to get people – and policymakers in particular – to see the need for a very different economy – one that respects the limits of the earth to both produce but also absorb the existing economy’s “waste” (including carbon dioxide).
There is an official plan called the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). It has gone through a number of versions and still has not been finalised. On consultation, the last two versions received an enormous number of responses. From the various community and environmental groups responding, there was widespread concern about the encroachment on green spaces.
We’ve been concerned about the GM Spatial Framework since we first became aware of it more than five years ago. It is an overall plan for the Greater Manchester area that tries to do two things,
a) It aims to be an overall plan for the city region, in spatial terms. As the posters for the last consultation asked us: “What kind of a City Region do you want”.
b) It meets the government’s requirements that councils have an up to date local plan and can a pipeline of housing to meet the government’s targets.
This could be good, in that having a plan in place can make it more difficult for developers to railroad their proposals through (using the “presumption for (‘sustainable’) development”,
“Local planning authorities should approach decisions on proposed development in a positive and creative way… Decision-makers at every level should seek to approve applications for sustainable development where possible” (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2012b)
However, the approach taken, although making some concessions to nature and the climate crisis, is very much of the standard model, based on highly specialised zones, for retail, commerce, warehousing and logistics, housing and amenity, the whole dependent on moving people around quickly via roads, motorways and public transport links, all assuming high levels of “economic growth”. Opposition has focused on the housing models and on the erosion of green space, in the green belt and elsewhere.
For us, it is good to know what we are against, but if we are to fight for something better, then we really need an alternative vision. Our idea is to work with those that come on that. What comes out of it will depend on the level of interest, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment to do further work. We won’t be starting from a blank slate, in that there are alternative approaches, which we’ve discussed in our work: , from the “retrofit garden city“ and “continuous productive urban landscapes“, and “rurban” or “urbal“ “retrosuburbia”, to the “20 minute neighbourhood”. We’ve discussed the dilemmas of “densification” – does it help to deliver low-carbon living or does it sacrifice the possibilities for urban food production that we might need in an energy-scarce, post-oil world?
We’d like to see anyone that wants to explore the alternative to the standard model. We anticipate a variety of interests, from those that are concerned with their local green space, to those with more general concerns about the way this city region is growing and changing. Specifically for climate concerns, we can’t afford to lose green space, and we need to help green spaces capture and retain carbon. We can reduce emissions by reconfiguring the ways we move around and provision ourselves and our families: so much of the standard model relies on trucking goods into and around the region: we can do better, making a more liveable network of places, while reducing ecological and climate impacts.
The event is filling up: you can book here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/
All these documents combine positive elements on becoming carbon neutral and on protecting and enhancing green space with what’s been variously called boosterism, agglomeration economics, trickle down theory, and growthism. The problem is that the standard model, the continual expansion of the material economy, always wins out, making secondary the climate and ecological concerns, however genuinely they may be aspired to. Our detailed responses to the Spatial Framework go into more detail about this. See
The council’s internal work is not sufficiently transparent and as your work has shown, there seems to be a lot of fudging of actions and a slow pace of implementation. The items to be discussed on 5 Feb, while worthwhile in many cases, do not together equate to a credible agenda for climate mitigation and adaptation.
There are some good things though: the efforts of councillors working with activists in some wards are a good start (e.g. Chorlton Park, Chorlton, and in a rather different way, Whalley Range), while the council has taken a reasonably firm line of interrogation with the Pension Fund.
I think there’s a choice to be made in terms of where activists should be putting their effort. I wonder if the priority should be identifying deliverable changes and then campaigning like mad for them. Massive tree planting, restrictions on private cars (parking levies, moratorium on car park building, road pricing – call it that because there is an allergy to “congestion charging”), an 18 degree challenge to prevent homes being overheated while ensuring nobody has to suffer cold housing. It’s worth looking at good practice elsewhere – e.g. Hackney’s tree planting and school parking restrictions, Barcelona’s “super blocks”, or Melbourne’s commitment to the 20 minute neighbourhood.
We’ve failed in part by being too diffusely focussed and too easily satisfied with small gains. That is beginning to change.
I will say “Pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the will” (attr. A Gramsci) but that is probably more a personality trait than anything else. It fits me but might not work for others. But it’s not bad counsel if you can make use of it.