Can the Advanced Manufacturing Park fix Sheffield – or other struggling cities?

Jeremy Corbyn learns about the AMRC.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

Sheffield, as we’ve often noted in these pages, is, economically speaking, a bit of a mystery. It’s one of England’s major provincial cities, at the heart of an urban region of nearly 2 million people. Yet it underperforms on most economic measures, even compared to other big post-industrial cities.

We’ve been through all this before, more than once. So today I’m going to ask a different question: can advanced manufacturing fix it?

This is not a theoretical question. The city is home to the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP), which in turn contains the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, or AMRC. (If anyone has any synonyms for the phrase “advanced manufacturing” going spare, this is the time to tell me.) These places link academics directly with major multinational firms like Boeing and McLaren, enabling the latter to access expertise and the former to commercialise their work.

It also uses, in the words of a recent Centre for Cities report on the AMP, an “open-source research model, that shares discoveries across the AMRC’s network without patents”: the park is focused almost entirely on research, rather than production, and is a place where firms from separate industries are encouraged to work together. Today it’s home to several hundred high paying manufacturing jobs of the sort that economists swoon over whenever they’re comparing Britain’s economy with that of Germany; fully half of these have arrived since 2012.

It has, in other words, been rather successful, even compared to similar manufacturing parks such as i54 in Wolverhampton or the Cody Technology Park in Aldershot. Look at the share of well-paying advanced manufacturing jobs, in dark green:

All of which raises two questions. Can this revive Sheffield’s economy? And could it do the same elsewhere?

The answer to the former seems to be a resounding “maybe”. Anthony Breach, the CfC researcher who authored the report, notes that firms from “different parts of the country and all over the world are now trading with Sheffield, because of the knowledge coming from the AMP”. It is at least putting the city on the radar, and the idea a Boeing, say, may one day want to create more jobs in the city so as to maximise access to the research park is not a crazy one.

On the flipside, though, the number of jobs in the park is 499 – the fact it’s not a round number gives it extra pathos, somehow – which is not to be sniffed at by any means, but is a drop in the ocean in a city of this size: it’s only 3 per cent of the region’s advanced manufacturing sector jobs. Even by the standards of similar parks, it’s small:

If it’s to have a hope of catching up with Leeds or Manchester, Sheffield needs to attract more high-skilled jobs. In practice that probably means attracting service businesses in sectors such as finance, law or publishing. That in turn means both attracting more graduates and improving the skills of the existing population: all the difficult, boring stuff we tend to go on about on this bit of CityMetric.

If the benefits of the AMP to Sheffield are limited, the case for replicating it elsewhere is decidedly thin. One of the reasons AMP has worked is because it’s the advanced manufacturing park – a single place where different industries and academies can cluster together and share ideas. (What’s different about those other larger industrial parks is that they tend to have production lines, rather than merely R&D.) There’s a danger that trying to set up copies would simply dilute the benefits, which come from having all those different firms, people and industries in one place. “If you had dozens of advanced manufacturing parks across the country,” argues Breach, “it’d defeat the purpose.”


None of this is to say it isn’t valuable – quite the opposite. “A lot of the research that goes on in the AMP improves productivity in Sunderland or North Wales,” notes Breach. “It’s a national asset, and the government should support it because of its national economic benefits.” That seems fair – if the nation gets the benefit, the nation should bear the costs. But it won’t magically sort out Sheffield.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report on the AMP here.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.