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Review of Scotland's Cities - The Analysis


Review of Scotland's Cities - The Analysis



Scotland's cities are as central to Scotland's environmental sustainability as they are to its economic and social wellbeing.

Though the sparsely populated Highlands and Islands may be the landscape most readily associated with ecological issues, it is our densely populated cities that have some of the greatest impacts on Scotland's environment, and provide the daily backdrop for most of our population. This chapter explores the environmental impact that our cities have, and examines measures that could reduce that impact.

Cities are characterised by their density of population and intensity of economic activity. As such our cities are inevitably the locus of much domestic and commercial energy consumption, and much of our greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, which contribute to climate change. They are also the source of a significant proportion of our domestic and commercial waste.

Cities, as centres of interaction for the city-region and beyond are also the major source of journey origins and the focus of travel destinations, for commuting, social and leisure purposes. Cities also have 'dirty footprints', and flows of air and water over and through our cities carry environmental damage well beyond the city limits. They therefore impose sizeable burdens on their surrounding regions, the Scottish environment and, indeed, other nations.

In recent decades it has been recognised that more effective design and management of settlements can reduce the environmentally damaging effects of economies and populations. Scottish cities offer considerable potential to manage our impact on the environment in a more sustainable way; contributing to efforts to meet UK emissions targets. For example, as centres of population and employment, they are likely to represent the focus of future development, regeneration and building activity and therefore offer the potential for significantly improved energy conservation. By concentrating resource use, and hence waste production, they offer the greatest opportunity to develop financially viable recycling schemes. By "concentrating" travel our cities offer the potential to plan out travel and to promote more environmentally sustainable forms of transport. There are also opportunities to encourage resource efficiency amongst businesses, improving productivity through the more efficient use of resources and raw materials, and through improvements to waste management, distribution and logistics.

Reducing the environmental impact of our city dwellers and urban based activities would make a substantial contribution to the reduction of Scotland's national environmental impact and contribute towards meeting international agreements.

Our cities are also particularly important when considering the concept of environmental justice. Environmental justice has only recently come to political prominence and can mean slightly different things to different people, but in essence is concerned with the unfairness that arises when certain sections of our society experience a less healthy, more unpleasant environment than others. Kevin Dunion of Friends of the Earth Scotland suggests that:

"Environmental Justice is experienced as a result of practices or policies which, intentionally or unintentionally disparately impact on living conditions of people in low income groups. More generally, environmental injustice exists when authorities fail to afford or uphold rights, where people are unable to adequately participate in decision making processes which affect them and where means of redress are inaccessible".

Over the last century there have been major developments in urban regulations, services and infrastructure that have reduced the negative environmental impacts of city living. For example, polluted water supplies and slum housing, which generated serious public health issues for all residents have been tackled. Over the last 40 years successive Clean Air Acts have radically improved the well-being of city residents and the appearance of building facades. However less progress has been made in dealing with those effects that impact on communities both geographically and socially distant from the city core.

Where poor people and poor environments coincide within cities, this produces particular urban environmental justice concerns. As discussed in Chapter 3, socio-economic differences are reflected in patterns of housing choice, creating a spectrum of neighbourhoods that span the most privileged to the most deprived. 69% of the most deprived postcode sectors in Scotland are in the cities. 60 And those poorest neighbourhoods are often felt by their inhabitants to be the worst environments, often comprising deprived peripheral estates, typified by signs of neglect and abandonment: vacant, burnt out or boarded up homes; abandoned vehicles, open space blighted with litter and dumped household rubbish, vandalised amenities and buildings daubed with graffiti.


...there are major social justice challenges in our city-regions

There is little data on the prevalence of environmental injustices in Scotland, or indeed the extent to which poor people and poor environments coincide; however survey evidence suggests that it is poorer people who are least satisfied with their neighbourhoods. The Scottish Household Survey, (SHS) for example, found that nearly one tenth of residents from disadvantaged council estates rated their neighbourhood as very or fairly poor, compared to none of the residents from high income areas, or just 2% of residents from middle income areas. The SHS also provides some analysis that partially addresses the environmental concerns that may inform these figures. Chart 7.1 shows that respondents are more likely to consider their neighbourhood is well maintained, nicely landscaped and enjoy good views the more they earn. 61 Similarly, residents of lower income areas are significantly more likely to complain of neighbourhood problems, such as graffiti, dog fouling and vandalism (Chart 7.2).


It is now recognised that there are major social justice challenges in our city-regions, not just the core cities but in poorer parts of Fife, Lanarkshire and elsewhere. It is also increasingly recognised that action to address social justice and environmental justice can be mutually reinforcing. However, to date there has been no comprehensive audit of such problems to identify where they are most keenly felt. It is evident that much further work is needed to develop an understanding of where and how problems of environmental justice occur, what communities perceive as the greatest problems and what must be done to co-ordinate efforts to tackle them.

