Manchester City Council’s Economy Scrutiny Committee will today review a draft Housing Strategy document which is misleading, vague and insufficient in its zero carbon agenda.
The Strategy begins its discussion of sustainability and zero carbon by misleadingly claiming that the city is ‘on track’ with its carbon budget targets, when it is wildly off-course (1).
Furthermore, the Strategy’s proposed targets for retrofitting existing homes and building new ones are insufficient in comparison to the scale of the city’s decarbonisation targets (which are a rapidly disappearing science-based carbon budget and a zero carbon target date of 2038).
Lack of ambition is apparent in the Council’s strategy to leave the majority of housing association properties without zero-carbon retrofit status in ten years time, which will leave much to be done in the remaining six years to the target date of a zero-carbon city by 2038 (2).
Other pledges in this area remain vague. For example, the strategy contains few details about work with the Core Cities network, which seeks to persuade the government to unlock finance for retrofits of private rented and owner-occupied houses across the city.
A Retrofit Plan is promised, but with no timeline for its expected delivery.
When the regeneration of existing estates occurs, the Strategy promises to ‘lead with zero carbon principles’, which sounds fair, until you read the next words ‘as far as possible’, which means obstacles can be used as an excuse not to bother.
The proposal that all new development should be net zero carbon from 2023 will merely be tested through consultation and engagement. They could hardly sound more lukewarm.
In other places there is slippage between low and zero carbon standards, both of which are poorly defined. For example, the target to increase the proportion of low and zero carbon homes in the affordable pipeline from 20% to 50% by 2025 gives zero indication of how many should be zero carbon, which is the more rigorous standard.
There are proposed metrics to keep track of these targets. We think this is premature, as the insufficient ambition, vagueness in important places, and substantial wriggle room should be addressed before the Strategy is approved and metrics decided.
Additional misleading claims should also be removed from the strategy. For example, the draft states:
‘If we act on the ambitions set out in this chapter, at pace, then we will be able to combat and avoid the worst effects of climate change. More than that however, we will also live in a city full of warm, healthy and cheap to run homes – responding to fuel poverty and the current economic crisis.’
It is crazy to think that this strategy is enough to fill the city with warm, healthy, cheap to run homes. It is also misguided to think that the Council’s housing strategy is enough to avoid the worst effects of global heating. This language is used to oversell the strategy. But it does a dis-service to wider public understanding of the climate crisis, and it undermines our collective ability to see the need for urgently increased ambition in zero carbon building and retrofit in Manchester.
Elected councillors who are scrutinising the Housing Strategy in the Economy Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 23rd June should ask why these weaknesses exist and they should recommend that misleading language, vague unambitious targets, and get-out clauses are addressed before this document makes its way to the Council’s Executive for approval.
Update following the committee meeting: unsurprisingly for a Council dominated by one party, tough questions and clear recommendations about this part of the strategy were absent from scrutiny.
- The document states: “Current research being undertaken by the Manchester Climate Change Agency suggests that concerted and new scaled-up action is required for the city to keep on track with its carbon budget targets.” While we agree that concerted and new scaled up action is required, it is misleading to suggest that this would keep the city on track, because the city is already wildly off-course. You can also check out our explainer podcast about the city’s carbon budget.
- The draft target for the zero-carbon retrofit of housing association properties is ‘at least 1/3rd by 2032’, with others achieving energy performance certificates of B or above by then.
Robbie is a core member of Climate Emergency Manchester.