Does #Manchester City Council have any policy against ever-bigger cars? Let’s find out…

Dear Sir/Madam,
I recently read that parking bays are being widened to encourage, sorry “accommodate” ever-larger metal wombs on wheels 

A quick google search finds that this happened in 2016 in Manchester.

So, I have two questions

1.  From 2016 to 2020, when NCP controlled the car parks, was there any attempt by Manchester City Council to stop them widening their bays. If so, please provide correspondence

2. Control of car parking is now back in-house. Does Manchester City Council have any policy in place around not widening any more bays to encourage,sorry, “accommodate” ever-larger vehicles.

Please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Dr Marc Hudson

[address supplied]

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Letter: In the year 2025… #takingcredit #Manchester #climate

ZERO carbon is easy if someone else is doing the heavy lifting. Your report “Zero-carbon” grid (M.E.N. 15th June) has the National Grid Electricity Systems Operator saying that by 2025 there will be times when there are no fossil fuels being used.

In 2025 Manchester City Council, with Richard Leese by then in his 29th year at the helm, will doubtless count the reductions in emissions as their own, as if they’d lifted a finger.

Simultaneously,, they’ll keep trying to flog every stray blade of grass to developers, and build more high-carbon skyscrapers and car parks, while signing any (non-binding) charter, pledge or aspirational target that is put in front of them.

Nature is not fooled. There are consequences, coming at us.

Dr Marc Hudson

Editor Manchester Climate Monthly

Posted in Manchester City Council | 1 Comment

Yes, but WHY the lack of #climate scrutiny? Or “the veto and what to do about it” #Manchester

My friend and colleague Chloe Jeffries has written a customarily brilliant blog post on the CEM website that explains what is not being discussed. but doesn’t actually answer the question “Why is there so little mention of the climate emergency in Manchester’s scrutiny committee work programmes?”

So I, in a personal capacity, (not as a core group member of CEM), am I’m going to offer an answer to the why question.

I think there are three words, hubris, obedience, and what links them is … fear.

Before we get there though, the first thing is to distinguish between the Council as a whole and those who actually run it. There are 96 Councillors, duly elected and a senior management team. It’s not as if they held a secret meeting, exhaustively mulled over the question “how should we respond to popular pressure for more scrutiny of climate decision-making and action?” and came to a reasoned and democratic decision to ignore it. That’s not how this works. What you have is a (very) small number of people who are currently able to exercise a veto against proposals for more scrutiny (and action) (1).

To understand what I’m talking about, you have to understand that in Manchester since 1996, we have one individual, Richard Leese who has been in charge and basically uncontested throughout (bar having to step aside briefly in 2010). Leese’s vision and modus operandi rule, and he is surrounded with flunkies and toadies, eyeing the chalice and circling the wagons (several metaphors were harmed in production of this blog post).

And his entire business model, if you want to call it that, is based on business, big business. It is not based on small and medium enterprises, it is based on attracting big business.

There has been, since 1990 a constant stream of sustainability and climate pronouncements, pledges, aspirational goals. But climate “policy” exists in Manchester insofar – and only insofar – as it’s part of the international marketing strategy. Above all else, Manchester must be “fit” for inward investment. Academics call this the “sustainability fix.”

Hubris

The hubris comes from Leese’s belief that like King Canute, he can hold back the tide. And you know what, he probably can, either for another few months, or even God help us for another four years (2). Leese’s actions indicate someone who believes that popular agitation for scrutiny and action don’t matter. It seems that he believes that he will suffer no reputational or more importantly, electoral consequences for continuing to do what he has done for the last 10-12 years, which is to bullshit, in the words of Hayley Stevenson..

And you know, he’s probably right. He’s an astute politician. He’s probably right. He should be wrong. If we lived in a better world he would be. You and I don’t live in that world.

