Guest report: The executive dodges pop-up cycle lanes

Juan Villanueva is a freelance journalist specialising in environmental issues (see his website The Green Bee), and regular contributor to Climate Emergency Manchester’s work.  He has, in record time, produced this account of today’s Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee. You can see the video of the meeting here.  Climate Emergency Manchester live tweeted and live snarked the event – check out our Twitter feed at @ClimateEmergMcr.

The executive dodges pop-up cycle lanes

One of Manchester City Council’s six watchdog committees, the Neighbourhood and Environment Scrutiny Committee (NESC) has met online the day after Boris Johnson announced the biggest ease of measures to deal with the coronavirus breakdown; there was nothing new in Manchester City Council plans.  It has been 3 months since the last  scrutiny meetings, therefore they had a lot to talk about. However, pop-up bike lanes in Manchester, a hot topic that many residents expected to be discussed was, in effect, delayed to another (closed-door?) meeting, with the disappointment of some councillors.  This on its own might be one good reason for signing the Climate Emergency Manchester’s petition to create a separate Climate and Environment Scrutiny Committee

In the agenda there was a lot to talk about after three months of unprecedented lockdown; highways, waste, homelessness, housing, reducing the emissions within a Climate emergency… The Executive Member for Environment, Transport and Planning however largely dodged detailed discussion of the topic of cycling, which embraces clean air, transport, health, and the city landscape after the lockdown. At one point she even stated that pop-cycle lanes “don’t do anything for the pedestrians and they don’t do anything for the people who are not able to cycle.”

The Executive Member gave a brief partial overview of the topic. She stuck on the already overstated TEMPORARILY close to the traffic of Tomas St, in the Northern Quarter, and part of Deansgate. She also mentioned the number of potholes repaired, the bike network improvements done during the lockdown, and the schemes that they already had on the table. This is nothing new or exceptional. 

She said that the city council was prioritising the long term benefits for the city. To the Executive’s eye’s, pop-up bike lanes are not a ‘magic bullet’ so, they prioritise walking and public transport – that it’s how the greatest number of people travel; it’s ‘the biggest benefit to economic recovery’ 

Other councils have set pop-up bike lanes in main roads that end up in the city centre. Moreover, there are a good number of citizens campaigning in social media for an increase in bike lanes. This morning, XR Mcr made its part lobbying with a spontaneous pop-up bike lane in A-56; border Trafford and Manchester. 

Finally, regarding the social distance measures and the measures to ease the way to residents, for Angeliki have worked  ‘very, very well’ overall.

After this clash over cycling, with a very little solved and nothing new said, the committee has scrutinised other topicss. Air Quality and emissions during the lockdown. Obviously, the traffic has dropped dramatically, and with it the pollution. Something that the executive members were very keen to talk about (but they did not raise the inconvenient fact that in other cities coming out of lockdown, emissions have bounced back to – or above – old levels).

In another report about waste and fly-tipping, it was said that although during the lockdown has been more complaints due to waste crime, Biffa has carried the same number of actions. Therefore, it is thought many of the complaints about offences are just duplicated on the same incident. However, it is worth bearing in mind how people are going to behave while hospitality businesses reopen. Until now, with pubs, restaurants, etc… closed it has been an increase in the household waste volume; +30% in general waste and +38% in the recycling bin. However, the council has kept the green bin, for food and garden waste, on the winter schedule. An executive member says it’s likely to be like that until autumn. 

Near the end, of the meeting Hulme Cllr Annette Wright asked about having Climate Emergency information on the next NESC. The relevant officer, unsurprisingly, answered with their typical vague manner. Subcommittees were put on hold in March and they are not sure what will be included in the next Scrutiny Committee, “Not quite yet back to business as usual. We will let you know”. 

So, it might be a good moment to sign the Climate Emergency Manchester petition to set up a new committee to scrutinise what the executive does to deal with Climate Change, and to share it with anyone you know who lives, works or studies in Manchester.

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