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Now is the time for a Green New Deal for Sheffield

Sheffield’s Labour and Green councillors have formed a ‘cooperative administration’ to lead the Council. As a Labour activist, I hope our new leadership will seize this moment to become a beacon for climate justice.

Sheffield city centre from Clough Lane

Sheffield is a cornerstone of Labour’s post-industrial heartlands. Our city had the privilege of being the first ever Labour-controlled city, when we elected a Labour leadership back in 1926. It has remained in Labour hands for all but ten years since then.

In what was a disastrous set of elections for the party nationally, we saw Sheffield City Council shift to ‘no overall control’ after ten years of Labour leadership. We also saw Labour’s Council Leader, Bob Johnson, lose his Hillsborough seat to the Greens less than six months after taking up the leadership.

While other local authorities have seen political alliances to limit Labour control—like the Tory-Lib Dem-Green alliance in the London Assembly, or Lancaster City Council’s Labour Leader being ousted by a mixture of Greens, ex-Labour councillors and Conservatives—at this week’s Council meeting Sheffield’s Labour and Green councillors announced a ‘cooperative administration’ and a red-green cabinet to shape our council’s future.

Sheffield’s new executive is formed of seven Labour councillors and three Greens, with Labour’s Terry Fox and Julie Grocutt as Leader and Deputy, and Sheffield Greens taking on key responsibilities, including Leader Douglas Johnson on Climate Change, Environment and Transport.

This new red-green agreement has an opportunity to build on the work of previous administrations to tackle the climate crisis. Now is the perfect time to start building a Green New Deal for Sheffield.

Back in February 2019 the Council declared a climate emergency and pledged to become a zero-carbon city by 2050, a target which was later adjusted to 2030. Achieving this would be no mean feat. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research determined that at its current emission rate, Sheffield would exceed its ‘carbon budget’ within six years, by 2025. The Council subsequently commissioned Arup to develop a roadmap of actions the Council can follow to bring about a zero-carbon Sheffield.

As the new administration looks to set its priorities, the climate and ecological emergency must take precedent. Taking the Arup report as its foundation, Sheffield Council should look seriously at a local Green New Deal that unites social, economic and climate justice, and delivers a post-carbon future.

A Green New Deal is a means to tackle the climate crisis by transforming our economy so that it works for people and planet. As examples of climate action we could take locally through ‘community wealth building’, Sheffield’s Council could ensure as much of its spending stays in our communities as possible, working with anchor institutions like NHS trusts and universities to usher in a green local economy. By retrofitting the city’s council housing, and through licensing requiring landlords to retrofit privately-rented housing, we could massively reduce our city’s carbon emissions while saving people thousands on their energy bills.

There is no specific formula, but any local GND must look to decarbonise Sheffield’s economy in a just way by creating well-paid green jobs and tackling inequality.

Both ruling parties would have a strong political mandate for this. Nationally, the Green Party has supported the idea of a Green New Deal since 2008. Likewise, as well as Labour’s historic 2019 conference vote, during the local elections Sheffield Labour for a Green New Deal wrote and launched a local manifesto, setting out what a GND would look like for Sheffield.

Over the course of the election, the manifesto—which calls for community wealth building, zero-carbon housing, sustainable transportation and the protection of green spaces—won the support of 14 of Labour’s 29 candidates.

One of the strange quirks of May’s elections locally was that, despite losing eight seats, Labour’s vote share actually increased across the city. What’s more, Labour performed strongest where candidates backed the local GND manifesto, benefitting from an average increase of nearly 7% towards Labour, almost double that of non-GND candidates. Clearly there is a strong appetite from both Green and Labour voters for a local Green New Deal.

Alongside the local election, Sheffield also held a historic governance referendum. 65% of people voted for the Council to move from a ’strong leader’ model to a committee system, signalling the desire for a change in political culture for the city.

The referendum came about following a petition which amassed 26,000 signatures, which itself arose from the continued fallout of Sheffield’s street tree dispute. The Council’s new administration has promised a “new era of politics in our city” and “new ways of working” cooperatively, and the joint announcement of an independent inquiry into the street tree dispute lends credence to this claim.

Our new red-green administration must capitalise on this desire for political transformation and commit to building a local Green New Deal. The specifics of this should be collectively decided in Sheffield’s citizens’ assemblies, so that everyone can have a chance to discuss our response, and so that decision-making on the climate does not become the preserve of a select few.

Sheffield has an opportunity to define a new model of collaborative local politics, and to set out an eco-socialist response to the climate emergency which works for every person and every community across our city. It’s time for a Green New Deal, created by and for the people of Sheffield.

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