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Private-public convergence enables winning city strategies

(Top – L to R) Rob Martin, Richard Betts, John Alexander,
(Bottom) Jillian Hardie, Jenny Laing and Murray Lyle,

Business and local government are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to sustainability, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Green Cities briefing, which took place online this week on the REALX.Global platform.

“In order to have a winning city strategy we all need to change our view and move from being risk-averse to being risk-aware,” said Murray Lyle, leader of Perth & Kinross Council. “Giving people a better and more sustainable standard of living is a risk worth taking and an investment worth making for the future.”

After years of confrontation and misunderstandings, there now seems to be a positive convergence of interests between investors, local authorities and local communities.

“Setting wider sustainability objectives and delivering them has become a real business imperative, which makes me extremely optimistic about the future,” said Jillian Hardie, director, buildings, ARUP. “We share what we have learnt with decision makers and provide free technical advice to cities to prepare and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Technological advances and the new availability of data have made the conversation easier, she said, providing the evidence people on all sides need to be convinced.

“We’ll meet the targets because it’s clear that it’s good business, as well as the right thing to do,” said Rob Martin, director of research for real assets, Legal & General Investment Management. “Investors are being partners, responding to the challenge as well as the opportunity.”

Investment portfolios engage in many different ways, from retro-fitting existing buildings to smart meter rollout, to battery storage, to brand new buildings.

Momentum growing despite the pandemic

“I see real progress in unlocking investment,” said John Alexander, chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance and leader, Dundee City Council. “There’s real momentum behind our programme, despite the pandemic, because we can showcase what we can deliver and people can already see the benefits.”

For example, the retrofitting of buildings and investments in insulation made by Dundee City Council, the biggest landlord in the city, has led to a 7% reduction in fuel poverty. The city has also been leading the way in electric vehicles, giving incentives such as free charging and parking.

In Aberdeen local authorities are leading the transition out of fossil fuel into a sustainable energy future, using the city’s oil and gas links as an opportunity to move forward faster because of the skills and expertise developed over decades.

“We are focused on the hydrogen transition and have the biggest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses in Europe,” said Jenny Laing, co-leader, Aberdeen County Council. “The ultimate prize is the production of green hydrogen and the export of it to the rest of the UK and internationally.”

Cities are reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency, improving public transport, developing renewables, enhancing biodiversity and creating new green spaces.

Perth is set to become one of the first smart cities in the UK, with a carbon-neutral eco-innovation park that will feed clean energy into the city. “The collaboration fostered by the Scottish Cities Alliance has been extremely beneficial and it has already delivered savings and efficiencies,” said Lyle.