The Sustainable Cities Index, produced by infrastructure consultancy Arcadis, assessed 100 global cities according to their social, environmental and economic sustainability using 32 different indicators.
Of the six UK cities included in the study, London came out top of the pile in fifth place overall followed by Edinburgh (13th), (Manchester (25th), Birmingham (31st), Glasgow (36th) and Leeds (38th).
Only Zurich, Singapore, Stockholm and Vienna surpassed London’s performance, which scored highly for its economic performance and environmental credentials. It was judged to be one of the world’s greenest cities thanks to 3,000 parks and green spaces.
Although Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds scored highly on social and environmental indicators they were outside the top 50 for their economic strength.
According to Arcadis ‘all four cities scored poorly on the profit scale… with low GDP per capita scores, high unemployment and poor high-productivity job creation being perennial factors’.
It added: ‘The findings should serve as a warning to policy makers: Post-Brexit, the UK government needs to spread prosperity more evenly to the regions by boosting the economic capacity of these cities. All five UK urban centres outside London fared poorly in terms of local transport infrastructure, whilst Leeds and Birmingham were also held back by a relative lack of connectivity to national and international networks.
‘Further investment in transport infrastructure and connectivity as part of the government’s National Infrastructure Plan would improve mobility, reduce journey times and boost employment. However, in an era of devolved power, civic leaders also need to do more to push their own regional agendas.’
It said progress was being made with Manchester beginning to ‘reap the benefits of long-term economic planning and increased business rate retention’ while commitment from HSBC and Jaguar Land Rover to the Birmingham city-region had boosted its profile with investors.
However, it warned Leeds ‘runs the risk of being left behind and needs to do more to put itself in the shop window’. Arcadis said all three cities should do more to turn investment into high quality jobs. And the six UK cities featured in the index must work harder to improve the quality of life for residents, it said, in particular London.
Richard Bonner, UK cities director at Arcadis, said: ‘As one of the world’s greenest capitals and position at the centre of international trade, London can reap the long-term benefits of being a truly sustainable world city. However, three of the UK’s largest regional centres – Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds – are being outperformed by their European rivals. In particular, their poor economic performance should be of concern to policy makers looking to rebalance the country’s economy in the wake of Brexit.
‘As powers become increasing devolved, regional leaders must do more to attract investment and create high productivity jobs. Central government can also help by investing in local transport and connectivity infrastructure as part of the National Infrastructure Plan, boosting mobility, reducing journey times and increasing employment.
‘All cities have a tough task balancing the pillars of people, planet and profit and whilst Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index shows that there is no such thing as a utopian city, the UK’s urban centres need to be doing more to improve their long-term prospects.’
Sustainable Cities Index
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