Below, members of CEM’s Core Group respond.
We appreciate the time Cllr Shilton-Godwin has taken to set out the purposes and priorities of the CESC. It is a good overview of the key issues facing the city and her commitment comes through clearly. But I was left wondering: what is different as a result of the CESC? When have they challenged, rather than suggested or tacked on a point, and when have they truly held the Executive to account? (an action to take for an Exec Member to take away does not count). Influence and partnership are important but the governance arrangements of the Manchester Climate Change Agency (an arms-length body) limit the questions Councillors can ask them and no attempts have been made to bring this important function back in house.
On pace, Councillor Shilton Godwin describes progress on walking and cycling as ‘achingly slow’ and the Places for Everyone framework as ‘grinding through due process’. Large modern bureaucracies are slow (who knew?), but slow in their default mode. We are supposed to be in a climate emergency – unless that has been un-declared? I spotted no reference to emergency in the piece. We know from the early years of pandemic that there are other modes – at national as well as local level.
If these were the first attempts, this progress would be frustrating. But they come after many years of stops and starts, each new plan burying what has not been achieved in the last. The current Framework does include more detail and sound more reasonable than its predecessors. Yet erasing what has been tried and not worked is not helpful. Analysing what went wrong and why and how this can inform future action is a basic evaluation principle. It becomes particularly important when working with residents across the city. Citizens who have given their free time to attend a consultation or event and then see it stall will not forget. Members of the Community Assembly are still awaiting a meeting or discussion with the Exec – or even a response to their mandate! The way in which active travel has been handled in Burnage and Levenshulme has burnt through plenty of good will. This isn’t about looking backwards, it’s about trying to not make the same mistakes again.
It’s encouraging to see that the new chair of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee has a fairly comprehensive grasp of the key issues areas where the city urgently needs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It seems to have taken over 3 years since declaring a climate emergency to get this far – to understand the detail of how the city council can start to use its influence. It would have been more insightful and maybe in the future we will know how the chair and members of this committee can go beyond setting a work programme of topics to have reports on behind closed doors at the start of the year. There is also a crucial and difficult discussion missing in this post about learning from past failures, which is fundamental in not repeating past mistakes.
I don’t doubt that Councillor Shilton Godwin has good intentions (although we know where the road that they pave goes). I do also understand that MCC has neither the funds or the direct powers to do all the things that she mentions (although MCC is happy to take credit for the enforced reduction in the size of their operations when it comes to the related drop in emissions).
However, everything she has written has to be seen in the context of years and years (decades in fact) of fine words from the Council about carbon, climate and environmental matters. To take a relatively recent example, “Manchester – A certain future” was meant to create a “Carbon Literate” society, starting with the Council itself. Understanding the basics of carbon pollution ought to be a prerequisite for anyone in public life and yet here we are with barely a majority of MCC employees and elected members “carbon literate”. Are the others then “carbon illiterate”?
The 2018 carbon budget was announced to tremendous fanfare, but is going to be consumed well before the 2020s are out, and this has elicited no response from the Leader or any of the Execs. Nobody holds the MCCA (or the Partnership) to account. There is much pointing to the Bee Network but key infrastructure controlled by the Council has gone backwards as far as active travel is concerned (eg Great Ancoats Street). Manchester styles itself a great international city but as a contrast, Paris is forging ahead, having changed dramatically in the last couple of years. This change has not been without disruption, but we have left it far, far too late for slow, incremental change. MCC had a golden opportunity during the COVID lockdowns to respond with boldness to the increase in people cycling, and to cooperate with the many other Greater Manchester boroughs with which it shares a border. However it chose not to, and the moment passed.
Manchester (and particularly the Council) is a prime example of what climate futurist Alex Steffen calls “triangulation”, which he defines as:
- Set bold targets in the distant future.
- Announce incremental actions.
- Provide justifications/ rhetoric framing small steps as “in line” with bold action.
A more accurate description of MCC’s position since (checks notes) forever, would be hard to find. The result?
“The world is being cooked alive by companies and institutions that claim climate leadership.”