Scotland's cities are vitally important to making an equitable contribution to global sustainability if Scotland, as a nation, is to achieve the vision, outlined in "Meeting the Needs" to have regard for others who do not have access to the same level of resources. In simple terms, Scotland's cities are one of the major sources of our environmental impact and also one of the primary solutions to our environmental problems.

But how well are Scotland's cities performing? Are they making the contribution to sustainability that is needed if Scotland is to live within its fair share of global resources? And how does the performance of our cities compare with each other, with the rest of Scotland, and with cities elsewhere?

Scotland's cities are one of the major sources of our environmental impact


The sustainability of Scotland's cities, in terms of their consumption of a 'fair' share of the earth's resources, and in comparison to the performance of cities elsewhere, can be examined in 2 ways:

  • Firstly, through an analysis of a range of individual statistics on some of the primary measures of 'sustainability';
  • Secondly, through the generation of a single 'composite' measure of 'sustainability' using ecological footprint analysis.

7.2.1 Key Measures of the Sustainability of Scotland's Cities

To take the sustainable development agenda forward, and to focus efforts to improve performance, the Scottish Executive has adopted three groups of priority environmental issues. These are: resource use, energy and travel. These three priority areas form the backbone of "Meeting the Needs..." 62 recently published by the Executive to provide a definition and vision of sustainable development in Scotland and to set out a comprehensive set of targets, together with a commitment to review them, against which our progress will be assessed.

Until now there has been little consideration of sustainability below a Scotland level - and in particular in our cities. The Executive has not developed any sub-Scotland indicators and targets, though many local authorities will have their own indicators and targets that have an impact on sustainability, whilst Audit Scotland reports regularly on indicators on waste.

It is clear that our cities offer considerable potential for moderating society's impact on the environment and contributing towards realising the vision of a sustainable Scotland. There is therefore now a case for the Executive, in consultation with local authorities, public agencies and others, to articulate the contribution our cities can be expected to make towards achieving that vision. In attempting to do so, the publication of a National Planning Framework should be helpful in providing a spatial framework for outlining how the different cities, towns and rural areas of Scotland can each make a distinctive contribution to the realisation of a sustainable Scotland. Indicative targets for improving our performance in the priority areas of resource use, energy and travel at a city level, could also be considered.

In this section the performance of the five cities is reviewed against each of the priority areas and, where possible, is compared with the performance of cities and other areas outwith Scotland.

7.2.2 Waste/resource use

Table 7.1 shows recycling rates of household waste from 1996/97 to 2000/01 for local authority areas covering the 4 largest cities (figures for Inverness relate to Highland Council as a whole as no separate figures are available). Dundee has the highest current rate at 7.4%, albeit on a falling trend, while Highland has the lowest at 2%.

TABLE 7.1: Percentage household waste recycled






Local Government




































Source: Audit Scotland

There has been little improvement in the cities in recent years, and indeed rates of recycling have actually declined in Aberdeen, Dundee and Highland. With the exception of Dundee, all of the cities landfill over 94% of household waste, predominantly to rural locations: for example, Edinburgh's waste is exported to Dalkeith and Dunbar. All the cities' rates of land fill are above the Scottish average of 92%. This practice is highly unsustainable, as disposal of waste to landfill squanders valuable resources, releases pollutants into the soil and water systems, and emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Disposal to landfill is defined in the National Waste Strategy for Scotland as the least desirable practice in the hierarchy of waste practices. 63

Additionally, it is viewed as undesirable by the rural communities adjacent to landfills, a factor that adds to the increasing difficulties of finding new sites. Aberdeen is currently running out of suitable sites, because of difficulties in obtaining further planning permissions. As a result, as well as planning to significantly increase recycling and composting, it is currently considering incineration as an alternative option, though this method is only one step up the waste hierarchy.

An additional consideration is the degree to which the per capita production of waste varies between the cities: Glasgow producing the least per resident, whilst Aberdeen creates the most (Table 7.2). This suggests that the scale of the challenge varies between the cities, and that different solutions may be appropriate in different cities.

TABLE 7.2: Waste data summary - tonnes per capita






Waste (dom + com - landfilled)





Diverted waste (recycled, composted, incinerated)










Sources: DETR, SEPA

Dundee has the best waste management record of the cities with about 8% recycled or composted, 30% incinerated for energy production, and just over 60% of municipal waste landfilled. Other than Dundee, the cities are lagging well behind some rural and island authorities in making progress on improving their performance.

Orkney and Shetland lead the way on waste management with only 12.5% and 29.1% respectively of household waste disposed of to landfill, 71.5% and 60% incinerated for energy recovery, and 16% and 10.9% recycled. Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perth & Kinross and the Scottish Borders are other, primarily rural authorities who have made strides in improving recycling rates - with between 14% and 18% of household waste recycled.