Obedience

There are 95 other councillors: 1 Green, 1 Lib Dem and… 93 other Labour councillors, most of whom signed the emergency declaration in July 2019 (a handful were elected later). And most of those have since then, barely lifted a finger. And even those who have done something have not been treating this as an emergency.

And emergency is when you act like a scalded cat: nobody is acting like a scalded cat. So what are the different reasons? Could it be that some of them are really not bright enough to understand what the word emergency is? It has, maybe, too too many syllables for them?

Others are ambitious and know that if they step out of line, Richard will squash them like a bug. He’s done it before. And even now, in the (deep?) twilight of his career, he has that power.

And in between, you’ve got the ones who are well-meaning but feel now it’s not the right time, or they feel some visceral, weird, visceral loyalty to the tribe.

The reasons vary, but obedience is the final common pathway, as they say in the pathology business…

Cowards flinch, traitors sneer…

Fear

Besides the career-fear of the councillors (few of whom want to be known as awkward squad/disloyal/overly free-thinking), I think the fear is of what the legacy will be. If the assessment starts now, if people start looking at the actual carbon reductions (the Council’s are down to austerity, the city’s – such as they are – are due to the demise of coal as a power source), then not only might the Manchester model come under challenge, but the legacy will be tarnished. Those who created the conditions for the property boom, the prosperity for a few, don’t want to be remembered as the people who did nothing but spin on climate change. They do not want to be cursed by future generations. They want to keep writing the happy narrative.

So where we are right now – that Gramsci quote about morbid symptoms

No one’s willing to stand up to Richard and say, “mate, you’re yesterday’s man. Time to go.” Those with the powerful enough voice to do it are waiting for someone else to say it, because they know that – as per Heseltine – he who wields the knife seldom wears the crown.

So the impasse continues

Blatantly deliberate, deliberately blatant

The decision to prevent ANY scrutiny of climate needs to be seen in the broader context. It needs to be seen as another example of the (ab)use of absolute power. It’s a sequel (body count higher, deaths more elaborate) to Robert Nunney (new Green Councillor) being kept not just from Environment and Climate Scrutiny Committee, but his next two committees choices as well.

This is the same thing, a willingness to be brazen, to block everything that would add to scrutiny and dissident voices. In fact, it’s more than just brazen, it’s gleeful, revelling in power (while/perhaps because knowing it is much nearer its end than its beginning). It’s the equivalent of saying “yeah, of course we are screwing you. Because we can. Don’t like it? Get/stay used to it. Bwahahahahaha.”

My impression is that even if the work programmes of the Scrutiny Committees had been discussed in public (as they should have been), this would still be the case…

What is to be done?

While this horrific, contemptuous and contemptible veto is enraging, it’s also a sign to those that have worked so hard on getting better scrutiny (waves at CEM colleagues and allies) that they can be encouraged, even flattered.  Those in charge are having to exercise this power nakedly now, because they know any concessions, any half-measures will weaken them further.  Gone are the days of accommodation – they don’t feel safe enough to offer any olive branches any more… That’s something.

Elsewhere I’ve tried to talk about how we need to de-personalise this, to see it not as a case of one individual, but an ideology, folk wisdom now baked into the party and the bureaucracy. Despite everything I’ve done above…

We need to depersonalise this.

We need to think of this in terms of motivations rather than individual failings (though they are manifold and manifest). And the motivation is to protect a particular ideology, order of business (in every sense) and track record from scrutiny or challenge.

We need to think of this as a currently-successful veto being exercised by a small number of people. The motivations for that veto will persist, even when the personnel change, because the new personnel will be largely/equally wedded to the business-as-usual model.

What do we do? What we’ve always done: tell the truth, not because it will set us free. Not because it matters but because it’s the right thing.

But we have to do some serious stratgesing about raising the cost of exercising the veto, weakening the power of those who exercise the veto and strengthening (broadening, deepening) the size of the coalition(s) that understand the veto, its reasons, its weaknesses.

This is more than information-deficit model. This is more than tugging at the sleeves of a few councillors and begging them to be bolder or louder.

