Sustainability index reveals North-South divide among local authorities

A new report has exposed a divergence in the sustainability performance of local authorities across the country, with London boroughs generally outperforming Northern regions in areas such as waste and energy consumption.

Tower Hamlets, Newham, Lewisham and Hounslow make up four of the top five UK local authorities for sustainability in an index published this week by Bristol charity Happy City. These boroughs all score highly for above average recycling rates and low levels of energy usage.

Despite parts of London breaching air pollution limits a month into 2018, the city’s transport system and upscaling of low-emission buses and taxis has improved the capital’s overall emissions performance.

Meanwhile, the lowest performing local authorities are heavy industrialised, relatively deprived areas, including Redcar & Cleveland, North Lincolnshire and Rutland, with low scores primarily driven by high CO2 emissions. The North East is the lowest performing region overall for sustainability.

‘Alarm bells’

The index, which measures 150 local authorities on 48 different indicators including health, environment, education and work, argues that thriving regions require investment in all of these areas.

Happy City founding director Liz Zeidler said: “We are ten years on from an economic crisis that highlighted fatal flaws at the heart of our economy, yet we haven’t seen the systemic changes needed to tackle them.

“Rising inequality and climate chaos are clear alarm bells that tell us the current system is no longer fit for purpose, so we decided to take matters into our own hands and come up with a model that measures what matters.”

Recent research suggests that 390 local authorities have recorded a decline in emissions since 2005, with 14 delivering emissions reductions of more than 40%. Only Neath Port Talbot has seen an increase in emissions in this time frame, due to increased activity at large industrial sites, including the Tata Steel site.

Nearly all local authorities in England are reportedly set to raise council tax and services charges amid concerns for their financial stability. Operating under tighter ever budgets, many local authorities have been forced to put sustainability issues on the backburner.

The London Assembly recently described the capital’s recycling rates – which currently sit at 33% – as “laughable”. London’s recycling woes are matched on a national level. Experts warn that the UK will miss out on its 2020 target for household recycling as the latest figures show that current rates in England have stagnated at under 45%.

George Ogleby

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