Half of the respondents listed climate change as one of their top policy priorities, compared to just five per cent last year.
The climate crisis, housing and transport are among UK cities’ most pressing issues, according to the second annual Urban Voices report from research and policy institute Centre for Cities and professional services firm Arup.
Cities also say they need more support from the UK government to tackle their challenges.
Half of the respondents listed climate change as one of their top policy priorities, compared to just five per cent last year. The researchers put this down to the ‘Greta [Thunberg] effect’, which is raising climate awareness.
Challenges related to housing, such as affordability, availability of social housing and rising demand against supply, continue to be policy priorities. Almost half (44 per cent) of respondents said they are prioritising housing over other policy areas.
44 per cent of respondents said they are prioritising housing over other policy areas.
Almost a third (29 per cent) of respondents ranked either the development of local infrastructure or sustainable transport highly on their agenda. Air quality is also rising up the priority list, the research finds, as over 40 UK cities and towns are at or have exceeded World Health Organization air pollution limits.
Three-quarters of the cities surveyed are encouraging the public to ditch cars in favour of cycling and walking, and over half are transitioning to more environmentally friendly council-owned vehicles. Encouraging bus use is also a major focus area.
When asked how well leaders feel that their cities are supported on the national level, the majority (62 per cent) said they were unsatisfied. Ahead of the UK’s general election next week, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of council leaders and elected mayors said insufficient funding is a barrier to action.
Eight in ten (81 per cent) urban political leaders said they would be willing to spend significant extra capital on combating the climate emergency – if money was provided by central government. Even more (94 per cent) of them would allocate a hypothetical grant from the government to public transport investment.
Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, said: “Cities account for the majority of the country’s population and jobs but there is a concern in city halls that the urban agenda is being side-lined.
"There is a concern in city halls that the urban agenda is being side-lined."
“If cities are going to lead the way on important issues such as climate change then the next government should give them the power and resources that they need. The leaders of Britain’s largest cities still have less powers than their counterparts in New York, Tokyo and Berlin. The next government should correct this inequality.”
On Brexit, 41 per cent of leaders say they expect it to harm their city’s international reputation. Over half (52 per cent) also expect Brexit to negatively affect their city’s ability to access international investment. An existing lack of investment is already cited by many of them (41 per cent) as the main factor limiting inclusive growth.
41 per cent of leaders say they expect Brexit to harm their city’s international reputation.
Joanna Rowelle, Integrated City Planning Director at Arup, said: “From improving air quality and public transport, to increasing affordable housing and employment opportunities as well as tackling climate change, this survey shows that our urban leaders are prepared to shoulder more responsibility in taking on the most pressing issues facing their communities.
“It is encouraging to see the climate emergency ranked among the most important issues for British cities – but we also see significant barriers to action. These need to be urgently addressed.”
The research survey was sent to 168 UK city leaders and received 32 responses.
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