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Top 10… greenest UK cities

Ruth Styles

11th March, 2011

From recycling schemes to conserving green spaces, Ruth Styles rounds up the UK's eco-friendliest places to live

According to the Mortgage Advice Bureau, 30 percent of us are planning a move this year. Along with working out where the best schools are, what you can afford and what the local amenities are like, it’s also worth considering how green your new town is. That might sound a bit cranky, but given that a city’s green rating also includes things like access to public transport, municipal recycling schemes and air quality – all of which affect quality of life – it’s more important than you might imagine. But which cities are the eco-friendliest? Forum for the Future conducts a survey of Britain’s cities on an annual basis and ranks the country’s 20 largest cities on the basis of a criterion that includes environmental performance, quality of life and plans for the future.

And it’s not always the obvious names that make the list either, with Hull, Sunderland and Bradford all in the top 20. ‘Leading cities haven’t always performed well,’ says Ben Ross, Sustainability Advisor for Forum for the Future. ‘It takes time, vision and long-term planning. What they [the greenest cities] have in common though, are high aspirations, strong governance structures – particularly embedding sustainable development into their decision-making processes – and civic leaders who see holistic sustainability as a priority.’ Zaid Alwan of the Sustainable Cities Research Institute at Northumbria University added: ‘An important measure of a sustainable city, and an important goal is that such places should make it easier for people to live fuller lives and give them choices in terms of recycling, local produce, commuting (other than the car) and so on.’ So where are the UK’s greenest places to live? Here are our favourites.

Newcastle
The city of Newcastle probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind when contemplating green places to live but England’s most northerly metropolis has topped Forum for the Future’s list twice in a row, beating off competition from the likes of Brighton and London. With a relatively low carbon footprint of 6.8 tonnes per year and green schemes that include extending recycling facilities to flats, a ‘Commonwheels’ car club and the installation of charging points for electric vehicles in and around the city centre, Newcastle has forged ahead of the rest of the UK.
What’s in the area? The beating heart of Newcastle might be the Gallowgate end of Newcastle United’s St James’ Park, but the city has much more to offer than just football. The Theatre Royal on Grey Street runs an annual Shakespeare season and the Morden Tower, run by poet Paul Pickard, is one of the country’s leading poetry venues. There’s also a huge selection of places to eat in and around the Quayside and Times Square, and the city was voted the seventh best city for nightlife in the world by Trip Advisor.
Average house price: £175,248 (source: Land Registry)
 
Leicester
One of the oldest cities in the UK, Leicester combines 2000 years of history with a forward-looking approach to the environment. From improving access to walking, cycling and public transport, to making the most of its biodiversity, Leicester has made huge strides in the environmental arena. Residents also benefit from an excellent city allotments scheme and a committed parks programme – over 10,000 trees have been planted since 2009.
What’s in the area?  Not surprisingly given its history, Leicester’s city centre features some beautiful period architecture as well as modern gems such as the Curve Theatre and the National Space Centre. For groceries, check out Leicester Market, which in addition to being Europe’s largest, is packed with stalls selling wonderful local produce. Also worth visiting is the stretch of Belgrave Road, dubbed ‘The Golden Mile’ which is where you’ll find the best authentic Indian cooking this side of Delhi.
Average house price: £140,235 (source: Land Registry)

Brighton
Brighton has long been recognised as one of the most eco-friendly places in the UK, a fact made plain when the city became the first to install a Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in Parliament. Despite this, however, the city has some way to go with a carbon footprint well above the UK average and a surprisingly low percentage (29.15) of householders who recycle their waste. Nonetheless, the city’s many new businesses have been able to take advantage of opportunities opening up in the low carbon economy, while the last year has seen steady improvement in provisions for public transport and cycling.
What’s in the area? Located on the East Sussex coast, Brighton benefits from a blue flag [certified clean] beach and picturesque landmarks such as the Brighton Pier and the Royal Pavilion. The city also has an extensive art scene, celebrated at the annual Brighton Festival. Surrounded by countryside, residents also benefit from easy access to the great outdoors with the South Downs and its many footpaths, a short drive away.
Average house price: £286,250 (source: Land Registry)

Bristol
Bristol topped Forum for the Future’s list in 2008 but has since dropped a few places. Nonetheless, it remains one of the UK’s greenest cities and has become a hub for the low carbon technology sector. The city council has plans in place to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent over the next 10 years and Bristol benefits from a large number of public green spaces. While public transport and cycle routes are improving – Bristol has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of people choosing to bike to work - the city’s major downfall is the appalling congestion created by the large number of car commuters, which has resulted lower than average air quality.
What’s in the area? Keep an eye on the walls as you walk around Bristol: one of the city’s most famous sons is the elusive graffiti artist, Banksy, and the area is dotted with his work. There’s plenty to interest theatregoers too, with the Bristol Old Vic, the Tobacco Factory and the Redgrave Theatre among the city’s many venues. The historic centre features buildings that range from the mediaeval to the modern, and the city even has its own unique architectural style – Bristol Byzantine – that dates from the mid 19th century. The Harbourside area was recently given a makeover and boasts a plethora of good restaurants, shops and galleries.
Average house price: £219,947 (source: Land Registry)

