Open Letter: Response to the SCC Economic and Green Growth Strategy Consultation

Southampton City Council recently requested feedback on their draft Economic and Green Growth Strategy 2020-2030. Here is Transition Southampton’s response. We would love to hear your comments.


Southampton City Council needs to be really clear what is meant by a sustainable economy, as one that has growth as an aim is NOT a sustainable one. The title of the Strategy ‘Green Growth’ is an oxymoron and needs to be re-examined. There are other national campaigns such as the grassroots Build Back Better campaign which could be used to build a fully sustainable future. The learnings from our current pandemic also need detailed analysis. The proposed strategy needs to be properly framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other local and regional policies including Green City Action Plan, City of Culture, Green City Charter, the Local Plan (currently being updated), current budget, the planning context as well as Solent 2050 Vision and Future of Work programme. Other cities are in the process of using “doughnut economics” to frame their cities’ aspirations in terms of what a thriving city of thriving people looks like – using the Sustainable Development Goals and planetary boundaries to examine ways forward. We highly recommend that this City Council strategy leaves the way open for exploring this more creative and appropriate economic model. See framed by the question ‘How can our city be a home to thriving people in a thriving place while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?’

This could result in a more coherent picture of decision making, with a clear explanation of how sustainability will be achieved, particularly in relation to planning and development decisions. The current planning regulations suggest that we will have the legacy of costly and unsustainable buildings for the rest of the century e.g. determining the planning application for Leisure World BEFORE the Mayflower Quarter masterplan is published.

We wish to make the following specific suggestions

1. Decarbonising Transport in Southampton

The Connected Southampton 2040 plans are admirable, but don’t go far enough because of the lack of powers to restructure public transport in the city. An all-encompassing guide has been developed by Friends of the Earth which looks at what can be done now and what can be achieved if the authority takes the appropriate powers. Southampton City Council should take these actions.

2. Education and Training

We need to include support for education and training in the skills that are required for Southampton to be truly sustainable. This needs more exploration and consideration if we intend to #buildbackbetter. We need to ensure our workforce has an awareness of individual and systemic impacts (both locally and globally) on our environment through training and education.

Southampton City Council needs to incorporate plans for business that provide the most benefits to the city: social, environmental and financial. Some examples of these business sectors include:

  • Food production and investigating how we can become more resilient for fresh food supplies by facilitating local businesses to grow
  • Upcycling and menders/repairers reducing the mountains of waste we produce. This could become a local industry in its own right with support from the Council and other local employers
  • There is no context of who is really important in our society: teachers, nurses, care workers and the many services that we receive, and have depended on in lock-down, and often provided by people in low paid and precarious jobs.

3. Business Planning

“Encouraging” business to decarbonise is perhaps not a strong enough aim. A better aim is to facilitate all businesses to be truly carbon neutral. Use the established emergency planning process for business continuity planning and add to this programme progress towards carbon neutrality in local businesses by 2030, to be reported on annually.

What are the innovative leadership and management approaches in achieving sustainability that we will be recognised for? There is a strong social enterprise, co-operative and community business sector in the city which could be built upon. A more sustainable economy will work co-operatively rather than competitively. Many enterprises in the city have already taken big strides towards carbon reduction – their work could usefully be shared and promoted.

4. Economic Analysis

In order to evaluate the proposals in this report more detailed analysis is required of the economy in the city – what are the economic benefits to the city of the major income that is stated in the report – where does the money go? How can more of this money be retained locally to support jobs and prosperity in the city? Attracting big international companies into the city may create a few jobs, but most of the profits will leave the city and possibly the country too. Local independent businesses would be a major contributor to our prosperity, if properly facilitated by the local authority.

5. Social Justice

Social justice is on every page but not addressed directly. A low skilled low wage economy is assumed. Nothing in the document discusses how to enhance wellbeing, though this would be a better measure than economic value or GVA. What benefits business does not necessarily benefit people. Southampton is also a city with areas of high indices of multiple deprivation and a truly sustainable agenda would impact this directly. Along with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a matrix of actions could be prepared which would address social justice in a meaningful way in the city.