The recycling performance of the five Scottish cities compares unfavourably to some English local authorities and to many European authorities. The best performing English authorities in 2000/01 were Eastleigh (with almost 39% of domestic waste recycled), Stockton on Tees (35%), Forest Heath (28%) Chiltern (26%) and Middlesborough (24%) with nine other authorities achieving rates over 20%. The average rate for Metropolitan Authorities in England in 2000/01 was 10% and for Unitary Authorities 11.4%. In addition, some English cities have achieved rates well above those of the Scottish cities, with Birmingham (11.4%), Leeds (10%) and Bristol (10.4%) all recycling a higher proportion of domestic waste.

Recycling rates outside the UK are higher again. Many local authorities abroad have adopted zero waste strategies in which, through a combination of waste minimisation, re-use, composting and recycling, the aim is to reduce landfill to zero. Pathfinder authorities can be found in Australia, New Zealand, North America and continental Europe. However, it is important to consider how zero targets are met. Some strategies might achieve zero landfill by switching almost wholesale to incineration - only one step up the waste hierarchy. An integrated system, with only residues incinerated, is better.

Significant progress has been made by Canberra, which has set a target of zero landfill by 2010. It has reduced waste going to landfill by 40% and increased recycling from 22% to 66% between 1993/1994 and 1999/2000. Similar levels of recycling and composting have been achieved elsewhere (e.g. Edmonton and Halifax in Canada). At a national level, other EU countries have already attained high recycling levels and have adopted high targets in the short to medium term. Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have already reached 45-50%, and Finland has a recovery target, excluding Energy from Waste schemes, of 70% by 2005.

There is an urgent need to improve the record of waste management in our cities. The EU Landfill Directive of 1999 requires local authorities in the UK to progressively reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled to 35% of the 1995 level by 2020, with intermediate targets of 75% by 2010 and 50% by 2013. This will require radical changes in waste management practices by all five cities, with rapid shifts in disposal methods from landfill to alternatives further up the waste hierarchy, if targets are to be achieved.

The Executive has set a national target of 25% recycling and composting of municipal waste by 2006, with implementation being delivered through the Area Waste Plans currently being finalised by local authorities and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The Executive is also funding the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Remade Scotland initiative to develop the market for recycled materials. At present, localised recycling and other targets have not been set, but the Executive intends to take powers to set targets for local authorities in the Local Government Bill. These targets will be based on the Area Waste Plans as it is important that they should be appropriate to what can be achieved in different areas, taking into account the particular challenges that arise for waste recycling for different types of settlement, from dispersed rural to dense urban.

The relative efficacy and cost of the different methods available to collect recyclate, such as kerbside sort systems, co-mingled collection systems and the use of mini-recycling centres, vary depending on settlement type. For example, kerbside sorting arrangements are well suited to low density suburban developments, which offer both enough space for roadside sorting and enough households in relative proximity to achieve economies of scale, whilst such arrangements are impractical for tenement blocks or rural areas. 64 The cost-effectiveness of collection systems across different types of neighbourhoods needs to be considered to achieve an effective, spatially sensitive policy, and to ensure best value is achieved from the 170 million additional resources allocated in the 2002 Scottish Budget. Particularly, given the poor performance of our cities thus far and given that cities (containing a high proportion of the population) produce the vast majority of household waste, careful thought needs to be given to the relative scope for improvement and the contribution we must expect our cities to make to increasing recycling rates, if national targets are to be achieved.

Waste management is likely to become increasingly prominent as an issue in the Scottish cities with opposition growing to both landfill and mass burn waste to energy plants, and pressure to adopt higher recycling targets. The achievement of these targets will require significant increases in kerbside collection of pre-sorted waste, widespread change in household behaviour and considerable political will on the part of local authorities. Some cities elsewhere in the UK and Western World have shown what is possible, and some predominantly rural areas of Scotland are ahead of our cities in this respect.

One of the other factors that promotes cost-effective recycling is high participation rates amongst households. The Executive's Public Attitudes to the Environment in Scotland survey will be a useful tool for identifying factors that influence the propensity of different types of households to recycle. By examining the relationship between household characteristics, such as access to a car, qualifications, property type, distance from recycling centres and the family type, the survey should provide a composite picture of the factors which both encourage and inhibit recycling rates. Such analysis will enable councils and other partners to direct resources most effectively at measures which both encourage households to recycle more and make it easier for them to do so.

A major challenge is therefore for the city authorities, in consultation with the Executive, to consider urgently how they can shift the balance of their waste management strategies in favour of more sustainable practices. At the same time the public sector needs to consider how best to build on the "Do a Little, Change a Lot" campaign, to encourage and facilitate greater rates of recycling by households across Scotland, but particularly in our cities.