Incoming Metro Mayors must take urgent action to improve the environment, making city regions cleaner and greener – new research shows

A coalition of environmental organisations, including the National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts, are today calling on incoming metro mayors to take urgent action to green their city regions, using strategic plans and budgets as key tools. [1]

Metro mayors are being elected in six city regions on Thursday 4 May, creating a new tier of political leadership in England. [2] The organisations have today published Greening the city regions – opportunities for metro mayors. [3]

The report includes a Green City Regions Index which, for the first time, indicates each region’s strengths and weaknesses on a range of issues, from air quality to the natural environment and protection of heritage. It also highlights areas where the new metro mayors should take action, showing how the new role and its powers offer significant opportunities to drive ambitious progress on the environment.

Stephen Trotter, director for England, The Wildlife Trusts said:
“Our cities are important in their own right for wildlife and wild places. Metro mayors can deliver ambitious plans for creating amazing and exciting spaces for wildlife to thrive close to where people live.”

On transport and air quality, metro mayors will control a single transport budget. The report highlights the opportunity to use this to tackle air pollution and congestion by investing in green public transport, walking, cycling and electric vehicle infrastructure. Metro mayors can also make public transport easier to use via smart ticketing and use their new powers to improve bus provision. The report highlights varying city region progress on transport and air quality including:

• Despite high cycling rates, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough city region has the highest car use and lowest bus use of the six city regions. West Midlands, in contrast is doing well on sustainable transport, coming out best for high bus use and low car use.

• Two northern city regions have a contrasting level of provision for electric vehicles: Tees Valley has 19 times more charging points than Liverpool City Region.

• All the regions have a problem with air quality and fail to comply with EU limits for nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution.

On housing, metro mayors will determine the locations, quantity and quality of new homes via spatial planning. The report calls for metro mayors to prioritise development on brownfield land and use sensitive density increases to make the most of existing services and transport and to protect the natural environment. The report highlights varying city region progress on green housing including:

 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has the most acute housing shortage but a low level of development on brownfield sites to date at only 44 per cent, compared to Greater Manchester’s 65 per cent.
 Greater Manchester is the region whose built heritage is most at risk, with 17 per cent of Grade 1 buildings at risk, compared to only one per cent in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Metro mayors will be able to do more to protect and improve the natural environment in their city regions. The report suggests city regions prioritise investment in high quality open spaces for recreation for health and well-being. It also proposes the development of new green infrastructure strategies to provide detailed information about the city region’s green spaces and nature, identifying where they need protection and where they can be enhanced in future development. The report highlights varying city region progress on the natural environment including:

 Liverpool City Region currently spends the most per person on open spaces at £28 per head per year, while Cambridgeshire and Peterborough spends only £10.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“The new metro Mayors in these city regions have the powers and funding that can make a real difference to transport in their areas. We will want to see them exercise these powers by improving public transport and by tackling air pollution. Investment in better buses, walking and cycling and stronger controls on polluting cars and trucks will transform people’s lives and the success of their cities.”

Tamsin Cooper, acting director, Green Alliance said:
“Devolution aims to unlock the potential of England’s cities, but metro mayors will be the key. Cities have to be resilient to climate change and grow their low carbon economies if they are to thrive and grow in the long term. The new metro mayors have an historic opportunity to use their new status to accelerate environmental action, creating sustainable city regions around the country.”

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said:
“House building is a national priority, but we need a much greater focus on building the sort of homes and communities that will last the test of time – high quality, low energy developments with plenty of space for nature. The number of new homes we build is important, but the metro mayors have a great opportunity to focus on their quality and location as well. New homes should be built as far as possible on suitable brownfield sites, near jobs and existing transport links. In this way we can both save countryside and make our towns and cities exciting and sustainable places to live.”

Stephen Trotter, director for England, The Wildlife Trusts said:
“Our cities are important in their own right for wildlife and wild places. Metro mayors can deliver ambitious plans for creating amazing and exciting spaces for wildlife to thrive close to where people live. A healthy natural environment is the foundation of a thriving economy and a healthy society, with high quality, accessible wildlife-rich environments attracting investment and talent to a city. They also work as a ‘natural health service’: people need breathing spaces to relax, and green places to walk, run, cycle and enjoy wildlife. New mayors can help reduce the costs on the NHS and address inequalities by creating healthy and resilient natural environments. Making our cities greener and better places to live and work therefore has to be an urgent priority for the new mayors.”

Richard Hebditch, external affairs director, National Trust said:
“The most important places in the country are protected through organisations like the National Trust or through designations like National Parks. But the everyday places people live and work also matter. We need to ensure new developments make our city regions more liveable and beautiful and that parks and local heritage sites are protected and well looked after. Metro Mayors have the powers to make a huge difference on these issues if they seize this opportunity”