I do have some specific practical and implementable (I think) proposals for the coming months (and years), but I want to discuss them with folks first…

Meanwhile, remember –

  • There are veto actors.
  • They are protecting (as they see it) their power and their legacy.
  • The motivations for the veto are not hard to understand
  • These motivations will persist.
  • We need to act smart.

Footnote

(1) In some ways Manchester is like Australia – a large amount of agitation for better climate/environment policy, but a small self-interested group able to block any meaningful action. Fun times.

(2) Leese is up for re-election next year as a councillor in Crumpsall. So we might know in September, if he’s intending to stand down (but that would render him a lame duck). But of course, he could always call a last-minute resignation the day before election candidates are announced. This would not endear him to his Labour colleagues, of course… Alternatively, he may in fact, stand for reelection and serve (at least) another four years, or resign a year or two in. Speculation is as easy as it is pointless.

Posted in Manchester City Council, The Veto | Leave a comment

Carbon Literacy – 14 sessions, not a single elected member shows up…


Yes, I know, there were elections. I know because I am a member of Climate Emergency Manchester and we were flat out trying to get candidates to say yea or nay to some simple climate commitments.

Meanwhile, Manchester City Council was running carbon literacy sessions. And not one of the more than-half-of-the-96 Councillors who have not yet started or finished their carbon literacy training could be bothered to show up. These are the Councillors who in July 2019 voted to declare a climate emergency, which included the statement that all 96 would have done their carbon literacy training by the end of 2020.

Oh, and the Council STILL isn’t planning to have a simple online register of which councillors are and are not carbon literate.

Because reasons.

That FOIA in full

Between 1st March 2021 and 21st April 2021
1. How many carbon literacy training sessions took place? How many staff and elected members attended each of them?

14 sessions took place, 123 staff attended with no elected members.


2. Did any sessions get cancelled? If so, why?

2 (Session 1 and session 2) merged the sessions with another planned one to do a bigger session


3. And again, that hardy perennial – “Is it still the case that, despite it being suggested repeatedly, and it being one way to a) save money and b) create trust, there is no plan to have an online register of which councillors have completed their training?

There are still no plans to have an online register, listing which councillors have completed the carbon literacy training.

Posted in carbon literacy training | Leave a comment

“Affordable” as the new “sustainable” – words mean whatever the powerful want them to mean.

I just sent this letter to the Manchester Evening News. If they publish it, I will add a photo of it in t’paper.

Update – they published it! 4th June 2021…

WE live in Alice’s wonderland, where our lords and masters tell us six impossible things before breakfast and expect us to believe them.I was at the first meeting of the new Manchester Council Executive today (once I could get into the locked Public Gallery). 

I heard Pat Karney say that Manchester City Council had a record on delivery of affordable housing that it could be proud of. I heard other Councillors making ritual incantations of this word “affordable.”

It seems “affordable” is going to be the new “sustainable” – a vague feel-good buzzword that is never defined and used to block both scrutiny and real action. Your report Steve Robson wrote about the Ancoats (“Council’s new ‘affordable’ apartments in Ancoats could cost up to £1,000 a month,” 29 May.) Humpty Dumpty would be proud.

For readers who don’t remember the classic exchange between him and Alice, here it is – “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Dr Marc Hudson
editor Manchester Climate Monthly

Posted in Manchester City Council | 2 Comments

Why the enormous rhetoric-reality gap for #Manchester City Council on #climate? 1987 as the pivotal year… (video)

This video is rough as a badger’s arse. There will be a slicker version.

Comments very welcome…

Posted in academia, youtubes | 1 Comment

Letter in MEN (truncated) Council and #climate leadership

Letter in MEN

We got none of that. The Council simply did more of the same drivel. It’s just thrown 50 thousand more pounds at consultants to do work its own bureaucrats had promised to do years previously.In September, the latest carbon emissions figures will come out. The target is a 13% reduction, but even with the COVID lockdown, the city will be nowhere near that. 

