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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Urban sustainability

Cities and the role of technology

page:Technology indicators: Leicester case study

Leicester: The UK's first European Sustainable City named in 1996. picture zoom © Environ: Sarah Tyrell

The following case study highlights the problems in defining sustainability. It uses a well-known example in the UK of a city trying to meet more sustainable planning objectives.

Leicester is a medium-sized city of around 272,000 people in the midlands of the UK. It has a very proactive government pledged to Local Agenda 21.

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About Local Agenda 21
    This policy, from the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, aims to help to solve global problems through local actions.
    Including the UK, 179 nations signed up to tackle key themes of:
    - reducing the use of raw materials and energy
    - producing less waste and pollution
    - protecting fragile eco-systems
    - sharing wealth, opportunities and responsibilities more fairly between nations, within each nation, and between different social groups
    - improving the needs and rights of the poor and disadvantaged


Why is Leicester striving to become more sustainable?

More than half of Leicester's population lives in areas that are classified as being among the 10 percent most deprived in the country. In 2003, nearly seven percent of its 121,000 workforce was unemployed.

Leicester City Council's stated vision is to create:

A premier city in Europe with a thriving and diverse society in which everyone is involved and in which everyone can have a decent, happy and fulfilling life. A city with a strong economy, a healthy, caring and educated society, a safe and attractive environment and an improving quality of life – a sustainable city

Leicester City Council

How is Leicester trying to achieve sustainability?

In 1990, Leicester was designated Britain's first Environment City by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, Civic Trust, and UK 2000. It is the first of a network of British cities set up to be models of ‘environmental excellence'.

Leicester’s cutting edge ‘Ecohouse’. picture zoom © Environ

The Leicester Environment City Programme is a partnership between local authorities, individuals, and the private and voluntary sectors. These partners are represented in eight ‘Specialist Working Groups': Energy, Transport, Waste and Pollution, Economy and Work, Food and Agriculture, Social Environment, Natural Environment, and the Built Environment.

As the UK's first European Sustainable City in 1996, Leicester has a high-profile reputation for its commitment to sustainable development to improve the quality of life of its citizens. The Leicester Partnership for the Future (LPF) was launched in 1998 to bring together some key players and representatives of the Leicester community.

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Leicester's City Council's effort to promote sustainability
Goal Method
To reduce congestion, air pollution and road safety and costs for businesses caused by too many cars Commuters are discouraged from bringing their cars into the city centre by ‘Residents’ Parking’ schemes, on-street parking charges, large-scale pedestrianisation and pedestrian routes. City parking meters are increasingly solar powered.
To increase the proportion of trips to the city centre using public transport, cycling and walking Better pedestrian routes, cycle lanes, bus priority measures and park and ride facilities encourage people to use public transport, bikes or their feet! Park and Ride facilities are electronically monitored to check capacity; electronic signs advise drivers about capacity.
To ensure that national air quality standards are met, and increase awareness and understanding of air quality issues. Modern air quality-monitoring networks continuously monitor air pollutants at seven monitoring stations. In 1998 national air quality standards were exceeded on 170 separate occasions on approximately 21 days in the year, which is fairly typical for a city such as Leicester. Monitoring results and daily air quality forecasts are made publicly available. Regulation and inspection and enforcement of polluting industries also helps.
Increase community facilities A £10 million leisure centre in Braunstone, Leicester, opening in 2004 will include two pools, fitness suite and six-court sports hall. With a moveable boom and pool floor deep water can be provided for sub-aqua diving, synchronised competitive swimming. Shallow water can be created for parents and babies, beginners' swimming and aqua aerobics.
To protect and enhance the role of Leicester's parks, trees and open spaces as an amenity for people and a home for wildlife. Two thousand acres of parks and open spaces exist in the city, managed by the Cultural Services and Neighbourhood Renewal Department. All are free for visitors to enjoy, with the majority offering good access.


Sustainable cities became the ‘urban environmental mandate' of the 1990s. However, there is an increasing need to clarify what is meant by a sustainable city in terms of its physical layout and its operating systems. Partnership arrangements are essential in establishing this vision, for example, between public and private organisations, preferably by an independent charity.

Leicester has become known internationally because of its sound record of partnership and achievement: involving senior members and officers in local authorities, influential local business people and community leaders. These organisations include Leicester Ecology Trust (now Environ), Voluntary Action Leicester, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council, the Chamber of Commerce and De Montfort University.

External influences on Leicester's sustainability policies
The role of external political decisions can greatly influence local policies on the use of technology. For example – some of Leicester's energy plans, including setting up the first citywide combined heat and power scheme in the United Kingdom, were put on hold after the national privatisation of electricity generation.

Despite the very best intentions, a project cannot be fully implemented without adequate financial resources to support it. EU grants are available, for example US$1.43m for modelling change in the urban environment. This is critical to implementing ‘Leicester 2020', the strategic vision of the city. The Worldwide Fund for Nature and various private sector sponsors plus the county and city councils also contribute to a total budget of approximately US$750,000 per annum.

George Square, Glasgow. Glasgow is among the UK’s ICLEI cities, along with Leicester. picture zoom © Topfoto

Leicester is one of the 430 cities, towns and their associations worldwide making up the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – an international association of local governments implementing sustainable development. Its mission is ‘to build and serve a worldwide movement of local governments to achieve tangible improvements in global environmental and sustainable development conditions through cumulative local actions'.

Sustainable policies in Leicester
Leicester City Council has committed itself to reducing energy consumption within Leicester by up to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2025 and to supply 20 percent of the city's energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Leicester Council's HQ. The Leicester Environment City Programme is a partnership between local authorities, individuals, and the private and voluntary sectors. picture zoom © Environ: Sarah Tyrell

To meet its second target, Leicester City Council is actively promoting renewable energy through its own Energy Efficiency Advice Centre, funded by the Energy Savings Trust (EST). The EST's objective is ‘to improve the efficient use of all forms of energy in the UK, leading to an overall reduction in its environmental impact while also bringing economic benefits to consumers through lower bills and social benefits through more comfortable homes'. This can only be achieved by the effective use of appropriate technology.

Ecohouse: The UK's first environmentally sound show home. picture zoom © Environ

The EcoHouse in Leicester was the first environmental show home in the country to be opened to the public and has attracted over 100,000 visitors since 1989.The house contains hundreds of environmentally friendly features. Its outstanding environmental features are a solar thermal system providing 50 per cent of the energy needed for water heating, a photovoltaic system, a rainwater harvesting system and a compost toilet.

Other green features of the EcoHouse include a designated recycling area, on-site composting, heat recovery ventilation, high insulation, low-energy lighting, intelligent lighting controls, double glazing throughout, draught lobby entrance, specific design for passive solar gain, waterless urinals, cycle parking, Forest Stewardship Council accredited timber (from renewable sources), PVC alternatives, natural floor coverings, recycled materials (such as newspapers for insulation, incinerator ash for breeze blocks, car tyres for carpet underlays), low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints and grounds managed so as to enhance habitats.

Resource Descriptions

Leicester: The UK's first European Sustainable City named in 1996.
Leicester’s cutting edge ‘Ecohouse’.
George Square, Glasgow. Glasgow is among the UK’s ICLEI cities, along with Leicester.
Leicester Council's HQ. The Leicester Environment City Programme is a partnership between local authorities, individuals, and the private and voluntary sectors.
Ecohouse: The UK's first environmentally sound show home.
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