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goode intentions

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With sustainability a requirement of each of the Greater London Authority policies, David Goode's aim as head of environment is for the capital to become an exemplar of city living for the whole world by robert holden, photograph by david richards

Marsham Street is equidistant from Parliament and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is an appropriate location for the Greater London Authority, established for six months and now producing papers and policies.

Among key personnel in the GLA office is head of environment Dr David Goode. By background he is an applied ecologist who spent 15 years at the Nature Conservancy before becoming an ecologist for the Greater London Council in 1982. After the GLC's abolition in 1986, he established the London Ecology Unit, which he led until it was absorbed into the GLA last July.

The GLA is about strategy and its responsibilities are defined by statute.

London's waste, noise, air quality, energy use and biodiversity are all Goode's responsibility, with, in addition, a 'crosscutting' theme of sustainability. 'Crosscutting means reviewing other areas of the GLA's remit from transport and development to culture, ' says Goode. 'There is a legal requirement that each of the mayor's strategic policies is sustainable.'

Goode's background is first in government bodies, which were executive as well as strategic. At the GLC, for instance, one of his major achievements was to establish Camley Street Nature Park near King's Cross. By contrast, the London Ecology Unit was in essence a voluntary joint committee that worked by persuasion.

At the GLA, Goode talks of 'partnerships' and 'stakeholder groups' and puts a strong emphasis on consultation - the Policy Commission for the Environment has 41 members, from Robin Murray of the Centre for Global Studies to Adam Brown of the Black Environment Group.

To Goode, London should be seen as a metabolism. At present it appears as a linear system with inputs ranging from electricity and oil to paper, plastic and food, and outputs that include waste, CO 2and other discharges into the atmosphere, the Thames and the sea. The aim is to turn London into a city that is no longer a vast consumer that draws in global resources and spews out waste and noxious materials.

This is obvious to an ecologist but less so to many city planners. Does he know of another ecologist in such a role? 'No!'

Waste, he reckons, is the most intractable problem.We are moving away from landfill, while increased incineration is a political no-no - voters won't accept it. So the answer is to recycle waste and use it, and to develop new eco-technologies and products (which will have economic spin-offs) through Single Regeneration Budget grants. Crosscut to the London Development Agency and its fostering of recycling and ecotechnologies in the London Remade project.

Goode points out that the biodiversity plan for London is the first statutory biodiversity strategy in the UK at a regional level (The Mayor's Draft Biodiversity Strategy was published on 1 February).With some 80 policy proposals, it covers access to nature, environmental education and protection of both important habitats and species. After public consultation it will be published finally at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the Policy Commission for the Environment (of which Goode is lead officer) has proposed some 100 ideas for the environment and sustainability, with suggestions for climate change impact assessment, protection of sensitive floodplains for new building, green travel plans for big organisations and zero-energy guidelines. It is the inter-threading of sustainable thinking in areas such as health, equality, economic development and transport and air quality that is special and new to British local and regional government.

Energy from an environmental point of view is about climate change - hence the proposal to make 20 per cent cuts in CO should invite him to lecture.

Goode believes that the special characteristic of the new GLA is the real political impetus for change led by mayor Ken Livingstone and Darren Johnson as his environment advisor, together with Nicky Gavron as deputy mayor. Hence the warm reception by Livingstone to Lord Rogers' 'urban renaissance' ideas.

At the GLC, one of Goode's achievements was to put ecology onto the British political agenda for the first time. At the London Ecology Unit, he produced a planning framework for nature conservation in the city. At the GLA, his long-term aim is for London to become a city based on sustainable principles. 'Such a city would have high-performance buildings with minimum energy use and minimal CO 2emissions. Such a London would have a far less damaging impact on the globe, ' he says.

London has many economies of scale.

Goode believes that it could transform itself, becoming an exemplar to cities such as Shanghai, which are now developing on the model of high-energy use buildings. 'If the globe doesn't have alternatives to those models we won't maintain a habitable environment, ' he says. This transformed London, he thinks, could be an example of city living for the whole world. For it to be so, however, two millennia of London's history will need to be reversed - quite a challenge!

But Goode has shorter-term priorities too: 'We must make sure that we have spaces where we can retain our sanity, oases of tranquility where people can get away from the city, ' he says. 'It is all about putting people first.'

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