IN her letter (Viewpoints, 31st May) Margaret Brown asks exactly the right questions about life after lockdown, when she advises that we “to look at the wider picture we should think about what matters and what does not. Is a return to ‘normal’ desirable?”

Since 2018, when it announced its goal “city to be zero carbon by 2038” Manchester City Council has by and large continued with business-as-usual. It has hidden behind weasel words like “partnership” as an excuse for continuing to avoid leadership.  Last July it had to admit that a quarter of the carbon budget for the rest of the 21st century had been blown in just two years.

Real leadership would have involved emergency meetings about this, and then lots of real action.

In any case, as Ms Brown points out, there will be a bounce back in high-carbon activity, with the following year probably showing an increase in emissions.Without regular, detailed, relentless pressure from councillors and citizens, the dreadful failures of the last decade(s) will continue. Future generations will curse us.

Posted in Letters to the MEN | Leave a comment

In essence: “No, because that would discriminate against the Labour councillors who are drooling morons.”

With my Manchester Climate Monthly hat on:

The group I am part of, Climate Emergency Manchester, did its best during the election campaign to get candidates to say yes or no to three simple climate pledges

Most Labour candidates studiously ignored CEM (and again, am writing in a personal capacity here) on Twitter, and ignored the registered post letters we sent. Some are beginning to Tweet about green stuff again.

One Labour candidate said no to all three.

A bunch of Labour candidates said yes to all three.

A couple of said yes to numbers two and three but no to number one because it couldn’t be implemented. This was, of course, bullshit, but not completely laughable (If you can’t even get your own councillors and officers to tell the truth about something as simple as this, why do you think it’s credible to promise a “zero-carbon by 2038” city? Srsly.

But today, there was a new wrinkle. A re-elected Labour councillor was asked about the first commitment. Their scarcely believable answers was in essence that, to paraphrase, it would exclude elected members from engaging in discussions about progress on the city’s carbon budget because many of them are unfamiliar with the technical language, metrics etc used to measure emissions. Basically it would be counter-productive because council members would be “afraid to get things wrong” and which would prevent them from engaging in meetings…

Deep breath. Deeeeep breeaaaathhh… And breeaaathe….

Ah, fuck it.

Seriously. If you as so dumb that you cannot understand

a) the concept of a budget (a carbon budget is no different from a household budget, a calorie diet ) and

b) that this budgetis being used up too quickly,

then (shouting again)

HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO GET SELECTED AS A LABOUR CANDIDATE?  Oh, I forgot, they like drooling morons because they are more obedient.

The councillor is flailing around for plausible sounding excuses, but failing in their flailing. What the councillor is saying, in essence, is “no, we should be allowed to spout convenient talking points and aspirational bollocks without fear of having to have those compared with grim reality. Anything else would be an infringement on our human rights to be drooling morons who do whatever we are told because we like it that way and/or it is good for our careers.”

We’re totally toast.

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

It’s official – elections where only the “ayes” get to speak are just fine! #Manchester

Yesterday the Leader of Manchester City Council, who has been there since 1996, was re-elected again. What made the whole thing hilarious was that the presiding official, the Lord Mayor, forgot to ask how many people were opposed. I wrote to the City Solicitor. She has written back saying everything is fine, nothing to see here…

Because that is this City, where the rules are for suckers, and sometimes (often) they forget to pretend.

There’s that over-used expression “you couldn’t make it up.” Well, you could, but nobody would think it was either funny or plausible. They’d just think it was tawdry and demeaning…

Here’s my letter, and below it, the City Solicitor’s reply.

