And the winner of the award for the greenest city in Britain is ... Bradford
· Yorkshire mill town tops environmental impact list
· Liverpool ranks lowest despite salmon in Mersey
- The Guardian
- Saturday October 20 2007
In Bradford's "woolopolis" days, the mills turned the waters of Toadholes Beck a different colour every day, depending on whether the dye was for redcoat uniforms, green billiard cloth or blue boiler suits.
Now the little stream on the city's outskirts is home to frogs, toads and newts; an emblem of Bradford's success in healing the environmental blight caused by its pivotal role in the industrial revolution.
The Yorkshire city more associated with dark satanic mills than rolling hills comes top of the environmental impact league table in the Sustainable Cities Index published today by Forum for the Future, the charity founded by Jonathon Porritt.
Brighton and Hove came top overall in the index which ranks the 20 largest British cities according to social, economic and environmental performance. Three league tables measure environmental impact, quality of life for residents and "future proofing" - how well the city is addressing issues such as climate change, recycling and biodiversity.
Brighton won despite coming 15th in the environmental impact league table, because it was found to have the best quality of life - measured by healthy life expectancy at 65 and satisfaction with green spaces and bus services. Low unemployment coupled and a highly educated population also counted, and the city came top of the future proofing league because of the council's commitment to tackle climate change and recycling.
"The fact that Brighton and Hove is in the most affluent part of the country is reflected perhaps in the higher scores for quality of life and the lower score for environment impact," said the report accompanying the index.
Edinburgh was judged the second most sustainable city in Britain. The Scottish capital scored highly for air quality, public open spaces, employment, education and healthy life expectancy.
London was ranked 10th. Although the capital came sixth for both quality of life and future proofing - with one of the most ambitious civic climate change action plans in the world, pollution brought it down to 17th in the green league table.
Liverpool was found to be the least sustainable of the 20 cities surveyed. Poor water quality along with high unemployment, low educational attainment and low healthy life expectancy at age 65 let the city down, as did its failure to plan for a more sustainable future.
Berni Turner, Liverpool city council's executive member for environment, said: "I am surprised we did badly on water quality because the river Mersey is cleaner than it has been for generations and now supports cod and salmon, while on the environment we have more green open space than many other cities, which we are committed to improving. We recognise we have a long way to go and this is a useful benchmark, but statistics can never tell the whole story."
Despite Bradford's success in the green league table, it fared less well on quality of life and future proofing, pulling it down to ninth place in the overall index.
Bradford scored highly in the survey for sustainable waste treatment and the results show in the unexpectedly beautiful surroundings of one of Europe's largest sewage works. This has always been an area of innovation in the city; in the wool days, lanolin was extracted from its stinking waste and sold to cosmetics manufacturers.
Today, as Yorkshire Water's asset delivery manager Simon Gibby points out on a tour of the filter beds, byproducts include ash for builders' breeze blocks, electric power (from methane and a sewage-powered turbine) and the city's latest pride and joy - recycled sludge.
"A lot of the £70m we're spending here has gone on a scheme which mixes sewage sludge with Bradford's green recycling waste in a huge cake," he says. "We sow this with rye grass, whose roots destroy remaining pollutants, and the result is a rich soil compound which is excellent for 'green' landfill."
Residents can see otters and kingfishers within a walk of the once-filthy city centre. "The council's always going on about the environment and so they should be," said Roy Murgatroyd, out for a breath of fresh air in Manningham Park with his wife, Olive.
"It was green sheep fields and clean water which got the textile industry started here. It's only right that we should be putting it back in order now that the mills have pretty much gone."
Forum for the Future plans to publish the sustainable cities index annually. The charity's chief executive, Peter Madden, said: "We are now a majority urban world and this trend will intensify so we have to learn to live in cities in a more sustainable way. UK cities make claims about being green and eco-friendly without any real objective criteria to back it up. Our index will provide a base line and create healthy competition between cities to encourage sustainable urbanisation."