6. Procurement

We need a progressive procurement strategy. Negotiate with the universities, health providers, policing services and others to achieve maximum potential for local, sustainable and ethical purchasing. Allow the breakdown of contracts into smaller ones so that local companies can tender for services, instead of seeking tenders for contracts that are too big for local firms. Money leaves the city every time we use a non-local provider.

7. Digital City

Planning for digital infrastructure for our city may appear to bring a solution to the dilemma of finding a way forward in promoting prosperity. However, the full carbon footprint of digitalisation may not be affordable within the remaining carbon budget available to us. A full carbon budget should be developed which accounts for externalised as well as directly created carbon. This could be used as an educational tool in decision-making. This also applies to any ideas of automation, which may ultimately reduce the job opportunities available.

Does our entire workforce want or need more digital skills? What is a digital city? A thorough exploration of what this might look like and feel like is needed to fully appreciate what is proposed. A city of opportunities for personal and in person connections is a thriving city. If digitalisation removes opportunities for in person contact, then there may be impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Not everybody is digitally connected – 28% of council tenants do not have access to the internet – and an “everybody connected” scheme of collecting and refurbishing laptops to give to people who can’t afford them would help to be more inclusive. Whilst it would also be equitable to have every household connected free of charge to the internet, it will not solve the problems of disadvantage on its own.

8. International City

The reasoning behind ‘International city’ is focused on through-put of goods and people, not on the wellbeing of the local residents. What does it mean to be an international city? We are already international with over 140 languages spoken in the city and links and connections to many hundreds  of places around the world. Is this more about celebrating what we have? We have an internationally recognised cultural offer, with many talented artists, writers, poets, storytellers, musicians and more. We need to make sure all voices are heard and that the cultural offer reflects the views of those who live here

We are a wealth generator for people who don’t live here: people come through the city and generate funds for cruise operators and (if they are going abroad) other countries. We are a sacrifice zone – suffering from all the downsides (eg air pollution and congestion) with few of the benefits.

What about Southampton as an import city? Thousands of Tonnes of goods arrive in Southampton for distribution around the country. Getting recognition nationally of the positive impact of this service that we offer the country could be used as a lever to attract Government funds with which to re-organise the road and rail structure for imported goods, to avoid the stress, pollution and congestion currently suffered by residents as Southampton provides the capacity for this national activity.

The relationship with ABP needs to be developed and the City Council needs powers to work with them in our interests. The benefits (if any) to the residents of Southampton of the Freeport need to be explored and examined. Identification of Southampton’s, NOT ABP’s, unique selling points and culture and how the strategy will utilise and build on these is needed.

9. Opportunities

With the development of ideas through the Mayflower Quarter there are many opportunities for Southampton to #buildbackbetter as a destination and playground for residents and visitors alike: a vibrant place to live and visit where the attractions provided will encourage people to stay longer and contribute to the local economy. How can this be developed and financed in a sustainable and local way? (Especially when the Leisure World planning application is to be determined before the Mayflower Quarter strategy is published, let alone this green growth strategy.)

The ambition to be a car free city has increased business opportunities in other cities- could Southampton achieve that too? This could benefit the 30% of people in the city who do not have access to a car and, backed up by improved public transport, could help eliminate private cars from the city centre for the benefit of all.

We think it is important to use appropriate language to describe the strategy – rather than seeing it as SCC’s job to deliver the strategy through “encouragement”, perhaps SCC should be “facilitating” its residents and local businesses to deliver it, using novel methods of engagement and co-production. For example, some cities have set up an Office of Civic Imagination which facilitates engagement across the community and helps people express their ideas and aspirations for the place they live in. This has led to many improvements in infrastructure and communication.

There are many empty buildings in the city that could provide business accommodation. We do not need to build more offices, especially as more of us will work at home in future following Covid.

Can we improve public green spaces, not just protect them, given how important they have become to us during lockdown? And provide support for livelihoods based around these places – willow growers, small holdings, market gardens, cafes, restaurants?

Again protecting our city and district centres is not enough. We need to help them all to prosper. Requiring all new developments to contribute to the “15 minute neighbourhood” will help preserve our district centres, and encourage more walking and cycling.

We need to build homes that are future proofed so that they don’t need to be retrofitted – how can the City’s planning powers be utilized to ensure this?

Transition Southampton
January 2021

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