Building a future sustainable city

Building a city’s sustainable transport network requires public-private sector partnerships and a new kind of B2B conversation.

Marc Bichtemann, Managing Director, First York,

York recently announced a ‘climate emergency’ and commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. Led by young people, the city is called to account locally for action that needs to be taken at scale, nationally and internationally. Propelled by the national commitment to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2040, it’s a validation towards York’s ambition for a fully SMART, zero-emission, sustainable transport network. The question is, how do cities like York, make real their commitments to carbon-neutral transport? The answer is in re-framing the conversations that currently exist around clean transport and business growth.

Congestion and air quality are long-standing issues in York. Nationally, urban centres are announcing congestion charges, with Leeds introducing a ‘Clean Air Charging Zone’ from 2020. The charge was announced alongside £23m to support businesses to adapting their vehicles, yet language in the media is negative, focusing in on ‘punitive taxes’ and ‘mitigating impact’ made on businesses for environmental gain.

In York, the Park & Ride initiative, publically owned, and delivered by First York, supports business growth in the City Centre, as well as an environmentally sustainable transport option for the city’s workforce, many of whom travel from surrounding areas by car. A joint investment, between First York and City of York Council, will fund a fleet of 21 zero-emission, fully electric buses, the biggest fleets of its kind outside of London. Significantly, transport schemes like this offer potential for transport providers and local businesses to engage in B2B partnerships that promote sustainable transport and business growth. For example, York BID recently co-invested with First York to pilot a late night Park & Ride service. Sharing the financial risk of the pilot was essential, with First York taking on the full costs once financial viability was proven.

Partnerships are key to driving this agenda forward. Opening dialogue between transport providers and business networks, can help local businesses to understand the benefits of sustainable transport programs for their workforce and the high street. Clean air and free-flowing traffic are experiential distinguishers for high streets facing insurmountable challenges in engaging consumers. Cutting commuter times and the need for parking space, pose significant benefits for city centre employers. Celebrating opportunities like these, will ensure that the private sector take their part in achieving a zero-emissions city for all.

Electric vehicles are a well-versed solution to cleaner transport. York’s EV charging point provision, boosted by £700,000 of funding from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise partnership, will extend to include three new ‘hyper-hubs’. Two of these rapid electric charging points will service residents and North Yorkshire commuter and logistics routes accessible from A64 and A59. Combined with solar energy harvesting and storage facilities, they will offer a truly carbon neutral option. A 20 minute stop could see vehicles fully charged. It’s not quite the quick pit-stop of the fuel station, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.

However, affordability is an issue for businesses and the public with electric vehicles. Coupled with the cost of up-front investment, those without off street parking depend entirely on publically accessible charging points. North Yorkshire has some of the highest average distances between charging points in the country. York’s hyper-hubs are a step forward, but a carbon-neutral target is not something York can achieve alone. Region wide collaboration, both financially and geographically, is called for.

Within the city, anchor institutions are leading the way. York Hospital will site one of the three new hyper-hubs. This large employer has also engaged with both First York to develop Park & Ride and other transport solutions for staff, patients and visitors. Accessibility to the hospital from the centre will be another clean journey facilitated by a collaboratively funded refurbishment of Scarborough Bridge, very recently re-opened and linking the station to the city by bike and on foot.

Public appetite for environmental conscious businesses is growing and climate change is going nowhere. Yet the bulk of environmental rhetoric, investment and action exists within the public agenda. There is recognisable gain in a B2C conversation, but much more can be garnered from those that are B2B. Where SMEs may lack the financial clout to take affirmative action, larger businesses can take a role lead the way and engage SMEs in reframing the dialogue around change. Sustainability, zero-carbon, clean growth – these all need to become terms that the business community can translate and embrace as an active route to prosperity.

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