Sutton hosts sustainable cities summit and calls for greater innovation

Sutton’s important place as a United Kingdom pioneer in promoting sustainable living was underlined recently when the borough played host to a major summit meeting of representatives from local authorities and sustainability organisations across the UK and Europe. 


More than 100 top officials and experts attended the Energising the Sustainable Economy in Cities, held in Sutton on 18 October.

The summit, hosted jointly by Liberal Democrat Sutton Council and the Covenant of Mayors Office, brought together sustainability experts from a number of pioneering cities including Vienna, Glasgow, Copenhagen, London, Ljubljana, Peterborough, Gothenburg, Manchester, Almada and Brussels to share strategies and case studies.

The summit focused on opportunities for cities to grow their sustainable economy – delivering greater economic prosperity along with social and environmental benefits.

The delegates were welcomed by the Leader of Sutton Council, Cllr Ruth Dombey OBE, who explained how the south London borough has long been a leader in driving sustainability action in London and beyond through a number of pioneering initiatives.

Cllr Dombey said:  “We are incredibly proud to be hosting this event because of our long-held belief in the importance of sustainability and sustainable living, and because we recognise that every gesture, every life choice that we make, has an impact on others and on the world we live in.

“Tackling climate change cannot be tackled by one city, one region or one country alone. Joint commitment to this challenge is vital and is one that I am determined we will maintain.”

Just a year after taking control in 1986 the Liberal Democrat administration (then the Liberal-SDP Alliance) became the first council in the country to produce an environmental statement.  Since then the administration has been setting itself tough targets. In the early part of the new millennium Sutton  established the world’s first carbon-neutral housing development, BedZED in Hackbridge, which has attracted international attention even since. 

In her welcome Ruth Dombey continued:  “We’re now building on that, and our vision is to use our BedZED experience to turn the whole of Hackbridge into the country’s first sustainable suburb. It will be the greenest urban regeneration scheme ever in the United Kingdom.  We’re consulting the residents of Hackbridge, a run-down industrial estate and 1930s housing development, about using their area to make one-planet living a reality.  

She emphasised that sustainability was at the heart of Sutton’s planning system, in its commitment to being a One Planet Borough and through its development of a decentralised energy network to heat new homes in the borough.

Cllr Dombey added:  “Our ambitions must go further than this if we are to truly rise to the challenges facing future generations. This is a time of significant economic and social upheaval. It can be difficult to maintain that level of commitment to our mission and keep our residents with us. So we have to demonstrate to everyone how vital a sustainable economy is, and how we can deliver greater prosperity for our communities, along with all the social and environmental benefits.

“That means we need to innovate, we need to learn from each other and share best practice so that we can deal with those very real economic and social challenges. Sustainability is part of the solution, not a barrier.

The Lib Dem Council Leasder said:  “We have a longstanding commitment to our community in terms of engagement with our residents in pro-environmental behaviour and through providing the best-possible service to ensure that they live sustainable lives within their communities.

“To make sure we get sustainable growth, we need sustainable entrepreneurism, enterprise, creativity and ideas about how we make it happen and bring it to life for more of our communities.”

Sutton is aiming to become South London leader on the sustainable economy through innovative projects including a Green Economy Innovation Centre and a cross-borough sustainable energy programme.

The summit heard practical examples of how sustainability principles were working in the borough:

David Sanders, Commercial Director of Croydon-based clean cold technology company Dearman, said: “We have 70 people working in Sutton, and earlier this year received £16m of new investment to allow us to bring the first application of our technology to market. It will also enable us to establish initial UK-based manufacturing activity, and to achieve widespread international commercial deployment, while continuing to invest in research and development and demonstration of our core technology and subsequent applications.”

David Sevier, Managing Director of Sutton-based company Carbon Cycle, was also very optimistic about growth and opportunities for cleantech and circular economy businesses in Sutton and south London.  He said: “Sutton has spearheaded an effort to encourage the development of the circular economy and cleantech. For those of us who run businesses and who are involved in developing cleantech targeted for the circular economy this is a sensible move.

“It is very likely we are going to see in the years ahead reduced economic growth as our economy is mature but there will be substantial growth in the cleantech sector as we move towards a more sustainable future. This will create large economic opportunities for companies, regions and investors.

