Sustainable Cities and BASE Birmingham




Future Cities 1

You know that you are at a good conference when you’re disappointed that you can’t go to more of the presentations. That was the case for me at the Base Birmingham event this week. For anyone who is not familiar with Base it is an event that focuses on low carbon aspects of the built environment and infrastructure. It currently takes place in London, Leeds, Birmingham, Nantes and Glasgow and each conference highlights the challenges and innovations in these cities. In Birmingham delegates heard about what makes the city smart, its future transport strategy and learned about better solutions to energy provision. The City Council outlined its Green Vision which includes reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2026/7 and Professor Andy Gouldson and the Centre for Low Carbon Cities spelled out exactly what Birmingham would have to do in terms of investment in energy efficient and sustainable measures to truly become a green leader.


On the transport side excitement about HS2 was palpable in the city. Transport providers Centro had commissioned a report into the potential benefits for the city of the new high speed rail ink reporting these as being 22,000 new jobs and £1.5bn per annum to the local economy.  It is busily planning its local connectivity strategy. “We have got to do our best to capture all of these benefits,” Centro director of strategy and policy Tom Magrath told the busy morning transport workshop, explaining that it would be investing in its local connectivity package between 2019 and 2026 in time for the proposed HS2 coming online in 2026. This was reinforced later by HS2 Chair Doug Oakervee who described that although HS2 had really been promoted as being all about speed with its London to Birmingham in 49 minutes it was really going to become the new backbone of the UK rail network with the West Coast Main Line set to reach saturation in the middle of the next decade.

Delegates who were waiting to hear from London’s first elected Mayor Ken Livingstone were not disappointed. Reflecting on the challenges facing cities of the future he was candid  about the problems that cities must solve and conceded that if he could change anything about his tenure as Mayor he would have acted faster and done more about carbon reduction. This is significant as Ken Livingstone did a lot. It was he who gathered together the leaders of the 20 biggest cities in the world and got them to agree to minimize the energy losses in all public buildings – a legacy that still sees major global cities such as Toronto, Tokyo and Paris making vast improvements to their buildings and has lowered the cost of retrofit measures.  Looking to the future he warned about the huge energy losses in electricity transmission and said that local generation was the next big challenge for cities.

“I wonder if he will mention Thatcher” pondered a fellow attendee as we listened to his presentation. Well he did. He noted that she had relentless drive but commented that it was a shame that all her policies were wrong. “A politician with her drive and the right policies could rule the world,” he said.

Having gone so well it seems likely that Base will return to Birmingham but next stop for this event is London on 11 July. NCE will be covering the issues in its next Sustainable Cities report produced in collaboration with Base. Are you making London a smarter and more sustainable place to live through innovations in the built environment? If so get in touch.

Read the Sustainable Cities intro feature here

Iraq’s infrastructure challenges

MEED this week published a major report on Iraq’s infrastructure needs and I contributed with sections on transport, logistics and housing. Read the full report here (if you subscribe)

Iraq Republic Railways has outlined a $60bn investment plan
Iraq Republic Railways has outlined a $60bn investment plan

Beyond the obvious security and political challenges  Iraq’s transport sector is also hindered by transport responsibilities being split between two main government departments in and the Ministry of Construction and Housing who look after all the roads and the Ministry of Transport which looks after everything else.  During my research I learned that Dar Al Handasah has been selected by MoCH to carry out a 20yr transport masterplan for the country, however successful delivery of this will rely on cooperation with the MoT.

Although the long-term strategy is yet to be determined, Baghdad has outlined general objectives. Its ultimate ambition is to offer an alternative transport corridor for logistics and trade from the East into Europe. Most ships currently sail around the Arabian Peninsula and through the Suez Canal. Iraq wants to offer a world-class port at Faw on the country’s southern tip, which will be connected to a regional rail network. Grand Faw Port is the biggest priority for Iraq’s ports and involves the construction of a 17-metre deep port, allowing the world’s largest vessels to dock, and 7,000 metres of quayside. The General Company for Ports of Iraq told me that a second contract is being tendered for a breakwater so progress on this project is being made.

From Faw, the plan is to move cargo via a rail link to the improved north-south railway, which will eventually extend into Jordan, Syria, Kuwait and Iran, as well as along the existing line to Turkey. All new lines will be double-track to allow both passenger and freight travel. On the current network, passengers and freight compete along slow and congested lines. As a result, most travellers and cargo haulage firms choose to drive, making a journey from Basra to Baghdad in five hours instead of up to 14 hours by train.

The new rail network also includes plans for passenger-only lines, including a 663-kilometre connection between Baghdad and Umm Qasr running south through Karbala, Najaf and Basra. French rail company Alstom signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to study this option in July 2011. According to IRR, the project is still in the preliminary design stage. Read more on this in MEED using the link above

Thanks to everyone who helped in the research.