Bristol and Newcastle: Britain’s Green and Pleasant Cities

I recently posted about eco-cities Masdar in Abu Dhabi and DongTan in Shanghai. But what about Britain? Does Britain have any sustainable cities already? It’s all very well creating eco-cities from scratch, but more than half the people in the world now live in cities and these cities weren’t designed from the ground-up to be sustainable. As such, we also need models of how cities can become sustainable.

Bristol is in the final three cities shortlisted for the title of European Green Capital in 2014. It will be competing against Copenhagen and Frankfurt. I find this pretty impressive, Britain’s certainly not known as one of the greenest countries in Europe. So what makes Bristol so green?

In 2008, the year Bristol was named Britain’s most sustainable city, Forum for the Future launched a 10-year plan to “help make the greater Bristol area the most sustainable city-region in the UK” and make it a model green city.

Big Green Week 500 Bristol and Newcastle: Britains Green and Pleasant Cities

Bristol also hosts green events, such as the Big Green Week, which is on RIGHT NOW until Sunday 17th June and has over 100 events.

Other green credentials and initiatives which Bristol can boast include:

  • The West of England Carbon Challenge, a 4-yr commitment to measuring and reducing carbon emissions signed by more than 100 local businesses
  • WalkIt, a walking route planner to get people out of their cars
  • In 2008 Greater Bristol was chosen as England’s first Cycling City and received £11m from the Department for Transport to transform cycling. See www.betterbybike.info
  • Refit West, a scheme to help homeowners reduce the energy and resource consumption of their homes
  • In 2009 Bristol joined the Covenant of Mayors and set more ambitious CO2 reduction targets than the EU and UK, to reduce emissions by 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 from a 2005 baseline
  • Bristol has one of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring networks in the UK
  • Bristol has been actively managing noise for over 10 years
  • It boasts an impressive rise in recycling and composting rates and high scores on water quality, waste collection and green spaces
  • Bristol is also a ‘Transition Town’, working to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, including ventures such as the Bristol Pound which is designed to support independent businesses

British Sustainable City Rankings
Forum for the Future ran the ‘Sustainable Cities Index’ from 2007 to 2010, ranking Britain’s 20 largest cities in terms of their environmental impact, quality of life and future-proofing. The results are below:

rankings1 Bristol and Newcastle: Britains Green and Pleasant Cities

Sustainable Cities Index Rankings

We see that Bristol has actually dropped behind Newcastle – so why did Newcastle do so well?

Well, Newcastle’s achievements include:

  • Installation of 580 electric vehicle charging points
  • Low average carbon footprint of 6.8tonnes/yr
  • ‘Commonwheels’ car club
  • An urban bees programme
  • An extension of household recycling facilities to include flats
  • Plan to turn the banks of the Tyne into Britain’s largest centre of windpower
  • 20mph speed limits
  • ‘no power hours’ at schools

What about London?
London has also done well in the rankings, although despite its efforts to be “an exemplary sustainable world city“, it did have the worst air quality of any British city and the largest urban footprint on the local ecology. Because of this it doesn’t appear in the top four.

Bristol for European Green Capital!
I’m rooting for Bristol for European Green Capital in 2014. I find it very encouraging that Britain can compete in this area with European countries which have had sustainability deeply routed in their cultures for far longer than Britain has. Go Bristol!


‘Bristol named as Britain’s most environmentally sustainable city’, The Telegraph

West of England Carbon Challenge, Forum for the Future

‘Shipshape, green and Bristol-fashion’, The Guardian

‘Top 10… greenest UK cities’, The Ecologist

‘Bees help keep Newcastle at top of green city table’, The Guardian

Bristol City Council Website, Cycling

Refit West page, Forum for the Future Website

Expert Evaluation Panel – Synopsis Technical Assessment Report, European Green Capital Award 2014