London
The capital of the UK and home to a sixth of the population, London has made progress across the board, most famously with the adoption of ‘Boris bikes’ and the construction of the Barclay’s Cycle Superhighways. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t score highly for air quality but has excellent strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in place. The city has also been successful in getting people out of their cars and onto public transport, with Transport for London recording a seven percent increase in users last year. 
What’s in the area? A better question would be to ask what’s not in the area, as London really does have something for everyone. From parks to museums, theatres and galleries, London’s cultural attractions are world-beaters, as are the capital’s award-winning restaurants and shops. The city is also home to a huge range of markets, including the ever-popular Borough Market where fresh, local produce is available every single day of the week.
Average house price: £430,483 (source: Land Registry)

Leeds
Another high-performing northern city, Leeds aspires to become a centre of excellence for eco-design and green innovation, and it has been making good progress in its attempt to reach this goal. To achieve this, the city has initiated a ‘Special Landscape Areas’ project, which promotes green infrastructure and aims to minimise the visual impact of new developments. Leeds also does well on recycling and has significantly reduced the amount of waste that ends up in landfill over the last year.  
What’s in the area? Shopping in Leeds got a boost with the 1996 opening of Harvey Nichols in the historic Victoria Quarter and there are plenty of vintage boutiques to boot. The city centre benefits from striking buildings such as the neo-Palladian City Museum and a lively night scene. There is also lots of green space, including plenty of city parks and the footpaths running beside the River Ayre. Proximity to the North York Moors and the Bronte sister’s home village of Howarth, makes getting out into the countryside easy.
Average house price: £172,850 (source: Land Registry)

Coventry

The second-largest Midlands city after Birmingham, Coventry has outstripped its larger neighbour in the green stakes by switching focus to things like improving air quality and making sure that no Coventry resident is further than 300 metres from a park. Upgrades to public transport systems and better links between the city centre and railway station have also helped. Coventry also runs a good recycling scheme but controversy has surrounded the city council’s plans to redevelop the centre, with local Green Party co-ordinator, Scott Redding describing it as ‘a Disneyland of a city centre’ focused on shopping.
What’s in the area? A host of redevelopments are planned in central Coventry, including the much-debated introduction of a shopping area. More positively, the Swanswell Project will see the creation of a city marina while the award-winning Phoenix Initiative included the construction of a number of open civic spaces including gardens and squares. But despite the new additions, the city’s major landmark is still the cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 1950s after the original 14th century building was flattened during the Second World War.
Average house price: £145,098 (source: Land Registry)

Plymouth
With 32 percent of Devon’s biggest port given over to green space and a climate change action plan dedicated to reducing the city’s CO2 emissions, Plymouth is proof that smaller cities can do green just as well as the bigger ones. Boasting above average recycling rates and first class waste management programmes, Plymouth also benefits from the city council’s ‘Green Infrastructure’ plan which aims to ensure that any future developments is sustainable and has minimal impact on surrounding areas, including the Dartmoor National Park.
What’s in the area? Made famous by the exploits of Elizabethan sailors, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, Plymouth is still home to Britain’s largest naval port, Devonport, as well as historic fortifications such as the Crownhill Fort. Not surprisingly for a city once known as ‘the serviceman’s playground,’ there are plenty of pubs, bars and clubs in the area in addition to three theatres and the excellent Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Plymouth is also a good base for exploring the hauntingly lovely Dartmoor, the idyllic Tamar Valley and the beaches of south-east Cornwall.
Average house price: £247,245 (source: Land Registry)

Edinburgh

The entire city centre of Scotland’s capital has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site which has caused headaches for city councillors tasked with dealing with emissions. Glass is a particular problem but the new, ultra-thin double-glazing currently being trialled looks set to make a carbon saving of 720kg per building. Other positive moves include the implementation of the national Zero Waste Scotland programme and a climate-change busting initiative aimed at making Edinburgh’s economy carbon-neutral by 2050. The city also has conservation programmes operating in an impressive 63 percent of its green areas. 
What’s in the area? As befits one of the UK’s oldest cities, Edinburgh is packed with historical buildings and monuments, and has plenty to do and see. Home to the famous Edinburgh festival, the city also plays host to the Edinburgh Fringe, a comedy festival, plus others dedicated to art, jazz, books and more. Other highlights include the traditional New Year Hogmanay and the Beltane Fire Festival, which takes place at the end of April. Shoppers are also well-catered for, with a warren of little shopping streets, or closes, leading off the main Princes’ Street drag.
Average house price: £213,915 (source: Land Registry)

Sheffield
Sheffield might be better known for its industrial past but its future is looking considerably more eco-friendly thanks to the host of green initiatives and development now in place. Key is the Green and Open Space strategy which recognises the importance of the city’s peat bog and moorland areas and also the Green Apple award-winning, Sheffield is My Planet website, which aims to boost awareness of climate change among inhabitants. Also good is the new kerbside recycling scheme, which estimates suggest will reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 62,100 tonnes annually.
What’s in the area? The city centre has benefited from an extensive regeneration programme in the last 10 years and has acres of green space, which take in 61 percent of the city. It also has more trees per person than any other city in Europe; an estimated 200 million in total. Sheffield was also shortlisted for the UK City of Culture Award last year, thanks to its profusion of theatres, galleries, musical and sporting venues, but was narrowly pipped to the post by Derry. However, its Peace and Winter Gardens did fend off competition from London’s South Bank to win the Royal Institute of British Architects' Academy of Urbanism ‘Great Place’ Award in 2007.
Average house price: £162,794 (source: Land Registry)

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