs

Gloucestershire is full of talented people, and we need to draw on the region’s strengths to enable them to fulfil their potential. There are risks in just concentrating on a single area; instead we should invest in a range of sectors to build a skilled and varied pool of jobs for 2050. We recognise and support the Vision to improve education in high-skilled, technical, problem solving sectors,while retaining the cultural and artistic heritage of Gloucestershire.

Cyber security. This is one of our key industries, and is likely to grow. However, it is quite a narrow sector and so we should ensure that all manner of tech jobs are included within a ‘Cyber City’ as proposed by Vision 2050Care must be taken to avoid workers becoming isolated. The development of a larger network of shared work spaces, which maximise informal interaction, generation of ideas and social cohesion, is essential. 

Sustainable agriculture. With the Royal Agricultural University and the University of Gloucestershire we already have expertise in farming and environmental science. As the climate continues to change we will need to adapt our farming methods to cope with new conditions. We have the opportunity to become a region of national excellence in sustainable farming methods.

Renewable energy. Demand for renewable energy is increasing, along with the demand for smart grids, energy storage and energy-efficient buildings. We have great natural resources in the county for generating energy, and this again gives us an opportunity to become a world leader in the technology. We already have universities and companies in the region working in this area, and should support and encourage them to bring in more high-quality science and engineering jobs. 

Eco-tourism. Gloucestershire is a beautiful county with a varied landscape. Much of this is under threat from human activities. However, there is still considerable unused potential for encouraging sustainable tourism. Well designed and managed regional parks could provide a significant economic driver. The appropriate development of core wilderness areas primarily for wildlife combined with more accessible recreational zones would form part of this, as could active transport routes. Further investment in the canal corridor would provide great opportunities for joined-up cycling and walking routes. The re-wilding of areas of the Cotswold Water Park, the escarpment, the Severn floodplain and the Forest of Dean with the creation of wildlife corridors would provide a draw. Note however that any increase of tourism would need to be accompanied by measures to ensure that housing costs do not spiral out of reach of local residents and particularly the local workforce.

Cultural tourism. The county is full of beautiful villages, characterful towns and diverse cities. There are already numerous festivals across the county. By investing in our arts and culture and ensuring there is plentiful accommodation for visitors, by 2050 Gloucestershire will be one of the country’s top cultural tourism destinations. 

Sustainable, localised economy

To retain the younger workforce there is likely to be a need for greater opportunities for people to influence and control their own individual destinies. We envisage a future based on a sustainable economic model and sustainable communities and businesses working together. This would transfer ownership to local communities and dynamic young entrepreneurs, and ensure decisions affecting people would be made by them, not by people or organisations far removed. To ensure there is sufficient wealth within the county to provide for the ageing population we need to ensure profits generated in the county are re-invested back in it, thus providing the infrastructure that benefits all. 

A county where decision-making is transparent and decentralised. We envisage economic decisions affecting the county being made in the county and being open to public scrutiny. We call for all local authorities (health, police, government) to adopt open contracting and for decisions to be made by empowered communities and local government rather than central government. Rules that work for other places in the country may not work for Gloucestershire, so we would like there to be freedom for local government to tax and incentivise. 

A county that keeps its economy local. There are many benefits to a localised economy, where money generated in Gloucestershire is invested in Gloucestershire. This could be achieved by using local currencies based on digital technologies – the ‘Gloucestershire pound’ - and by regional banks that are publicly owned and democratically operated. 

A county embracing the circular economy. It is essential that we adopt a circular model of our economy by 2050 that is decoupled from carbon emissions: we need to move away from our current model of ‘produce – use – dispose’ to a system that minimises waste and impact, and seeks to recover and regenerate materials once they have been thoroughly used. 

Mental and physical wellbeing

There is a risk with such a dramatically ageing population that our society will become more fragmented and isolated, and more susceptible to chronic health conditions. By 2050 we want to ensure that we have strong communities in which individuals feel valued and able to live happily and healthily. 

A county powered by community projects. People are happier when they feel part of something bigger, feel that they contribute and have plenty of social contact. Community projects for all ages ranging from ‘Men’s Sheds’ and choirs to shared allotments and walking groups, can be transformative when well-resourced. We would like to see a network of well-resourced projects built across the county, catering for people of all ages.

