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Conal Cunningham considers what Joanne Anderson’s mayoral election means for the climate, communities and culture of the city.
At the local elections in early May, Joanne Anderson made history as the first black woman to be elected mayor of a major UK city. Considering the turmoil Liverpool has faced of late, after a year of coronavirus restrictions and criminal investigations into senior council members, her victory perhaps did not get the attention it deserved. So, along with her promise of a fresh start, what is the newly elected mayor offering us in terms of change, hope, and progressiveness?
A triple lock of ‘people, planet, equality’ is Mayor Anderson’s mantra for the future of Liverpool and is guaranteed to be at the heart of the council’s every decision moving forward. This means that investment in jobs, infrastructure and regeneration will all be determined on how it can most benefit people in the community, with a pledge that all voices will be heard in the decision process. Equality of opportunity across the city region is also a priority, and the environmental impact of all local policies will be assessed in order to achieve Liverpool’s ambitious 2030 carbon net-zero target.
In the short to medium term, commitment to people and equality are elements of the new mayor’s mantra that will likely be focused on. Without doubt, rebuilding transparency and trust within the council, addressing social inequalities and ensuring a thorough recovery from the pandemic are pressing issues that must be worked through diligently.
The existential threat of climate change, however, is something which must take precedence. With extreme weather patterns becoming ever more frequent, the cost of inaction foreshadows a future not wholly unimaginable from the present; a warming world where the extreme becomes commonplace, a life susceptible to natural disasters, an existence with an escalating loss of habitat. Considering Liverpool’s coastal locality, and the havoc extreme flooding could wreak on the city, the time to act is now.
This is not to say that there have been no steps towards becoming a greener city, however. Over the past 15 years, with an increasing switch to green energy, there has been a 42 per cent reduction in the city’s carbon emissions. Nonetheless, it is evident that this action must be ramped up in order to meet Liverpool’s net-zero target by the end of the decade.
Looking into Mayor Anderson’s policies, the former Princes Park councillor has pledged that, moving forward, the council will only work with contractors that reduce their impact on the environment. This includes initiatives to build energy efficient public buildings and council houses, as well as a ‘retrofitting revolution’ to ensure the region’s homes become carbon neutral.
In addition to this, there are promises to protect the city’s green spaces, an introduction of ‘green corridors’ to promote active (walking and cycling) travel, as well as the creation of high-quality green jobs.
This all sounds very promising, although at present there is not too much in the specifics of what these green jobs will look like or where they will be created, apart from them assisting with the ‘clean growth’ of the city. This means that community participation in local government and future policy conversations is essential. If investment in green energy, technology and infrastructure is going to be ramped up, it is critical that the communities impacted have a say on where this money is to be spent, and no area of the city is left behind or disadvantaged by the changes.
As the city shifts with rapid and permanent changes towards green energy, it is vital that this message is articulated and understood by everyone in the region, with changes coming at no detriment to any person or industry. The inevitable shift towards electric vehicles for personal and public transport, for example, should be fully explained and come with no added complications or costs to the consumer.
Bringing people along in these decisions and working together to build a truly sustainable city has the perceived benefits of increasing community spirit across the region, yet more importantly, it is perhaps the only way to meet the city’s radical net-zero goal – set two decades ahead of the overall UK target.
Of course, alongside the necessary commitments towards green energy, there are other promises in the mayor’s manifesto, including investment in our culture, arts, creative and digital sectors. This is reassuring, but must be followed through with appropriate assistance considering the devastating impact the pandemic has had on these industries.
Aligned with Anderson’s green, community-driven mantra, this pledge will bring hope to the music and arts communities of the city, as the skewed preference of infrastructure over the arts may finally begin to become more balanced. Under the former mayor’s tenure, the city centre has been consistently built upon, with excessive gentrification and rising rents forcing the closure of some of our much-loved independent venues and studios – with the Kazimier, Nation, Sound, and Constellations to name but a sorely missed few.
Crucially, however, progressive policies to protect both the creative industries and the planet can work in tandem. Restrictions on over-construction will inevitably bring down construction emissions and spiralling rents, while the preservation of the city’s cultural scene will guarantee tourism, job protection, community satisfaction, and the great tradition of being a world-leading city of music and culture.
So, while there may be distrust and scepticism in the city council at present, Mayor Anderson’s pledges provide an encouraging, progressive step forward. While action will certainly need to match her rhetoric, her inclusive, ambitious policies can help to rebuild relationships with communities as the city recovers from the pandemic. Working towards this along with the pivotal task of reaching carbon net-zero by the end of the decade, the mayor and the council will undoubtedly need our full support.