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SANDWELL: Green initiatives ahead of COP26

SANDWELL: Green initiatives ahead of COP26

Copyright Sandwell council.

Next weekend more than 30,000 delegates from 196 countries will converge in Glasgow for the crucial two-week COP26 climate conference.

And Sandwellians, much like the rest of the West Midlands, are anxious for radical climate policies.

In a recent survey with Midlands Connect, three quarters of people in the West Midlands (72%) think climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity today, while 69% of people don’t think we’re doing enough to tackle the problem.

77% of car owners saying they would consider buying an electric vehicle next.

Nearly four in ten (39%) of people think electric vehicles and petrol and diesel cars should cost the same by the end of 2025, and over a quarter (28%) thought they should cost the same by next year.

Commenting, Maria Machancoses Chief Executive of Midlands Connect said: “As we prepare to host the UN’s annual climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, it’s essential that we redouble our efforts to decarbonise the transport network.

“We know the industry has been slower to reduce its emissions than some others, but I am confident we now have the technology, expertise and willing to make change happen.

“This research shows that people want to tackle climate change, and the majority believe it is the most critical issue facing us today.

“However, while it’s encouraging that most people say they are prepared to make big and tough decisions, impacting on their daily lives, to meet that challenge, we need to bring in the policies and infrastructure needed to turn these good intentions into action.

“Whether it be switching to an electric vehicle, consolidating online shopping deliveries or using public transport more often, the actions of individuals will make a big difference as we strive to meet our net-zero targets.”

Here are five green policies Sandwell are looking to introduce across the borough within the next decade.

E-Scooter trials in West Bromwich

Currently, the use of privately owned e-scooters on the public highway is illegal.

But with rental scheme trials taking place across the country, and an appetite for workers close to work to no longer use buses or trains, e-scooters may be the saviour of the commute.

Sandwell council introduced a e-scooter trial in the West Bromwich area in December last year (2020), to see whether they were feasible.

According to a report delivered at a cabinet meeting on September 30, 85,591km have been travelled in West Bromwich on the scooters. A total of 1,614 have used them.

There have been zero reports of serious injuries, including those self reported, broken bones etc. Only four slight injuries have been recorded, such as falling off scooters, or suffering bruises.

To rent one, you need to be 18 or older and have a provisional licence, which you scan using an app.

The e-scooter trial is expected to continue until March 2022, following a delegated decision to continue the trial by Cllr Bostan (Labs, Abbey) and cabinet member for environment.

Sandwell set to become a single ‘Smoke Control Area’ 

Sandwell Council is proposing to make the borough a Smoke Control Area in a bid to reduce pollution.

This would make it illegal for residents and businesses to emit smoke from chimneys unless using specifically approved appliances or authorised fuel.

Those types of fuels burned in indoor stoves often emit fine particulate matter (PM2.5), associated with coughs, dizziness, inflamed airways and shortness of breath.

They also increases the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke.

Those that break the rules would be fined up to £1,000.

Should the plans be passed, Sandwell would join neighbouring Dudley and Birmingham in having a Smoke Control Area.

Out of 72 local authorities found to have dangerous background concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2019, Sandwell and Leicester were the only two local authorities that had these exceedances outside of London and the South East of England.

At a cabinet meeting on October 20, the cabinet approved the report to go to full council, where it will be debated.

Air quality monitors in faith centres

Religion and the environment are unlikely pairings – but thanks to a grant received by Sandwell council from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), faith centres will at the forefront of air quality changes in Sandwell.

Eight faith centres, with one located in each of Sandwell’s six towns, will receive a low-cost air quality monitor ‘Zephyr’ for a year, located near to their centre.

This will provide data to a display screen inside the main area of the centre, showing air pollutant levels in a bespoke dashboard format.

It is hoped the data received by the faith centres will help inform public health officials in leading the way towards community-driven, community-designed improvements in air quality.

Many scientists agree that they have not proven a causal link between air pollution and worse coronavirus impacts.

But air pollution is likely to be increasing the number and severity of coronavirus infections, as dirty air is known to inflame the lungs, and cause respiratory and heart disease that make people more vulnerable.

Tree planting

Trees are remarkable and can reduce urban air pollution. Regions around the world are looking to harness them. And Sandwell is no exception.

Princess Parade; Bull Street; and New Square, in West Bromwich town centre, are expected to undergo an ‘urban greening’.

It comes as the eastern part of West Bromwich town centre is one of the hardest hit areas with decreased footfall and consequent increasing numbers of void retail units.

In a recent local consultation of the area, 73% of respondents cited unattractiveness, as a notable feature, focusing on the dull, dated, untidy appearance.

The council hopes to remove the market stalls at Princess Parade, replacing them with new stalls at Duchess Parade, and plant up to 33 new trees. Wildflower planting across the boulevard along Bull Street and towards Dartmouth Park have also been mooted.

While no costs have been formally announced for the project, it is expected to be covered by the Towns Fund.

Cycle lanes

More and more people are interested in taking up cycling to work, but traffic worries prevent individuals from changing their commute.

Sandwell council aims to introduce a 20mph zone for the whole town centre to improve safety for all modes of transport – particularly walking and cycling.

It comes as Sandwell has been ranked as the 13th most deprived local authority in the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation.

There is evidence to suggest people living in deprived areas are twice as likely to be physically inactive as those living in more prosperous areas.

Up to 15 cycle paths are set to be created across the region – including direct link between Birmingham Canal and the outer edge of West Bromwich town centre via Spon Lane – approximately 1km in length.

Other proposed cycle lanes include Oldbury to Bearwood; Oldbury to Smethwick Galton Bridge station; Stone Cross to Yew Tree via Tame Bridge Parkway railway station; and Cape Hill to Black Patch via the new Midland Metropolitan Hospital.

The average cost of these new cycle lanes is expected to be £9.3m, according to the Sandwell cycling & walking infrastructure plan.

Words: Rhi Storer, Local Democracy Reporter

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