Author Archives: Editor

Together we can make Birmingham’s golden decade a green decade

My speech at the launch of Birmingham’s Big Green Conversation.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining us at the launch of Birmingham’s Big Green Conversation.

I’d like to start with an overview of our city in 2019 – outlining some of the opportunities and challenges facing Birmingham over the next decade or so.

I’ve said many times in recent months that this city has entered a golden decade – a period that will shape the lives of that next generation of young Birmingham citizens.

I grew up in Birmingham myself. This is my home city and, though I’ve seen many, many changes here over the years, I’d say that this is the most dramatic period of regeneration in living memory.

I hope you’ll all agree that there’s a real buzz of excitement around this city at the moment. Projects like the Commonwealth Games, HS2, Curzon, Smithfield, Langley, Peddimore and many others are transforming Birmingham, delivering more homes, better jobs and improved opportunities for our young and growing population.

But, vital though economic regeneration is to our future prosperity, the success of a city must be measured in much more than shiny buildings, major infrastructure projects and new developments.

Yes Birmingham is a growing city and our collective challenge is to ensure that the growth is managed in a sustainable way.

This city will be home to 150,000 more residents by 2031 and that means potentially 80,000 more cars on our roads, making 200,000 more daily trips.

Just think for a moment about the reality behind those figures.

2031 may feel like it’s a million miles away, but is actually just 12 years down the line and unless we take action, the increased traffic will have a staggering impact on people across this city and, whether we’re talking petrol, diesel or even electric cars, the city will be permanently gridlocked if we do not take action.

That was one of the major factors five years ago when we launched Birmingham Connected – an ambitious strategy for delivering a transport network to support the city’s expansion by getting more people walking, cycling and onto public transport.

We also know that a really successful Birmingham must also be a healthy Birmingham.

This must be a city that tackles health inequalities and a city that takes the tough decisions to improve the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

So, not only are we launching a Clean Air Zone following this city council’s biggest ever public consultation, we’re also currently consulting on a Clean Air Strategy, because every person who lives and works in Birmingham has the right to clean air.

Improving air quality will not only result in health benefits, it can also be a key element of growth and regeneration.

This is not simply about air quality though; it’s about quality of life.

Birmingham is already a green city – one of the greenest in the UK – with almost 600 parks and open spaces, nature reserves, country parks and of course the canal network.

Those green spaces contribute to our physical and mental wellbeing – making Birmingham (in my opinion) one of the best cities in the world to live in.

But don’t just take my word for it – this city was last month named a one of the best places to live in the world in the Mercer Worldwide Quality of Living report.

Our collective challenge is to ensure that as the city grows – as we continue to see redevelopment – we do not lose that green identity, but instead enhance it.

That will only be achieved by planning positively to ensure that growth is accommodated in a way that is both sustainable and deliverable.

So in order to meet the challenges of the next 12 years and beyond, we’ve worked with partners to draw-up the Birmingham Development Plan, which sets out a framework that will guide future development across the City.

In particular the BDP, as it’s known, looks at how we address climate change, quality of life, delivery of infrastructure and the creation of an inclusive economy.

The Plan acknowledges that the City Council will need to play its part in reducing the impact of climate change and be prepared to adapt to its consequences, so that Birmingham can continue to prosper socially, environmentally and economically.

Policies in the BDP will contribute to the Council’s target of reducing its carbon footprint by 60 per cent by 2027. This compares favourably with the current government target which requires a 22 per cent reduction by 2022 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050.

Among other things, we expect new developments to be designed and constructed in ways which will:

  • Maximise energy efficiency and the use of low carbon energy.
  • Conserve water and reduce flood risk.
  • Consider the type and source of the materials used.
  • Minimise waste and maximise recycling.
  • And incorporate measures to enhance biodiversity value

That gives an overview of the council’s approach, but we’re determined to work ‘with’ the city, rather than simply do things ‘to’ the city.

That’s why the key word here tonight is ‘conversation’.

We all have a stake in the future of this city and it’s absolutely essential that we listen to – and take account of – a wide range of voices and views.

Both planners and politicians must understand the needs and views of our communities.

I fully accept that people will say that we need actions not words – and I wouldn’t disagree with them – so we must guard against this event and the Environment Summit later this year turning into little more than talking shops.

Let’s face it, the last thing the world needs is more hot air!

But the fact that we’ve come together to collectively discuss the future of our city can only be a positive thing.

I know we’re all passionate about this city – or we wouldn’t be here this evening.

So I look forward to a frank exchange of views and ideas and I hope that in years to come we can look back on Birmingham’s Big Green Conversation as something that made a real difference to our city and its citizens.

I’m confident that together we can make Birmingham’s golden decade a green decade!

