Council’s capital priorities: keep us cooking on airport dough

One of Manchester Council’s major investments is in the hugely carbon-intensive and unsustainable Manchester Airports Group (MAG). The Council’s Deputy Chief Executive and City Treasurer, Carol Culley, told the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 7th September that the local authority “should not invest in things purely for a financial return; It should be making investment and spending decisions that are in line with its priorities”. So is the airport Manchester’s priority? 

Culley’s report to the committee about capital spend on ‘development’ says Manchester’s plan is to “ensure sustainable growth is achieved in key assets, including the city centre and around the Airport”. Sustainable? Riight. 

Could this priority be because Council dividends from MAG were about £65m in 2019/20? As in, the continuing investment is based on a logic of financial return? Dividends crashed during the pandemic shutdowns, but instead of the Council having a re-think, it wants to commit us to airport growth. Build back worse. In May 2020, Manchester City Council and the other Greater Manchester Local Authorities with a stake in MAG provided a loan worth more than £250m to the Manchester Airports Group. Talk about ‘carbon’ priorities and ‘climate emergency’ rings hollow, again. 

A plane is in the background on a runway at Manchester airport, with some foliage in focus in the foreground
A plane at Manchester airport was a rare site during the pandemic, when the Council bailed out Manchester Airports Group with multi-million pound finance, rather than leveraging a just transition.

At the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee, Councillors Thomas Robinson (Clayton and Openshaw) and June Hitchen (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) asked questions about the airport. But a detailed public discussion of this debacle was impossible because, Culley explained, “it’s a publicly listed company” with “commercially sensitive information” (1). 

In the absence of further debate, we can stare instead at the contradictions of the report to the committee. A liveable low carbon city, destination of choice to visit, it says. Then boasting that “the city is the third most visited city (as measured by overnight stays) and is boosted by Manchester Airport’s position as the key international gateway to the North of England”. So that would be a high carbon visitor city. 

In another section of the report, in relation to housing, it is written that homes will be built to a “high carbon standard”. I think this high carbon standard is supposed to mean a high low carbon standard. But you know, with this little scrutiny, I guess it doesn’t matter if high means low, and low means high, if unsustainable means sustainable, or even if up means down. 2+2=5 and if you want to know more about the sums, you’ll find them commercially sensitive.  


(1) When Manchester City Council bailed out MAG with £143m loan finance in 2020, scrutiny was again foreclosed by Culley with the line about commercial sensitivity. Fun fact, the outgoing Council Leader Sir Richard Leese will be in the know, since he is a board member of MAG – or will he be (finally) resigning from there too?

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