Lille metropole is one of the newest signatories of the Green City Accord (GCA), which commits cities to step up their efforts in environmental management. To understand the metropole’s motivation and current state of affairs, Alex Godson of Eurocities spoke to Sophie Massal, Climate Change Policy Officer and Paul Gaspar, EU Policy Officer from the European Metropole of Lille (MEL).
Congratulations on joining the Green City Accord. Why did Lille metropole decide to join up, and which of the five priorities are you most likely to concentrate on?
Gaspar: We’re really looking forward to being part of a community of cities at European level that are working towards the environmental and climate transition, and it’s also interesting to be able to compare ourselves with other cities, to see where they are more advanced than us, and learn from them.
Massal: We adopted a very comprehensive climate plan just two months ago, and in it we cover all of the areas covered in the Green City Accord. I think that by joining up, we will be able to tackle some of these challenges either better or quicker, but we do also have our own plans to share with others.
Our low emission zone is foreseen for next year. It will cover 12 out of our 95 municipalities, those in the urbanised centre, and we are still defining the specific details and measures to accompany the kick-off, so we may even get ideas through our GCA colleagues.
Water management, particularly of rainwater, may be something that Lille metropole is well used to. What knowledge do you have in this area that you might be able to share with other GCA cities?
Gaspar: Usually, rainwater management is a bit underrated by cities and it only becomes essential in times of flooding or drought. It’s very linked to urbanisation, because cities interrupt the natural cycle of water, through faster evaporation for example, which can lead to higher temperatures, and can make it more difficult to refill the ground water.
Lille metropole’s preventive rainwater management plan aims to manage rainwater as close to where it falls as possible, so as not to displace water but rather find nature-based solutions to address this issue. Correct water management has different goals: to address water as a resource, climate adaptation, and reduce the risk of flood and drought. In order to make the most of runoff rainwater, we have introduced practices such as draining storm water drains, which contributes effectively to the return of nature and biodiversity to the city while participating in urban refreshment, improvement of the living environment and the well-being of residents.
In terms of what we want to share with other cities, we really realised that you need to address this topic better, as a priority in urban planning, and to address this we developed a training programme and more than 400 workers within the metropolitan area have been trained in better water management in their daily tasks.
We are also implementing green infrastructure, such as a new forest/replanting strategy to increase biodiversity and we are currently working to identify suitable public areas to plant native trees and working with local companies to develop a multi-pronged response to our climate adaptation needs.
Achieving the sorts of environmental changes you talk about will require working very closely with people. What steps is Lille metropole taking to engage citizens?
Massal: We always try to include citizens and stakeholders into our policy making processes. We use online platforms and we have a team of specialists for public consultations. When we elaborated our climate plan, for example, we conducted a consultation for 10 months with citizens, and a variety of stakeholders. By doing that, you also raise awareness on the issues related to climate change more generally.
For the past five years, we have had a permanent call for projects to support associations or groups which have projects related to the ecological transition, so we try to support citizens engagement in several ways.
We’ve run several challenges on waste and energy too. For these, we work with a number of families, accompanied by an association, to work on, for instance, reducing their energy consumption or waste production by changing their daily habits, or inspiring people through joint activities. Now the plan is to increase and scale up these challenges so that we can work with many more people.
By working with a few hundred families in the first challenges, we have already seen that people were able to reduce their energy consumption, and people got together to talk about it all, so there were many successes from these initiatives.
Noise is an often underrated source of pollution and an environmental health burden, but it is one of the five points in the GCA. What steps has Lille taken so far, and what do you hope to achieve, say by 2030?
Gaspar: I think as you outline, noise pollution is a big issue, and the Covid crisis has shown that citizens are really enjoying quieter and healthier cities.
For us, tackling noise pollution is really high on the agenda. Just to give you a figure, it’s estimated that 75,000 of our 1.2 million inhabitants are exposed to noise levels that are above the European regulatory thresholds. That’s mostly inhabitants that are in the city centre and that are close to highways. So, we’re well aware of this problem, and we are working on it specifically, and hope to approve a new plan this year.
We would like to integrate the noise plans we have in urban planning, so that each time there will be a construction or urban project, noise will have to be taken more into consideration. We really want to expand the awareness of noise issues – even many citizens do not realise the serious health consequences of high noise. We are developing a noise observatory to provide quality information and to make data available to the public in a comprehensive manner.
Right now, some municipalities within MEL are implementing or expanding the 30 kmph speed limit, and over the next two years we will record noise-specific data to see what impact it has.
The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on cities, including on city budgets. How does the metropole plan to adapt to this new normal and plan for good quality of life and environment post-Covid19?
Gaspar: Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on what we’re doing, but I think most of the engagement, especially on the new climate action plan, was already taken before this, and Covid accelerated those plans.
We adapted to this very fast, such as by developing 32 extra kilometres of cycle lanes. But other policies, such as our climate plan, were already thought of before Covid. Our climate budget will analyse all the expenditures generated by our policies and projects in relation to the objectives of the climate plan, such as mitigating climate change, adapting to climate change and improving air quality. We’re also developing a €2bn infrastructure plan to increase public transport, which is really important, and there is the low emission zone that Sophie already mentioned earlier.
Massal: We are still in the middle of the crisis, so our policies will have to adjust to new realities when things go back to normal, for instance in terms of taking into account new working and commuting habits in mobility and transportation policies.
Interested in this topic? Find out more about the Green City Accord.