February 07, 2009

Liverpool Environment Network Open Meeting

Liverpool Envirionment Network Open Meeting

Event type: Conference

Date: 2009-02-04


As I mentioned in my most recent post about the Liverpool Year of the Environment, the other day I attended the Liverpool Environment Network's Open Meeting.

The Liverpool Environment Network is a networking group for charitable and voluntary organisations (and interested individuals) in the Liverpool area who have an interest in the environment. There are a collection of parallel networks for interests such as community regeneration, disabilities and arts and culture - you can find a full list on the Liverpool Community Network website.

The morning session had two speakers: Ewan Roberts, from Asylum Link Merseyside, and Erik Bichard, Liverpool City Council's sustainability advisor.

Ewan talked about how a sustainable and environmental approach has been helping his charity. They aren't an environmental charity, they're a people charity, but growing their own food on allotments has helped them in many ways. It has reduced their food bills; provided a small additional income (and as a charity they have to take advantage of every opportunity for extra funding, even the small ones); and more importantly helped the asylum seekers to get to know the local people. They're no longer asylum seekers, but gardeners - who can share tips and compare experiences in growing food. It was an engaging and heart-warming presentation.

Erik touched upon the Year of the Environment, but was expecting to cover it more in the questions following the talk. In the end there wasn't a lot of time for discussion afterwards (partly because there'd been such interesting debate after Ewan's slot). He did mention that it was a good idea, and also that there were about 170 events being pulled under the Year of the Environment umbrella.

Mostly Erik spoke about climate change and sustainability as a broad topic. He thinks that we're moving from the denial phase into one of mass confusion. No-one really knows what to do, but it's still an encouraging sign as it shows that we're moving towards action and there's opportunity for useful debate about how we tackle the problems.

He also talked about the recent Sustainable Communities Act. This takes the view that local people know best how to attack the problems of sustainability in their area. If a local authority signs up to the act then they're required by law to take in ideas from the local community. These ideas are then fed into government and Hazel Blear's department decide which ideas will be implemented - and by law some of the ideas must be taken up.

There's no new money with the act, but people are encouraged to be creative with what they propose. For example, people could argue that one of the government quangoes weren't doing a good enough job in meeting their (sustainability/environmental) aims and replace them with something else - receiving the funding that otherwise would have gone to the quango.

His challenge to us is to think about the bigger picture when coming up with ideas for the act (although I don't remember him saying that Liverpool is definitely signing up to the act, anyone know?). Housing is one of Liverpool's biggest challenges for carbon emissions, but encouraging people to insulate their houses is difficult. Erik wondered what would happen if you gave people vouchers for public transport in exchange for spending on insulating their house - you'd spend £500-1000 on insulation, and get £2500-worth of bus travel. Would that encourage take-up? He's not sure, but it demonstrates the sort of cross-area idea that he thinks we should be pondering.

I had planned on staying for some of the afternoon session too, primarily because Councillor Berni Turner was scheduled to talk just after lunch. She's in charge of the Year of the Environment programme, so I was expecting to hear plenty about what was planned. But on the day the schedule had been amended and Christine Darbyshire was talking about council regeneration policy instead. If the council can't be bothered to turn up to an event like this and talk about the Year of the Environment then it's really no surprise that no-one really knows what's happening.

I felt a bit bad about leaving early as there were plenty of interesting people discussing the real ways in which they're getting on with pushing sustainability forwards within Liverpool, and it's good to see them carrying on with or without the support of the council, but I had too much work to be getting on with.

I think fellow twitterer at the event, @JenniferWelch summed the event up perfectly when she twittered:

"LCEN verdict: Dedicated people, high ideals, Liverpool City Council pathetic"

  • Tags: year of the environment Liverpool

    Posted by Adrian at February 7, 2009 11:08 AM | TrackBack

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    In my area (Social Housing) it's disheartening to see environmental issues have fallen off the agenda. It's all about have we got sufficient ethnic diversity living in our properties, and for many social landlords, how can we turn a quick buck on all this new stock the builders are desperate to sell off cheap.

    Unfortunately, the quick builds are generally done to a much lower specification than should be the case (my one problem with Vince Cable's normally well considered arguments), so we can expect a future full of further environmental and (anti) social problems in much the same manner as the ones caused by the 1960s tenements.

    As far as the Liverpool council goes, they're actually not bad at talking to people on a grass roots basis (that regen talk would have been fairly interesting), but I do wonder how much of that it is just paying lip service - from what I hear it's quite an autocratic place!

    Posted by: Alex Nolan at February 7, 2009 02:23 PM

    Well done Adrian. I'm gutted I missed the event. Was it billed as a launch type thing or just a run if the mill event?

    It just feels like a second rate 'theme' without the passion or expertise to properly exploit the opportunity to make a real difference.

    I may have been expecting / wanting too much.

    Posted by: David Connor at February 7, 2009 05:34 PM

    Alex: I was interested in the regen talk, but had already taken more time out of the day than I could really afford. I might see if I can find any other reports or notes on the meeting from anyone else.

    I'm also keen to find out more about what you're doing in social housing. Working out how we make sustainability viable for the social housing property is a key challenge, but also a huge opportunity.

    David: I think it was just a general Environment Network meeting rather than anything tied to the Year of the Environment, but obviously the Year of the Environment received plenty of mentions.

    I am wondering how long we should wait for the council to do anything about the Year of the Environment, and whether there's an alternative approach. Is there a possibility to build a lightweight website to promote things ourselves and show that in the absence of leadership from the council the community can just get on with it?

    Posted by: Adrian at February 8, 2009 11:51 AM
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