September’s Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee meeting was the most fractured one yet.
On the agenda was an annual report on the council’s Climate Change Action Plan, an update report from Manchester Climate Change Agency and a look at the work of the planning department.
Climate Change Action Plan Annual Report 2020-21 and Work Programme 2021-22
I’ve noted before that for all the failings, Manchester City Council deserves recognition for staying within their annual carbon budget. I’ve also noted before that this success is not replicated by the wider city.
Councillors gave praise, but also scorn that the officer reports were still heavy on vague actions, consultations, monitoring and planning, whilst being light on IMPACT (1). Cllrs Wright (Hulme) and Shilton Godwin (Chorlton Park) still weren’t clear how the council had stayed in budget, and so what lessons there were for the future. Cllr Foley (Didsbury East) blasted the report, saying the council was letting people down, that if she produced a similar report in her day job (a school leader) she’d get the sack.
Sam Nicholson (Zero Carbon Manager – (2)) attempted to reassure that there was no “black box” full of activity that they aren’t seeing. “Decisions” she said, “are all there within the action plan” – which was maybe less reassuring than she intended.
Other highlights were on retrofit, with Cllr Shilton Godwin (Chorlton Park) calling for a community bond scheme to help create a market for retrofitting houses across the city. Cllr Holt (Chorlton) flagged that this was first suggested 2 years ago.
The council is also working up plans for a large-scale energy generation project, which would be a big step up on carbon reduction. Look out for that in October’s committee.
Manchester Climate Change Agency (MCCA) Progress Report 2021/22
Dr Tom Flanagan (Interim Director) gave an update from the MCCA.
Manchester has exceeded our city-wide carbon budget for the last 3 years, coming in closest in 2020 due to the social restrictions of the pandemic. This gives an idea of the scale of change required to stay within the city’s science-based carbon budget. Instead of 13% emissions reductions year on year, we’ll now need 16%. (3)
At Manchester Airport Group, according to Dr Flanagan, there is a “difference of opinion” over whether technology can save the industry, or whether we need to actively manage the demand for flights. Cllr Shilton Godwin branded this a crock of… “gold at the end of the rainbow.” Surely it makes sense to reduce demand now, until a potential low emission jet fuel is developed? (4)
Cllr Wright said the council has to expect better than she’s seen from the MCCA in her 3 years of scrutiny. She wanted a list of all the businesses and organisations MCCA work with under the Manchester Climate Change Partnership, and those yet to be engaged, perhaps thinking she could do the agency’s job for them, but faster.
Cllr Foley (Didsbury East) picked up on the casual, corporate lingo – The council is not a partner signposting toward change, but the leader whose job it is to galvanise, inspire and educate.
Planning and its contribution to address climate change
Planning has been described as the golden thread that touches everything, housing, roads, energy, infrastructure. This inevitably means a slower pace of change than other council operations, but a refresh of the Local Plan in 2023 is a chance to strengthen environmental safeguards.
This discussion was a learning experience for everyone and forensic analysis of planning rules isn’t for the faint-hearted. Cllr Shilton Godwin (Chorlton) asked about flood risks, heat islands, reducing the use of new buildings and even suggested homeowners should be required to do basic climate mitigation before they fit a new kitchen.
Cllr Jeavons (Deansgate) stressed the urgency, saying “it is a today thing, not a tomorrow thing”. In reality, it’s both.
September’s meeting showed why a dedicated environmental scrutiny committee was needed. 6 months ago climate change barely got a mention. If today’s session was anything to go by, officers will go on expecting a grilling on their green credentials. Long may that continue.
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Notes by CEM:
- Perhaps they need a decision monitor in a similar way as recommended during the June Audit Committee by Councillor Sarah Russell (Northenden) to make sure actions are noted and decisions followed through.
- Sam Nicholson will soon be the new Director of the Manchester Climate Change Agency, following multiple and protracted attempts to recruit for the role.
- Roughly 40% of the city’s remaining carbon budget for the 21st century has now been burned in a period of just three years!
- The airport, which the Council has a direct vested interest in, will be up for discussion in this committee in December.