Vision Statement for The
Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield
Clean Historic Green Resilient
Sustainability and resilience for Sutton Coldfield
By Eco Sutton
Sustainability is a way of looking at the world that emphasises that as a town we have the freedom to make responsible choices; that we can live well without wasting resources; and that we can thrive without exploiting our residents or people from other areas. As a historic town it will be natural for Sutton to act in a way that will preserve a legacy for future generations.
The way we would do this would be to examine any policy initiative brought before the Town Council with the combined perspective of the benefits for the local economy, the protection of the environment and improving social cohesion.
The advantages of using this threefold vision would be several: it would mean that a new idea was not looked at on solely its own merits, but would be viewed from an overarching perspective; policies would be examined for how they interacted with other policies (sometimes called joined-up thinking); and over time a benchmark of Royal Town thinking would develop.
Sutton Park stands as an example of the need for this sort of approach. We all appreciate the Park and see it as an indispensible asset for the Town; and as an attraction that brings visitors and income to us. But too many visitors will either degrade the Park or call for increasing management costs. Also the Park has been managed countryside since mediaeval times. There is an ambition that the Town Council assumes responsibility for this countryside, which would then bring the town councillors and residents up against choices of what habitat to promote, what would make for an ecological balance of flora and fauna (eg cattle and ponies), what leisure pursuits to encourage, what commercial enterprises to allow. Sustainability, comprising economic, environmental and social perspectives, could be one yardstick to measure the competing interests against.
Following the ratification of the Paris Agreement on reducing carbon emissions, some response to the impact of climate change is necessary. Sutton is in a fortunate geographical position. The local impacts of more extreme weather events have been slight: some small scale flooding, which is very unpleasant for some householders, but not disruptive to the town as a whole. But changes are in the offing; and preparing a resilient and local response is better than waiting for diktats from central authorities. Reduction in carbon emissions will imply changes to the use of oil and gas, for transport, heating and lighting. Electric vehicles will not be a relevant replacement unless the energy comes from renewable sources. Insulation is a cost-effective way of reducing heating bills, but not an aesthetically pleasing one. Choices will have to be made about what is a sustainable lifestyle for residents, commerce and industry; and maybe there is a role for the Town Council in facilitating community discussions on the way forward.
If there is going to be a reduction in travel, then the importance of the local economy will rise. Certainly the Town council should consider a policy of local procurement where possible; and continuing the provision of a local farmers’ market. Some councils have linked procurement with other business standards like paying the living wage and other marks of being a good employer. Promotion of such fairness in business and employment practices can instil confidence in the workforce and enhance the firm’s reputation.
Housing developments will be a factor in maintaining the health of local business and industry. Sutton has long been a town where people aspire to live; but businesses are not purely staffed by high-flyers. A mix of housing will provide a mix of employees. Sustainable housing developments include a proper infrastructure of services like shopping, education, transport and availability of jobs. The Town Council might also look at planning and building regulations that promote housing that by investment at the construction stage reduces future expenses by the provision of level access, doors wide enough for wheelchairs, water recycling, high standard insulation, solar panels for electricity and hot water, and parking areas that allow drainage rather than run-off.
Similarly a balance can be maintained between a continual movement towards automation or high-tech solutions to manufacture and the advantages of high levels of employment, which avoids the provision of the debilitating reliance on benefits.
There are at least three other transport issues that need to be considered in the town. Poor air quality is a growing concern, especially when it is caused by diesel vehicles. The figures show a considerable number of deaths are attributable to the effects of respiratory problems; and that the worst sufferers are the young and the elderly; and interestingly that being in a vehicle does not give adequate protection.
The second issue arises from the history and geography of the town. Road access from the north to the town centre has to pass through the conservation area, which thus produces a bottleneck. Access from the east is limited by where there are crossings of the brook and the railway; and this is exacerbated by the infrequent bus service in that direction.
Sutton is not yet a town where cyclists and pedestrians get much priority. All these three issues would benefit from the holistic thinking that comes with sustainability.
Possible ways forward
- The Town Council could espouse sustainability as a principle for its policy making.
- An examination could be made of how other authorities have taken on such a principle. The Welsh Government is one example.
- Sustainability West Midlands could be contacted for advice.
- A Sustainability Forum could be established, by harnessing the existing voluntary organisations with the businesses which already have such credentials. The encouragement of green business opportunities would be welcome.
Among the voluntary organisations to be included are many of the churches, who have the aspiration of preserving the Earth.