In this new series of articles we want to start a conversation about local leadership on sustainability. We will be asking key figures in local politics, academia and community organisations about the opportunities and challenges they see in greening our city. Our aim is to see what key themes appear and how we can connect individuals and organisations across Southampton to make these ideas happen.
However, these questions and answers are just the start of this discussion. Do you agree with the ideas proposed? How would you like our local leadership to tackle environmental issues? What are your top 3 ideas for a healthy and sustainable city? Please do carry on the conversation in the comments below.
Picking up the baton for the first of our posts is Councillor Dave Shields, Southampton City Council Cabinet Member for Health & Sustainable Living.
What is your role?
Having been re-elected to the Council in May to represent the Freemantle ward, I have accepted the invitation of the Council Leader, Simon Letts, to take responsibility for the ‘health and sustainable living’ portfolio. I see this brief as covering:
- Closer integration of key Council and NHS services via the Health & Wellbeing Board
- Promotion of a healthier, happier and kinder city through the Health & Wellbeing Strategy and the Council’s new public health responsibilities
- A response to some of the key climate change challenges to local citizens’ wellbeing
Since being handed the portfolio of health and sustainable living I have met with government ministers from the Departments of Transport and Food & Rural Affairs to discuss our Clean Air Zone proposals for Southampton and they seemed genuinely interested in our ideas for addressing some of the issues we have arising from the Port and the berthing Cruise Liners. I have also attended the Association of Public Service Excellence Energy Summit where I was able to learn from other cities like Nottingham and Bristol about their approach to establish local municipal energy companies – something we very much want to emulate here in Southampton.
What does sustainability mean to you?
For me, sustainability means ensuring a better balance between the environmental, social and economic determinants of community wellbeing. I am worried that – due to contradictions in global capitalism and the austerity measures chosen by governments like ours in response to these – we have become preoccupied with short term fixes to society’s problems – population movement, famine, conflict, urban and rural poverty and, of course, climate change – rather than looking at long term solutions. In the Council most of my colleagues understand sustainability to mean achieving financial balance, however.
What challenges do you see in relation to making Southampton a sustainable city?
The big challenges we face in making Southampton a more sustainable city are:
- An unfair distribution of the city’s wealth and widening inequalities
- The absence of sufficient locally accountable control mechanisms over public services and the finances necessary to adequately resource them
- Disengagement by wide sections of society in democratic processes
- Incremental atomisation of society and fragmentation of many of our communities
How will you work with other stakeholders on sustainability? i.e. across council departments, community organisations and other political parties?
I want to ensure that we place sustainability, improved population health and tackling inequality at the heart of all Council policies as well as those of public sector partners where we have influence and those from whom we contract many vital services. I want to see a bigger role for a wide spectrum of civic society institutions (voluntary sector organisations, co-operatives, faith communities, trade unions, community associations, charities, self-help groups, social movements etc.) in helping to design and deliver public services within a radically-changing financial environment.
As a lifelong Labour Party member – arguably embracing the libertarian left strand of political opinion – I am always happy to collaborate with others from alternative political groupings (or none) on areas where consensus is possible. Sadly our current voting system often exacerbates sectarian division between people with similar views but with different political traditions which is why I am in favour of electoral reform.
Does the Local Plan go far enough in terms of sustainability?
The Local Plan is one of the City Council’s most important strategic drivers for change and should be seen alongside the Local Transport Plan, Health & Wellbeing Strategy, Safe City Strategy and Housing Strategy. I think all these plans need to go further in promoting sustainable development and ensuring balanced communities rather than simply serve the city’s commercial interests (important though these clearly are).
What are the top 3 things you would like to do to make our city sustainable?
My top three priorities for ensuring a more sustainable city over the next few years include:
- Addressing unacceptably wide levels of health inequality – especially where these result from preventable external factors such as fuel poverty, poor air quality, sub-standard housing and a hazardous road and work environment
- Developing with like-minded others a strong and powerful social movement for change which enables people to work together and pool the fruits of their endeavour for the collective good
- Exploring opportunities for innovative public sector solutions that address some of our local challenges e.g. more extra care housing provision to meet the needs of a growing elderly population; a municipal energy system making greater use of renewables; and radical action on a clean air zone (including a ‘greener’ port)
These priorities cannot be realised by the Council alone and it will be critically important to be able to work in partnership with others. For me, effective partnership is defined by the extent to which what each contributor is prepared to give something up and a commitment to reciprocity and mutual trust. Having listened to a number of influential climate change agents over the years it also means for me an acceptance of the need for trade-offs, compromise, adaptation and mitigation measures where necessary.
I really welcome the opportunity for dialogue with other local citizens via Climate Conversations and look forward to continuing this over the next period.
Header image: Flickr/Chris Taylor