A county where everyone has a home. A safe, secure place to live is essential for people’s wellbeing. We recognise that there are many complex reasons why people find themselves homeless, but by ensuring housing is available at affordable rents, (be that by expanding social housing, requisitioning unused buildings or similar) and by making sure health and social care is readily available for those in need, we would hope that no one in the county would be forced into homelessness. 

A county where lives are active by default. By making active transport (particularly cycling) readily available, filling our urban centres with open spaces and providing plenty of affordable sport and leisure facilities, by 2050 we can have gone a long way to combatting obesity and other diseases worsened by inactivity. 

A county where education is life-long and isn’t just academic. We should ensure that our young people are able to spend plenty of time outside being active, with activities such as forest schools prevalent. Everyone should be provided with skills education including basic life skills, financial literacy, continuous training on the use of emerging technology, and healthy eating.

A county where mental health is always considered. Encouraging good mental health will by 2050 be core to the planning of all new developments. Local government decisions will always take account of the impact on mental health. 

A county that embraces social prescribing. Health is far more than merely the absence of disease: it is determined by a range of social, environmental and economic factors. The health service willtherefore move away from purely high-tech medical treatments and prescribe social activities such as volunteering, sports, community groups and so on. Frome in Somerset [2] provides a model that we would like to see adopted, and extended, in Gloucestershire. 

A county where care is at the core of society and is a profession to be proud of. With an aging population, we need to revolutionise how we think about and implement care. We envisage a future where care is brought back into public ownership, where caring is a valued profession and where requiring care doesn’t make people feel unvalued. With stronger communities leading to fewer isolated individuals, we would also hope the need for care services will not have continued to grow exponentially.

The super-sustainable city

Concentrating the population in larger settlements is a less environmentally demanding form of living: people living in cities on average have a lower carbon footprint and consume fewer resources than those living in rural areas. This is because they are more likely to use public transport rather than drive, housing is more compact and often more energy-efficient, amenities are shared amongst greater numbers and are often within walking distance, and people live closer together leading to less human encroachment on the countryside. However, for these benefits to be felt, cities have to be designed with sustainability in mind. With the super city we have the potential to design and build a world-leading model for sustainability, implementing many of the aims already listed.

A city that produces its own food. Growing food increases people’s bond with the natural world and provides community interaction and a sense of achievement. The super city should aim, via city farms, edible parks, roof top gardens and allotments, to produce a sizeable proportion of its own food. 

A city that has minimal carbon footprint. Developing a super city will require lots of new building. Any new buildings should be made to high energy-efficiency standards to minimise the need for heating in winter and air conditioning in summer, meaning they do not lead to net emissions of greenhouse gases. With the climate becoming warmer, the demand for the latter will only go up unless we avoid the need for it with smart design. 

A city that produces its own energy. It has been shown that the South West has the potential to produce more energy than it needs due to our abundance of renewable sources [1]. The super city can harness rapidly developing technology into small scale energy infrastructure owned by communities and small businesses.

A green city. Access to green space improves people’s mental wellbeing and provides places for social interaction as well as wildlife habitat, food growing and carbon capture.

An active city. Too often urban spaces are designed with the car as the most important factor. With an ageing population and the tendency to obesity, prioritising walking and cycling is crucial. Greater provision for active transport will lead to less pollution and better health outcomes. 

A city that is attractive to young people. We would like to see provision for a range of social and physical activities targeted at younger people, developed with their input and accessible by public transport to those living outside the city. 

A city where people look out for each other. Whilst cities attract younger people for the social life, cities can also be lonely places. Housing developments should be designed with communal space, and to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to live in the same community. This would help avoid isolation and loneliness, and provide more readily-available support structures for people in need. 

A connected city, both internally and externally. A comprehensive, hyper-efficient mass transit system would ease transport between the super city’s centres and surrounding settlements. A more affordable and reliable train network would allow better connectivity with cities such as Bristol, Birmingham and London.

 

References

[1] The power to transform the South West: How to meet the region’s energy needs through renewable energy generation. http://mollymep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-power-to-transform-the-South-West_FINAL1.pdf

[2] http://www.swscn.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Community-development-in-Frome-the-GP-perspective-Dr-Helen-Kingston.pdf






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