After Cllr. Mandie Shilton Godwin took over as chair of MCC’s environmental scrutiny committee earlier this year, we offered her a guest post on our website. CEM core group members will post our responses next week.
EDIT: You can read CEM’s response here.
Manchester’s Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee
Purpose and priorities
It’s impossible to overstate how critical it is for Manchester Council – and for the city as a whole – to act on the climate crisis. We must all play the best part we can to achieve our ambition to cut carbon emissions in line with our carbon budget.
When the role of Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee became vacant I felt compelled to stand for election. This is important to me and it has been for a long time. It’s both a huge privilege and heavy responsibility to have been elected. Committee members are all acutely aware how far the city is from meeting our carbon reduction goal of zero carbon by 2038 or sooner. Despair at our utterly reckless Conservative government is not enough. There are positive things we can do. And if anyone thought that we could not have a worse Prime Minister than Johnson, my personal belief is that from a climate perspective, Truss will be far worse. The national, and the international picture, are both gravely concerning. The Committee is acutely aware that what we do in the next five years is critical. There is no time to waste.
The Committee’s priorities
When the committee set its work programme back in May, we considered the main areas we need to prioritise, to remain within the scientifically produced carbon budget reductions developed by the Tyndall Centre. City–wide carbon emissions The Council’s direct emissions reduction target is broadly on track. But the Council is only directly responsible for 2% of Manchester’s emissions. It is generally estimated that councils can influence around 30% of city–wide emissions. So, the committee will focus on action through influence. The Council aims to influence the other 98% of city–wide emissions through collaboration with partners on the Climate Change Partnership.This year the committee has already focused on the Climate Change Partnership and their updated Framework, which we considered in July and September. That is now endorsed by the Council’s Executive and is due at Council on 5 October. The report highlights the sheer scale of action that is required, at speed.
High domestic emissions is a critical issue nationally. The UK has Europe’s least well– insulated homes. But because of Manchester’s leaky, largely pre–WWII homes, almost 30% of Manchester carbon emissions come from homes, against the UK average of 15%. Retrofitting – properly insulating – homes is an absolute priority. 80% of the homes in the city will still be here in 2050. On top of environmental concerns we are very worried that people will be cold and ill this winter due to the staggering cost of energy. Because of the urgency, the committee asked for an early paper on housing to consider emerging policy. We discussed this on September 8 and will look at progress again regularly in the year.
The scale of work needed to insulate homes across the whole city, whether socially owned, private, or privately rented, is enormous. It will involve developing and integrating a complex package of measures including finance, a
large, skilled and knowledgeable workforce; legal and financial incentives and control mechanisms. As well as properly insulating we must switch to renewable electricity for heat and power. 80% of homes use gas for cooking
and heating. All of that is a huge undertaking.
There are pilot projects taking place. One example is in Arrowfield estate in my own ward Chorlton Park. 370 Southway homes are currently being re–insulated and installed with electric heat pumps. But the climate crisis requires this action at scale. To be on track for 50% reductions by 2025, 84,000 homes in the city will need to be retrofitted. As a city we must confront the scale of the task and put in the leadership, foundations, commitment, capacity, skills, knowledge and funding for this shift. Key local players, council, GMCA, colleges, industry partners, are working on this. Residents are ready to act, and the sickening anxiety people feel at the prospect of unpayable bills makes it an urgent priority. But funding and skilled labour availability are huge barriers. This was also discussed at Economy Scrutiny Committee in September. Only national government can bring forward the key policy changes, finance and incentives needed at that scale. Liz Truss’s government is not simply missing in action, it appears hostile to such interventions.
Traffic and transport
The second most significant area for Manchester to tackle, accounting for 27% of emissions, is traffic and transport. We need to shift from private car to public transport and active travel. Public transport and active travel must be
safe, convenient and cost–effective for daily journeys so that changing makes sense. The key to travel shift is simple – joined up networks. Andy Burnham’s decision to franchise bus services is a real win and the foundation–stone for transformation. So is his decision to slash fares from September 4. However, long–term funding remains problematic. Government has not even fully funded the pilot. For details see GMCA Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 24 August 2022. Transforming our walking and biking network is achingly slow. However, there are some positive signs. As I write, a Manchester active travel policy review is being undertaken. Cllrs Annette Wright, Eve Holt and I attended and spoke at the June Economy Scrutiny Committee meeting to help set the high ambitions Manchester councillors have. New policy recommendations will come to Environment Committee in January then go forward to Executive and Council. Manchester already does have significant walking and cycling projects coming through, but we need to create a proper network. And much more funding is needed. New Department for Transport (DfT) cycle lane design guidance is a major improvement in safety. Transport for Greater Manchester’s (Tfgm) local guidance also set higher standards for pedestrians. We’re still awaiting legislation following Government consultation on pavement parking, of course. I genuinely fear that with Johnson gone it will never see daylight. True, the council can ban pavement parking in limited
specific areas. But for the step change needed (no pun intended), government must legislate. There are obvious links to the clean air plan (CAP). GM awaits an imminent government decision and without doubt the committee will return to this topic. When we discussed the Plan in July, committee recommended that Executive incorporate carbon emissions too, not simply NO2 legal compliance. Manchester’s Labour Council passed a motion to establish an Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in our city centre in January 2020. The committee continues to push for policy on this.
Homes, traffic and transport together cover two–thirds of Manchester’s emissions. Beyond this, a key influencing tool for councils is planning. In Greater Manchester (GM), except Stockport, the ‘Places for Everyone’ (PfE) spatial framework is grinding through due process and is currently with government. In Manchester a new Local Plan is being developed to sit within PfE. Climate was a key issue at consultation. Committee members believe this is where there are real opportunities to influence change. At previous meetings Committee members highlighted all kinds of topics – standard of building materials, flood risk, water use, access to green spaces, active travel – in short, a more liveable city. The committee will look for creative ways to advance the climate agenda as much and as rapidly as we can.
The Urban Heat Island Effect
At work programming the committee asked for a report, not yet scheduled, on the urban heat island impact and climate mitigation. The Executive Member and officers have been asked to review this. We all experienced the
horrendous July heatwave. However successful Manchester is in reducing our own emissions, we know that we are likely to experience that again. So to support our citizens we must change what we can make to mitigate impact.
Communication and accountability
The Council has a duty to communicate with Manchester people about the climate crisis, how it will affect us and the global impact, and the part the city must play to keep emissions below 1.5% in line with UK Paris commitments. But in a city where 52% of children now live in poverty, the climate crisis is tomorrow’s problem for people who can’t feed their kids today. The truth is, on an individual level those with least pollute least, and are most likely to be worst affected. Yes – we must all play our part but we need to avoid the distraction of over –focusing on individuals. Effective climate action will benefit people’s health, wealth and well–being. If homes were properly insulated we’d be warmer, richer, healthier and happier. If people knew they could walk and bike safely they’d save the cost of petrol. And the city would cut carbon emissions Strong scrutiny will both support Executive and hold it to account, focusing on action where people and the planet’s interests collide. The Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny committee will probe deeds, not just words. We will focus on where we need to move quickly to make real change. We are working with other committees and Executive to achieve everything we can and we will ensure we play a national role. The committee, and me as Chair, are deeply committed to achieving our ambition and ensuring the city plays its full part, deeds not just words.
Cllr. Mandie Shilton Godwin
Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee