Lord Barker: Transform London's West End into 'Silicon Valley' of green innovation

Ex-Energy Minister Lord Greg Barker has called on the next London Mayor to deliver a greener capital by transforming the city's West End into the 'Silicon Valley' of low-carbon technology and innovation.

Lord Greg Barker cited the potential of the Old Oak brownfield site and the capacity of the adjacent Park Royal industrial estate as catalysts to drive a low-carbon movement in London

Lord Greg Barker cited the potential of the Old Oak brownfield site and the capacity of the adjacent Park Royal industrial estate as catalysts to drive a low-carbon movement in London

Speaking at an Aldersgate Group event in the capital last week, Barker outlined the steps that the new Mayor should be looking to implement after May's elections, in order to turn London into a "genuine, resilient and sustainable city fit for the 21st century".

“I have a vision for a cleantech cluster in London,” Barker said. “Not just a cluster, but rather the greatest concentration of green innovation on the planet outside of the West coast of America.

“In the past five years, we’ve seen the East End, and areas such as Shoreditch and Hackney, undergo massive transformations to become an epicentre for global innovation in technology. There’s no reason why we can’t mirror that success in West London for the low-carbon industry.

"This is a one off chance to help shape our city and create a magnet for investment, but it won’t happen on its own. We need the next Mayor to drive the agenda and become a cheerleader for low-carbon innovation.”

Barker cited the potential of the Old Oak brownfield site and the capacity of the adjacent Park Royal – Europe’s largest industrial estate – as catalysts to drive the low-carbon movement and assist with London’s transition to a cleaner energy supply.

With the UN recently stating that 75% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, Barker urged the new Mayor to grasp the potential of London as low-carbon 'mega city' - one of the aims of the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC), which Barker chairs.

Critical criteria

Barker, who was recently appointed head of sustainability practice at green B2B advertising agency Gyro, went on to call on the next Mayor to embrace a circular economy in the cabital, by "curbing London's veracious consumer appetite" and "keeping what we produce and consume within the city". His calls come off the back of recent research which revealed that the circular economy could create 40,000 jobs for the city.

Barker's LSDC is also calling for a large-scale uptake of energy-efficient technology and renewable energy sources to account for London’s growing population, which is set to reach 10 million in the next two decades. Specifically, Barker called on the new mayor to implement a city-wide solar plan as well as re-introducing Combined Heat and Power (CHP) initiatives and retrofitting and future proofing the city’s buildings.

“If there is a political will, the technology to compliment it now exists and it’s becoming increasingly feasible and commercial to deploy renewables within the cities in a way that is scalable,” Barker said.

Greenpeace has already urged the next Mayor to introduce a city-exclusive feed-in tariff for solar installations, while construction has started on Europe's biggest ever floating solar array in the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir.

'Special needs'

With significant upgrades to transport infrastructure, such as Crossrail 2 and HS2, slowly taking place across London, Barker noted that the city also requires "special needs" to introduce more large-scale and replicable low-carbon initiatives into the city.

“London has continuously received a disproportionality low amount of investment for clean energy,” he added. “The bottom line is that it is more expensive to embed energy efficiency schemes into London than anywhere else in the country.

“It is absolutely vital that on day one of the new administration that the new mayor gets on the phone to Amber Rudd and insists that the new regime takes into account the special needs of London otherwise we’ll simply repeat the same mistakes of the past.”

Barker concluded that all of the required criteria to transform London and the West End are, in fact, already in place. “The area is there, the infrastructure is going to be there, and the Imperial College provides the perfect partner for a low-carbon hub,” he said. “All we need to is encourage the Mayor to drive a cluster in this area.”

Ideals and denials

As part of Greener London Week last week, a coalition of the UK's most prominent environmental organisations set out a list of key recommendations to create a more sustainable capital – with air quality, solar systems and recycling all highlighted as key focus areas for Boris Johnson's successor.

Later that week, Mayoral candidates Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dems), Zac Goldsmith (Conservatives), Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Sian Berr (Green Party) all featured in a panel discussion hosted by the Green Alliance. In that discussion, the candidates offered a range of ideas for making London greener, but they also revealed some no-go areas.

The 2016 London mayoral election will be held on 5 May, 2016, on the same day as the London Assembly election.

Matt Mace


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