Friday, 22 May 2015

East Lothian "Sustainable" Partnership Drops The Sustainable Bit?

What does the word "sustainable" mean to you? It's a bit jargon-y, yes. But it's so easy for those who speak fluent jargon to insert it into documents and project descriptions and get away with creating a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Sustainable as I understand it refers to environmental sustainability, that is not depriving future generations of a good quality of life by depleting the resources they will need. Increasingly I find the word gets used to mean strength and growth.

Take for example the recently established "partnerships" in East Lothian. These talking shops replace the former community planning groups, and as well as having geographic focus (there is a Musselburgh Partnership and others for each council ward) they have themed partnerships including "Sustainable Economy".

I think most folk would agree that developing an economy in East Lothian that does not deplete resources and deprive our kids and grandkids of quality of life would be A Good Thing. The Sustainable Economy partnership raises this hope by defining the local authority "outcomes" it seeks to support.

These are:

-East Lothian has a growing sustainable economy
-The cycle of poverty is broken for individuals and families in East Lothian
-Communities in East Lothian are able to adapt to climate change and reduced finite natural resources

But wait, what's this? Looking at the minutes of the partnership it is clear they have chosen to focus on a narrower range of outcomes, namely:

-Company growth

Where's the sustainability? And where's the adapting to climate change and preparing for less reliance on finite resources?

I'm further alarmed to discover how this would be measured, even if it were reinstated as an aim of the group.

They are looking at greenhouse gas emissions per person (these have been increasing rather than falling), passenger numbers at local train stations (increasing), recycling of household waste (falling) and single person car use (data not available).

There is no statement of policies to pursue to reduce GHG emissions, and in fact the council have been pursing policies that can only increase emissions, such as a new fossil fuel plant to replace Cockenzie, a bigger Edinburgh city bypass to increase car use and planning permission for housing developments and supermarkets which again encourage car use.

As for passenger numbers at rail stations, how will the council ensure the quality of service keeps up with the demand? Peak hour services are already overcrowded. And when can we expect data on single person car use? The stream of traffic through Musselburgh each morning seems to me to be mostly made of such.

The partnership also appears to have nothing to say about adapting to climate change. In other words, flood prevention, local food networks, better insulated housing, better routes for walking and cycle through and between our communities.

Meantime the council is chipping in up to £75,000 for a City Deal involving Edinburgh and neighbouring authorities. As far as I can tell this would simply try to encourage further growth in the economy and not tackle inequality or sustainability - environmental sustainability. We are the Garden of Scotland and we ignore our impact on resources at our peril.

I'll be keeping an eye on these partnerships to see if they change tack.


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