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Get Voting – 4th May

Blog by Lesley Rudd

Whilst it is still very unclear what BREXIT will mean one thing is certain – it has increased interest in politics; record numbers of students are applying to study politics.  So with this increased awareness of all things political, perhaps the time is right for the election of metro mayors.

In May 2017 six areas in England will elect a metro mayor for the first time. In theory this represents a key opportunity to devolve decision making back much closer to the people, however voter turnout is key to ensure that the successful candidates secure a clear democratic mandate and the legitimacy required to have an impact on the regions they will represent. Let’s hope the increased awareness of politics will encourage people to vote, so that the mayor has that mandate.

The metro mayor is the chair of a combined authority that has agreed to a devolution deal and is voted in by the electorate in the combined authority area. A directly-elected metro mayor will have powers and responsibilities to make strategic decisions across whole regions –  in contrast to existing city mayors or local council leaders that only make decisions for, and on behalf of, their local authority.

One of the regions electing a metro mayor is the West Midlands, and since the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) is based in the West Midlands, we are taking a keen interest. Here at the SEA we work with politicians and civil servants every day as we help shape the development of policy relating to energy in buildings. Often this engagement is in London and although Westminster will continue to be important, the election of metro mayors is set to bring some of those powers closer to home.

The mayoral election presents an opportunity for local people to vote for a mayor who will be responsible for setting out a strategy for growing the city region economy, and will have powers over important issues such as housing, transport and skills.

So are there any sustainable energy issues on the candidates’ minds? Well, 12% of households within the West Midlands are in fuel poverty – the condition of being unable to afford to keep one’s home adequately heated– this is the joint highest in the country. Fuel poverty is strongly correlated with the energy performance of the home and the West Midland’s has a high proportion of energy inefficient houses, making them more expensive to heat and therefore contributing directly to fuel poverty.

The West Midlands also has far fewer people employed in jobs related to the low carbon sector compared to other regions such as the North West. A drive to improve the energy performance of new and existing homes in the West Midlands offers the potential to address fuel poverty, make our homes warmer and healthier, provide more low carbon jobs and also improve air quality.

Reducing the energy used in buildings whilst maintaining comfort will require a variety of technology solutions tailored to the circumstances of the building and its occupants.  This means taking a whole house, technology neutral approach which starts with the fabric – ‘wrap then heat’. The SEA champions this approach because increasing the energy efficiency of the building fabric helps to maximise the gain from efficient heating.

Given that the majority of housing infrastructure is delivered locally, it is vitally important that a local strategy is developed to integrate heat supply decarbonisation and energy efficiency. This strategy should include both a commitment to higher energy performance standards for new homes and also retrofit of existing homes with energy efficiency measures.

So, on May 4th voters in the West Midlands will elect a mayor with the potential to play a key role in important aspects of our lives including the houses we live in, the buildings we work in and the air we breathe. Voting is an important right in our society. By voting, you are making your voice heard and registering your opinion on how you think the West Midlands should be run.   I urge you to get voting!

Lesley Rudd, Acting Chief Executive of the Sustainable Energy Association

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Note: Other Regions electing metro mayors are: Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the West of England.

Friday, March 3rd, 2017