Dear Ms Ledden,

I am sure it did not escape your razor-sharp legal eye that there was a procedural error today at Annual Council.
There was only one nomination for Leader of the Council, so there did not have to be a formal tally of votes, it’s true.
However, the Lord Mayor, perhaps overcome with surprise at getting a second term, when conducting the election of the Leader, merely asked for an acclamation of the ayes. That is to say, he did not ALSO ask for those opposed to get the chance to give voice to their opposition.
This seems like 

a) a bracingly honest demonstration of how things actually work in this City, where democratic norms, conventions and rules are (dis)honoured in the breach.

b) one of those unfortunate “the curtain has slipped and everyone can see” moments

c) a senior moment

d) all of the above.

My question is this – what is the legal standing of the Leader of the Council, given that the Westminster-style procedural norms have not been adhered to at Annual Council on Weds 19th May?
Assuming that the Annual Council is not going to be reconvened to address this (and I have taken out a second mortgage to bet on this NOT happening),  and that your reply will be along the lines of 
“The Leader was elected in the usual manner as he has been these last 25 times”,
then does this now establish a legal precedent that future votes for Leader of the Council will proceed simply on a few people saying “aye” and there being no opportunity for those saying “no” to even speak? Are we moving into the truly post-political world that so many academics have told us about?
What an interesting precedent that will be!
Yours sincerely
Dr Marc Hudson

Ms Ledden’s reply

Thank you for your email, of yesterday, I note your concerns.

I can confirm the election of the leader conformed with the necessary requirements.

There was, as pointed out by you no other nominations before the Council and the affirmative response from the chamber confirmed the election following both a nomination and a seconder.

You are not correct to say no opportunity of those with opposing comments or those wishing to express dissent to be heard indeed Councillor Leech made a speech in respect of nominations to Committees and the microphones were set up to enable that to take place.

Thank you for your continued interest in these matters.

Kind regards

Fiona Ledden

So, the precedent is now there, with the stamp of approval of the City’s chief law bod. At any given election, the Lord Mayor can say all those in favour say “aye”. Then, no matter if only a few people say “aye”, as long as there were no other nominations, it’s a done deal. Happy times.

Posted in humour, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Sometimes they forget to even pretend, aka more gruesome contempt for democratic norms and conventions in Manchester

He didn’t even pretend to try to defend the indefensible. Maybe he forgot to. Maybe he can’t. Maybe he is just beyond caring. Who knows? But those of us forced to watch it (95 councillors and a grand total of one member of the actual public) were not edified by Councillor Pat Karney’s display, nor were they under real (I’ll come back to that) illusions about power in this city, about whether the leadership give a damn about real action on climate change.

Forgetting to pretend #1 – of Karney, Leech and Nunney

At one point in today’s Annual Council, the Council’s sole Liberal Democrat, John Leech, got to make a speech (starts at 19mins 45 seconds). In response to the report of who was going to get onto which committee, he pointed out that the new Councillor Robert Nunney (Green Party, Woodhouse Park) had not been given his first pick of Scrutiny Committee (there is a long-standing convention that this happens). Leech suggested – entirely plausibly – that this is a sign of a Council that is actively seeking NOT to be criticised for its appalling under-achievement on climate change. Leech didn’t mention, but could have, that the City has burned through a quarter of its carbon budget for the 21st century in the last two years alone. See bottom of this post for a comment that Robert Nunney prepared yesterday about not being appointed to Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee. Nunney did not, by the way, know that Leech was going to raise the issue today).

In response, Labour’s Pat Karney did not even attempt to address the substance of what Leech said, nor even acknowledge it. He did not offer any justification for Nunney getting none of his top three picks. Instead he chose to dredge up and incoherently recount some ancient history about Leech and the Christie Hospital. While this garbled anecdote “worked” to distract, and perhaps remind some Labour councillors of past battles, it did nothing for Manchester, it did nothing for democracy. It was another nauseating display of brazen contempt for democratic norms. Another day in Manchester.

Forgetting to pretend #2 – of the Lord Mayor and the Leader of the Council

The Lord Mayor asked for nominations for Leader of the Council. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Pat Karney nominated Richard Leese. There were a few desultory yeses when the question of who would second the nomination. You could hear a pin drop and an angel weeping when the Lord Mayor asked if there were any other nominations.

