First Green Commission hearing report - 10 December 2014

The Green Commission met for its first of six hearings on issues that affect the sustainability of Sheffield, with presentations from expert witnesses. The meeting took place on the 2nd of December 2014 at Sheffield's Town Hall.

3 expert witnesses were invited to present how issues surrounding health affect the sustainability of cities and how that links to Sheffield.

First witness was Dr David Pencheon, Director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit. The NHS sustainable Development Unit provides leadership, support and policy input to ensure the NHS in England is the leading public sector organisation in promoting sustainable development and mitigating climate change.

His presentation focused on creating health communities and how sustainability and the environment can help with people's health and wellbeing. He used some inspiring examples which we will be posting on this site, the key points from the presentation were:

- It is a collective journey that transgresses politics. Everyone should be involved and ignorance is not a problem.

- The processes are crucial. Engaging with people, working with government and measuring outcomes need to take place to make sure there are no trade-offs to the multiple benefits and the legacy this can bring to Sheffield.

- There is a need to build and vision and a plan to show were things can work together and make sure it is financially, socially and environmentally viable.

- We need to focus on the benefits and show that improving health and improving the environment also helps bring longer term costs down.

- The future is already here. Already there are lots of good projects that prevent death and harm to people by dealing with air quality, food, transport and energy in a sustainable way and these need to be highlighted.

- We need to raise awareness but in a positive manner, not just focusing on climate change but on the benefits projects that deal with can have to people.

- We should exploit the win-wins through engaging with people and promoting collective action.

The second witness was Professor Christine Liddel, Professor of Psycology at the Univeristy of Ulster.  Professor Liddel is a key figure in developing and understanding of the links between fuel poverty and ill health.

Her presentation focused on the links between fuel poverty and health in Sheffield and wider. The key points from the presentation were:

- People are in fuel poverty when they cannot achieve safe homes of warmth and comfort at an affordable cost.

- There are 3 causes of fuel poverty; energy inefficient homes, high energy prices and low income.

- Fuel poverty is about people not houses, people value homes that are sources of comfort and wellbeing. In studies people list a damp free home and having heating as their top human rights.

- Affordability of heating matters as people have to heat their home all year round in the UK.

- Cold homes affect health and wellbeing. In the last 5 years in Sheffield it has lead to 1180 excess winter deaths, 9440 excessive hospitalisations, 118,000 excess GP visits, as well as misery for the people affected. It is not just Sheffield though, this is a Europe wide problem.

- It is both indoor and outdoor exposure to cold that causes these problems however we can deal with the indoors causes by dealing with fuel poverty.

- Solutions to fuel poverty pay for themselves, the direct benefts to health return 42p in every pound spent as well as bringing £2 for every pound spent in indirect benefits from manufacturing and employment. People are able to work how are off sick due to the cold.

The final witness was Dr Adrian Davis, Public Health and Transport Consultant with Bristol City Council. Dr Davis holds a unique post in UK local government with a focus on building the case of sustainable and active forms of travel.

His presentation focused on transport and public health, how evidence based strategies and plans can lead to a cost effective outcome to population health and wellbeing. The key points from the presentation were:

- Physical activity is the best buy in public health, however 95% of adults participate in less than the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate/vigorous physical exercise. This inactivity leads to a risk of premature death which is greatly higher than other causes such as cancer or strokes.

- There is huge economic justification for investing in cycling and walking, all studies agree, but it is undervalued or not even considered by many councils.

- A modest increase in physical activity produces large societal benefits. This includes reducing carbon, but also improving health and other things such as school performance.

- In Bristol they have a healthy urban team that works across the council to integrate transport, planning, education, housing and other departments with health and health benefits.

- In a 2.5 year period Bristol invested £16 per person on cycling, this lead to a rise from 6.7% to 9.8% of people cycling to work. There is a need to measure the outcomes of projects to show their benefits, lots of tools for this are already available.

- Engagement with the public is important. Through multiple means getting people to have a say on their local travel choices and road safety builds trust and well as providing democratic means of engagement.

- There is a need for evidence based practice, evidence that has underpinned major road safety and transport strategy has the greatest effect. There is already lots of evidence out there but there is the opportunity for Sheffield to commission its own studies.

- There is a window of opportunity to get health impacts included in strategy and policy while being a source of evidence, building trust with the public, and changing people and the councils thinking surrounding health. This in turn can lead to a more cost effective strategy for dealing with health.

The Green Commission members had chance to ask follow up questions to the witness, these were mainly around how some of their ideas could be put to affect for Sheffield.

After the first Green Commission meeting the members have seen 3 witnesses that have brought ideas of how to make Sheffield a more sustainable and healthy place. Each of the witnesses made good presentations on there topics and brought inspiring ideas for the future of a green Sheffield. This is only the first of six hearings the Green Commission will have, the next hearing will happen in the new year and will be announced soon.



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