Economy Scrutiny Committee 11 March 2021 – Are they starting to get it?

Praise for the Withington Village regeneration framework and the city centre transport strategy at March’s Economy Scrutiny Committee, in our final report this month from Team Scrutiny

Three bumper items featured at the latest Economy Scrutiny Committee and all three discussions included interesting exchanges around net zero ambitions. After Sir Richard Leese appeared to change his tune about the possibility of a scrutiny committee focussed on the environment, the Economy Scrutiny Committee also began to ask the right questions. The Economy Scrutiny Committee has responsibility for looking at how the city’s economy is growing and how Manchester people are benefiting from the growth.

First up, the Wythenshawe Hospital Campus Strategic Regeneration Framework. The Framework looks at how the Hospital Campus will develop over time, increasing economic opportunities while crucially enhancing the transport options to get to the site (Metrolink, cycling and walking). The committee asked for further detail about how construction could also be net zero carbon as much as possible. Cllr Shilton-Godwin (Chorlton Park) also commented that the focus on net carbon was really important for the Scrutiny Committee. Finally some scrutiny on climate ambitions!

Next was the Withington Village Framework update which aims to kick start improvements to Withington district centre, following a number of unsuccessful funding bids. The Chair of the Withington Village Regeneration Partnership, a network of community and stakeholder groups, spoke about the journey so far, including consultation exercises, the celebrity star power of former Old Moat-er Marcus Rashford and previous regeneration ‘vision’ documents 10 years ago that ended up gathering dust on a shelf. Will this be the fate of the new framework? The Committee hoped not, talking about the practicalities of making the area more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists. They also discussed how residents should and hopefully will be encouraged to shop locally, all while retaining the character of the place. Although the community-led nature of the Regeneration Partnership was clear, Chair Cllr Hannah Priest (Charlestown) probed as to whether there were any groups that were under-represented (the response: young people).

The third headline discussion was around the Greater Manchester 2040 Transport Strategy and City Centre Transport Strategy 2040. The two linked strategies (with appendices a-plenty) come off the back of a comprehensive engagement strategy which won praise from the committee.

Cllr Johns (Deansgate) supported the City Centre Strategy which should increase pedestrianisation and improve public transport options and cycling. In theory, this won’t just have an impact on Manchester city centre but also beyond, particularly around the ideas for low carbon freight and goods. Cllr Johns also asked the team to focus on the most impactful carbon emissions first and then – much to this reporter’s delight – asked about accountability and how the strategy will be scrutinised. Who will keep track of this and ensure it’s done correctly and with enough urgency?

Cllr Stogia, the Executive Member of the Council for Environment, Planning and Transport, explained that Key Performance Indicators will be reported on a regular basis both through Manchester City Council scrutiny committees and GMCA scrutiny committees. Specific reports on key decisions will also be scrutinised, and residents should see progress in making sustainable transport a viable alternative. Team Scrutiny will follow this report as it goes to the Executive, and report back

That’s a lot of scrutiny. Surely there needs to be some sort of dedicated scrutiny committee? Perhaps focussed on the environment to make sure this strategy and many of the other projects the council is working on are actually delivering on the net zero carbon ambitions?

Cllr Shilton-Godwin again stressed the urgency of the transport strategies, explaining that the quicker we begin to deliver carbon reductions the more likely we are to be successful. We shouldn’t focus on 2038 – we should focus on what we are doing now. We need to be more ambitious.

The remainder of the meeting covered routine items like the Coronavirus situation report and an unremarkable Overview report.

All in all, the Economy Scrutiny asked some good questions about scrutiny, the environment and scrutiny of the decisions the council makes about the environment. Certainly some signs of progress, but it remains to be seen how this plays out in the long term.

If this whets your appetite, agenda and link to the webcast for the meeting can be found online.

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