“South London and Sutton are smart to see this and to encourage growth in this area. Cleantech is notorious for having long timelines from initial work to arriving at market. It can take over 10 years in many cases, but it is clear that in the future it will become a vital part of the economy.

By fostering its development, seeds are being planted for a long-term healthy economy.”

Architect Bill Dunster OBE, Principal of Wallington-based company ZEDfactory, told delegates that its zero-energy-bills home erected at the BRE innovation park in Watford proved that low-carbon sustainable homes are now economic to deliver. 

He said:  “By sticking to a consistent agenda and trying to work towards climate neutral, zero carbon/zero waste development solutions for over 20 years, ZEDfactory has refined and simplified the construction techniques it pioneered at BedZED, achieved significant economies of scale, and developed new products that result in zero-carbon homes that are capable of no net annual energy bills and beautiful, healthy and durable places to live.

“The reduced costs of smart grid localised energy storage, building integrated photovoltaics and energy efficient building fabric can now compete favourably with the rising cost of grid energy from centralised sources. The first zero energy bills home has now been built at the BRE innovation park in Watford, and over 200 homes in the South East are being delivered over the next two years.

“A super-affordable ZEDpod starter home placed over existing car parks is also under construction, and we have funding to build these for rental at no cost to a local authority. Thousands of homes can be provided over existing car parks without any scarce building plots being required. Why should the public put up with anything less than a zero-bills home?”

Sutton Council and the Knowledge Transfer Network will be publishing a report on key findings from the Energising the Sustainable Economy in Cities summit later in the year.

Explanatory notes:  

One Planet Sutton is a vision for the borough where people lead happy, healthy lives with a fair share of the Earth’s resources. Sutton Council has committed to becoming a One Planet Borough by 2025. The council is working in partnership with a wide range of other public bodies, voluntary and community groups, and businesses to deliver this vision under the themes of cutting carbon emissions, cutting waste, valuing our natural environment, supporting healthy communities and supporting the local economy.

Sutton has a long history of innovative sustainability projects, such as a One Planet Food project that resulted in the creation of the Sutton Community Farm, a Pay-As-You-Save domestic retrofit scheme and the Hackbridge Low Carbon Zone project, which has helped to reduce CO2 emissions from homes and has contributed to a 27 per cent decrease in borough CO2 emissions since 2007.

Sutton Council continues to work hard to increase use of sustainable travel across the borough and in 2014-15 drew up the new Sutton Sustainable Transport Strategy. This document sets out the council’s policies and proposals to improve Sutton’s transport and environment over the next decade including work on upgrading cycle highways, a campaign for a Tramlink extension to Sutton and delivery of smarter travel campaigns.

The Covenant of Mayors Office (CoMO), established and funded by the European Commission, brings together thousands of local and regional authorities voluntarily committed to implementing EU climate and energy objectives on their territory. It provides signatories with administrative support and technical guidance, facilitates networking between Covenant stakeholders and ensures the promotion of their activities. The CoMO is managed by a consortium of European networks representing local and regional authorities, led by Energy-Cities and composed of CEMR, CLIMATE ALLIANCE, EUROCITIES and Fedarene.

What is Sustainable Development?

The UK Sustainable Development Strategy (ODPM, 2005) defines sustainable development as “enabling all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations”.

The Strategy expands further on what sustainable development means in terms of the following guiding principles:

(1) Living within Environmental Limits

Respecting the limits of the planet’s environment, resources and bio-diversity, to improve our environment and ensure that natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and remain so for future generations.

(2) Ensuring a Strong, Healthy and Just Society

Meeting the diverse needs of all people in existing and future communities, promoting personal wellbeing, social cohesion and inclusion and creating equal opportunity for all.

(3) Achieving a Sustainable Economy

Building a strong, stable and sustainable economy which provides prosperity and opportunities for all, and in which environmental and social costs fall on those who impose them (polluter pays), and efficient resource use is incentivised.

(4) Using Sound Science Responsibly

Ensuring policy is developed and implemented on the basis of strong scientific evidence, whilst taking into account scientific uncertainty (through the precautionary principle) as well as public attitudes and values.

(5) Promoting Good Governance

Actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance in all levels of society, engaging people’s creativity, energy and diversity.

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