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Business Purpose and Sustainability – what does a super peninsula say on this?

A conversation piece on Purpose, Sustainability, and real planning dilemmas in Portsmouth.

IBEX plans to offer a reflection on a significant developing movement in business circles, referred to as the Purpose movement by at least one socially concerned investment finance expert.

This worldwide action research process has been promoted by the British Academy and focussed on the Future of the Corporation these last 2 years. For IBEX, I attended one of their ongoing sessions online via Zoom, naturally, which considered the implementing of themes this movement:

  • Business organisations seeking to put purpose before Profit.

  • Involving all the stakeholders, and not just shareholders, in decision making.

  • Attending to diversity issues (the seminar took place at the height of the furore of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations).

  • Crucially relevant here addressing sustainability issues in the pursuit of business purpose and profit.

So, for instance, Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, spoke about linking sustainability to issues of the environment and ecology, asserting (surprisingly you might think) that economically we only have one planet to share justly.

One suggestion he offered was that as Banks have stress testing assessing financial stability, perhaps business should have stress testing looking at how resilient and good for the environment their business is.

For me, though, this is where a local reality check intruded into my considerations.

When reading recently about housing development proposals for the West Tipner site (which you see when entering Portsmouth from the M275), in the Local Plan for the city, the arguments above for considering business Purpose, the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) were cited. SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 14 (Life below water) encourages reducing the impact on the environment, and mitigating the impact of Climate Change, on land and sea.

Yet another, SDG 11, speaks of Sustainable cities and communities, which includes clean and green Urban areas, with affordable quality housing and good public transport.

IBEX has previously offered material on concerns around housing and homelessness, in our How-Tos. We also engage with meetings trying to address reducing homeless issues, such as increasing the number of affordable homes within the city boundaries. This is a real live issue in Portsmouth and beyond.

Reading this you may also have encountered theories of the ‘15 minute city’. Where a city is developed, or redeveloped, around neighbourhoods where in theory everyone sustainably accesses what they need, shopping, entertainment, work, and so on, within a 15-minute journey, walking or cycling, which is roughly a 2 miles radius. Paris apparently is one of the leading examples of a city trying to redesign itself on these lines. It all sounds great in theory and has many advocates for it.

But in practice..?

IBEX also has an interest in sustainability and the environment. Hence why we were interested in learning more about the purpose movement as mentioned above.

To further this, soon after moving here, thanks to my sister-in-law who works for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, we joined the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT), who is an excellent organisation, especially concerned with the environment – being one of the largest and most active Wildlife Trusts in the UK. But here was the reality check, when to my surprise I learnt the HIWWT were strongly opposed to the West Tipner development and petitioning against it, in their 'bin the super-peninsula campaign’.

They believe there might be a severe negative environmental impact on the Solent waters and its nearby protected areas. They have expressed those concerns as part of the planning process so far and ongoing development of the City plan for Portsmouth.

However, they have now gone public with their opposition, suggesting that the ‘green housing’ planned for the site could be located elsewhere, for instance. They have not said where it could go, though do suggest nurturing the cooperation of neighbouring Local Authorities; possibly a SEP solution (aka the writer Douglas Adams’ ‘Someone Else’s Problem’)?

But I am told work on that is actually ongoing already, the councils concerned operating a ‘Duty to Cooperate’. Reading the supporting documents for Portsmouth’s plan, it is not at all clear what space there would be spare within Portsmouth City’s boundary, as it is one of the most densely populated parts of England.

The City Council believe that environmental mitigation can be made, with help from bodies like the Environmental Agency, to reduce this impact. So far though this has not convinced the HIWWT and RSPB. They continue to petition ‘to bin the super-peninsula’, so the birds and butterflies can land and fly around in peace.

On sustainability, though, it is worth noting that the Tipner site is largely reclaimed industrial land. And it seems to be the only significant spare piece of land for the several thousand homes, a defined portion being affordable, Government is directing as needed for the city.

Almost 4000 people have signed the petition the last time I looked.

How many of those are from Portsmouth is not clear, nor how many are in areas which might not welcome population overspill from Portsmouth.

Does the surrounding population love migrating seabirds and butterflies so much that they would welcome new, alternatively located affordable housing on the doorstep in Havant, or Fareham, or Waterlooville, and the traffic that might come with it, for people to get to work and study in Portsmouth City?

So many difficult discussions will be had, and, albeit briefly surveying this debate, I feel I would not want to be responsible for balancing the demands here; as Local Authority officer, or a Councillor. Both sides of the issue have grounds in the ideas of sustainability to appeal to.

On the one hand, affordable, environmentally sustainable housing (it is hoped housing at Tipner can be car-free, cycle-friendly, built environmentally friendly, within easy short travel of the City and its industrial estates). On the other hand, the desire for the sole use of the site by birds and butterflies beloved of many, including friends in the HIWWT.

Who doesn’t like a nice butterfly fluttering away?

But at what price and lost opportunity to address the housing need in the city?

One wonders in seeking a sustainable purpose, how does one decide on balancing demands and developments?

What can we say as people who may see both sides of the arguments, but also aware of the constraints on those involved in making hard decisions?

Many would not think of these dilemmas when you see street homeless around the city and help run a food bank or soup kitchen, as we do. But these issues are all connected: the homeless often acting as a bell weather of how well an area is addressing housing demand, and work, and social provision.

When we try and assess purpose and issues of sustainability, it can be good to be reminded that these aren’t theoretical discussion points, but present real dilemmas to address.

Should you be driving into Portsmouth on the M275, do look right at the green hillocks that are where the West Tipner development is proposed to be developed.

Reflect and, if a praying person, offer a thought for those issues being debated over.

Let us hope some light is found as we consider the purposes being served.

Rev Tim Clarke

Church in Community Officer

(and if you wish to take me up on any of these issues, or come up with a better solution then do email me on..)

IBEX South Coast


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