Speech: From Motor City to a walkable 21st Century destination

My speech to the National Walking Summit 2019

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Birmingham and thank you for joining us for the 2019 National Walking Summit.

You might at first glance think that Birmingham – for decades known the world over as a motor city – is an odd location for this event.

But we’re working hard to change that old perception – not just in this city, but across the whole West Midlands region.

We’re working collaboratively to reduce our over-reliance on cars by getting more people onto public transport, more people cycling and of course more people walking.

Clearly I don’t have to sell the benefits of walking to this audience, but there are many compelling reasons for doing this.

  • Air quality across this region is poor.
  • Congestion is a key concern.
  • Levels of obesity are rising.
  • And there is overdependence on cars for short journeys.

As if those factors weren’t enough, there is another pressing reason why Birmingham must get more people out of their cars: This is a rapidly growing city.

We’ll have 150,000 more residents by 2031 and that means potentially 80,000 more cars on our roads and 200,000 more daily trips.

The increased traffic would have a staggering impact on people across this city and that was one of the major factors four years ago, when we launched Birmingham Connected – an ambitious strategy for delivering a transport network to support the city’s expansion.

The case for active travel is a strong one and, though we know the journey will not always be straightforward, we know that increasing the levels of walking and cycling is an essential part of making Birmingham ’well-connected’.

In the 1960 cities were designed for cars, with pedestrians given secondary status and quite literally driven underground onto underpasses.

That is changing and – as our city evolves – we’re working with planners to turn the ‘car first’ philosophy on its head.

And we’re not starting from scratch. Birmingham already has a surprisingly varied and extensive network of paths, pavements, towpaths and tracks connecting people with places to live, work and enjoy.

There is considerable scope to improve this network by making it easier, safer and better-connected so that more people will choose to walk and cycle, regardless of age, gender, fitness level or income.

We’re currently putting the finishing touches to the Birmingham Walking and Cycling Strategy, which will set out a long-term plan to ensure that active travel becomes the popular choice for short journeys and to increase the opportunities for recreational cycling and walking.

Through this Strategy we must:

  • Develop a great city for walking and cycling – improving infrastructure: paths, parking and public transport.
  • And we must promote and inspire walking and cycling – organising events, distributing information and evaluating outcomes.

Success will not be achieved overnight, but by working with partners (locally and nationally) and by engaging with our communities, we have a real opportunity.

Increasing the levels of active travel will deliver huge benefits, for individuals and the wider community – with more inclusive growth; better health and safer travel; cleaner air; improved access to jobs, skills and services and more liveable communities.

Today’s summit is another step on a journey that will transform Birmingham from the Motor City into an inviting and walkable 21st Century destination.

Homophobia or Islamophobia: There is absolutely no place in Birmingham for intolerance and discrimination

You will no doubt have seen the continued coverage of intimidating protests regarding the teaching of Relationships and Sex Education at a small number of Birmingham schools.

You may also have seen reports overnight of attacks on mosques and Islamic centres in Birmingham.

I have to say that the Birmingham being portrayed in the media (mainstream and social) at the moment is not the Birmingham I know.

It amazes me in 2019 that this needs to be written or said, but let me make it clear: There is no place in this city for intolerance and discrimination.

This is a city built on tolerance and I’m proud of the fact that everyone is accepted in Birmingham regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality.

As a city it is important that we call out discrimination and intolerance in any form and we will continue to do so. As my cabinet colleague John Cotton has said: Equality is the law of the land and a right for all, and people can’t pick and choose which parts of the 2010 Equality Act they support.

That’s why I condemn the mosque attacks and why next Monday I’ll be speaking at an event focussed on challenging hate and Islamophobia.

It’s also why I want to make it clear that there is no room in our city for homophobia.

The abuse directed towards staff at Parkfield Community School and more recently Anderton Park Primary School is simply unacceptable. It’s also absolutely wrong that the protests – centred on relationships lessons that teach children about LGBT rights – have been hijacked by people with a homophobic agenda who have no links to either school.

It’s one thing for parents to ask questions about elements of a school curriculum. It’s quite another for others to pounce on the situation as an excuse to peddle hatred and misinformation.

We know that activists from around the country have joined the protests at Parkfield and they are not helping the school and the parents resolve this sensitive issue.

We must be absolutely clear that there is no room in this process for intimidation or abuse and I would urge those using this issue to further their own agendas to back off.

Likewise, the simple message to anyone targeting our Muslim community is that your hatred and intolerance is not welcome in this city.

As we saw with last week’s tragic events in Christchurch, Islamophobia is a poison that cannot go unchallenged.

Birmingham is under an intense media spotlight at the moment and we have a duty to stand together, speaking up for all our communities.

That is exactly what we will do and the extremists will not win.