Then the Lord Mayor asked for those in favour of Leese. There was a ragged broadside of yeses.

And… that was it.

He forgot to ask how many were opposed. There would have been some. We know this from the vote last night in Labour Group.

But the Lord Mayor forgot to ask. (clock it at 14 mins 50 seconds here.)

They’re forgetting to pretend to go through the rituals. I am not sure if this actually invalidates the election and they have to do the whole schemozzle again. I will ask the City Solicitor, just for the lulz. But the look, the look is not good…

Forgetting to pretend #3 – not all councillors are Labour and there is a difference between the Labour Party and the Council

Check out Pat Karney’s speech, which was a Labour Party announcement rather than a welcome to new councillors.

The work of pretending

After the meeting I was stood outside the Convention Centre. I raised the fact that Robert Nunney had not got any of his top three picks for Scrutiny Committees with various Labour councillors. The (non)responses fell into the following categories

Real versus fake illusions, aka “It’s all too complicated”

I got this from someone who is clearly used to being able to fly under the radar and when confronted with clear evidence that senior members of their tribe are behaving unforgivably, play the “oh, what would little old me know” card. The obvious response – which I didn’t give, because life is short and why waste my breathe is – if you find such a clear and easy-to-understand thing as this too complicated, then why on earth are you fit to deal with genuinely complex issues as a councillor? Should you not do the honourable thing and resign?

Or is it that you’re perfectly capable of understanding, but the cost of understanding would be too high, so you don’t?

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment”

This one came from someone with fear in their eyes. This one is by those people who haven’t yet fully lobotomised themselves in the service of Loyalty to the Party, who still can tell when bad things are happening, but also know they don’t (no longer have or never had) the spine to speak up or out about it. But still want to believe they would/will. At some point. Just not today, you understand.

“Show me where it is written down”

This is just legalistic nonsense. Conventions are not written down. The British constitution is famously, not written down. Everyone knows there are conventions, norms etc. It’s saying “well, if it isn’t actually actively excluded then we can do it and it’s fine.” It’s the cynical move of someone who knows that if they had to admit what other councillors admit – and that they themselves would normally admit – then they’d be on the spot.

I’m the real victim here (“everything is always about me”)

Which means “If someone else got something, it would mean I didn’t, and I am the hero/centre of the universe/most important person ever.” It was at this point I just gave up.

What it all means and what is to be done.


What it all means is that black is white, white black and nothing is true and everything is possible and everything is allowed. It means that the Labour Group is run by a small number of people who are willing and able to ride roughshed over democratic norms. It means that they remain committed to a failed policy of spin and perception management when it comes to climate change, that they are not interested in actual scrutiny by anyone they cannot maintain some level of control over.

While some (and the number is growing) Labour councillors feel mild or extreme unease or even displeasure, those in charge know that they are safe for a little while yet.

What is to be done? We who understand what democratic norms and conventions are, and what they do for all of us, have to try to defend them, to speak out when they are traduced. I know that sounds pompous, but there you have it.

We who understand just how perilous our species’ situation is need to do the hard work of watching, explaining, proposing, supporting each other, challenging.

Fwiw, I think we are completely screwed. I think we will go technofix-y fascist quite soon and that will “fail” and then it really all will fall apart. But I choose to use the heritage of the Enlightenment to keep doing pompous-sounding things. So sue me. Or join me/us.

That statement by Robert Nunney – Green Party councillor – from last night.

To my surprise I was elected today to a committee that wasn’t any of my three preferences that council asked me to choose.  However, future generations need a green voice and I will join Children and Young People Committee with enthusiasm. The opportunities this position presents will hopefully allow me to champion social and environmental justice issues. We need  to improve air quality around schools, help families choose active travel as well as prepare young people for green jobs of the future. I would like to see more provision in parks for children with accessibility challenges, more after school youth groups especially engaging in local environmental projects. 

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment