Treading water before bigger discussions: Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee, 24 June 2021

Our reporter Simon Jermy summarises the updates provided at June’s ECCS, in anticipation of the big reports scheduled for next month

Last month’s meeting of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee left us taking a deep breath and stepping into a hopeful future. After Thursday’s meeting, I’m wondering if I can keep holding my breath until July.

The agenda covered a number of actions that support climate action, but it wasn’t the ‘bread and butter’ of a climate emergency discussion. We’ll have to wait for that. That’s not to say the discussion wasn’t important and there was some good scrutiny from councillors.

Manchester’s Park Strategy – Progress through the pandemic

Visitor numbers have risen by 30% since March 2020, demonstrating the role outdoor spaces played in supporting us during the pandemic. Apparently, we returned the love by leaving 147,000 bags full of litter. Cllr Razaq (Whalley Range) asked why there were so few recycling bins in parks. Cllr Akbar (Rusholme, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods) agreed with the aspiration, but as most bins are highly contaminated, they usually have to be separated for recycling anyway.

Seriously folks – nobody should have to sort through our rubbish because we are too lazy to use the correct bin. Consider yourself told.

Tidying up the local plant life is another matter. Cllr Holt (Chorlton) asked about pesticide use, to be reassured that usage has been reduced considerably in our parks since 2016 and almost none used since 2019, except for the most invasive of weeds.

Cllr Wright (Hulme) sensed an evasion. Outside our parks, pesticides are readily sprayed on our streets by Biffa. Cllr Akbar celebrated those 120 areas of the city that have opted out of pesticide use, either agreeing to a “let live” approach to local flora or volunteering to control them without nasty chemicals.

While local neighbourhoods should not have to opt out of pesticide being sprayed on our streets, we do have to understand that native plants are a part of our urban landscape.

Introduction to the Neighbourhood Climate Change Officers

Since March 2021, 3 new officers have been recruited to help local neighbourhoods create ward plans to reduce their carbon footprint. These were a key commitment in the Climate Emergency declaration in 2019.

Councillors quickly identified the challenge ahead for these welcome new recruits. Cllr Foley (Didsbury East) called for engagement with schools and youth activism. Cllr Wright (Hulme) wanted a focus on local businesses. Cllr Holt noted that we need a Climate Change officer in every ward, otherwise they risk being pulled in all directions.

Work programme

In July’s scrutiny committee we have some big reports to look forward to. Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan and a quarterly update on the Climate Action Plan. We may also get a chance to review a planning report after Cllr Flanagan (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) flagged that EV charging points and cycle storage were missing as conditions on developments in the planning process.

Big ticket items like the emissions from Manchester Airport are also being added to the agenda this year.

Lots to do. Lots to scrutinise and improve. But maybe don’t hold your breath this time.

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