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So how will we fare when the oil's run out and climate change has done it's worst. In transition towns like Bristol, they aren't waiting to find out. As Barbara Panvel reports they're deciding to confront the challenges head on and alter their lifestyles now.

The rise of the Transition Towns’ movement has been welcomed by me and by many others on a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ basis.

However I began to think more carefully after hearing from a visitor who had lived in one such town two years before and moved away because of the increasing number of weekend ‘second-homes’.

It is now designated as a Transition Town – the definition: a space where people have taken control over the changes that will need to happen - to make the transition to low carbon future []

She visited it again recently and looked round hopefully for signs of change but noticed only that the number of ‘four-tracks’ had increased, whilst a number of ‘useful’ small shops had been closed and replaced by venues such as ‘PartyTime’.

At a Transition Towns conference in the town she heard many optimistic statements but nothing of substance. The leading spokesperson announced happily that she had been invited to speak in Australia - but there was a long silence when she was asked how she would travel . . .

This was disappointing, but then I remembered a short, practically oriented paper from Forum for the Future, outlining a more practical approach: Bristol: The UK's First Sustainable City Region, which sets out a plan which could achieve the Transition Towns’ aims.

The Forum is working closely with Bristol City Council, the three other councils that make up the Greater Bristol Area and the West of England Strategic Partnership.

Over a seven-year period the plan is to focus on key themes: climate change, the built environment, waste, education, food and mobility. In partnership with others they will bring forward specific projects to accelerate more sustainable ways of living in the Greater Bristol Area, which is growing fast and at present has a combined population of around one million people.

The first two major projects relate to food and transport.

Working with the Soil Association, the four local councils, and public sector bodies such as the universities and hospitals, a clear definition and branding of local and sustainable food will be promoted:

  • existing "food links" groups across the city-region will be linked, supporting the re­-emergence of Bristol City Food Links;

  • a joined-up approach to the production, distribution and consumption of local food will be developed, ensuring that the supply infrastructure is in place;

  • their expertise in procurement will be used to engage large public sector organisations and businesses in buying locally-produced, good food

  • a series of promotional and educational events for producers, distributors and consumers will be delivered;

  • learning with other food link groups across the UK will be shared.

Working with businesses, public sector bodies and three key partners - Sustrans, (the UK's leading sustainable transport charity), Hewlett Packard, (who have their second biggest labs in the world in Bristol) and the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England, they will work to reduce travel demand and improve the alternatives to the car.

They intend to:

  • pilot interventions to reduce the need to travel, particularly by car, which can be scaled-up;

  • encourage walking, cycling, and the use of public transport;

  • advocate the setting of targets to reduce C02 from transport and help to deliver these reductions;

  • influence the local public and political debate so that there is support for transport pricing; help deliver a decrease in journeys to work by car and a simultaneous increase in car occupancy levels;

  • and share learning from these interventions with other cities across the UK.

People who work in or visit the BFOE Warehouse in Digbeth have been advocating such actions for many years; citing the Bristol project, could similar partnerships could be built in the West Midlands to develop a ‘sustainable city region’?

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