Environment Commission Feb 2012 – for policy wonks only!!

Attention Conservation Notice: This detailed account of the Environment Commission’s meeting will be of interest to policy wonks fixated on Greater Manchester investment and transformation, weirdos who use their annual leave sitting in long meetings,  and insomniacs. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

The Environment Commission has been meeting now for a three years. Manchester Climate Fortnightly covered its birth (here and here) early progress (here, here, here, herehere, here and here). The basic idea is sound – get a group of councillors from different local authorities, some other interested parties from business and the ‘third sector’ (charities, etc), and support them with a bunch of officers.  Then hope that they can, with their smarts and their contacts books, start Greater Manchester down the path to a greener, safer (and fairer?) future, with the occasional kick in the pants from the political leaders of the 10 local authorities that make up AGMA/GMCA.

So far, so quangood.  But how’s it been going?  Well, it’s hard to say.  There seems to be more going on, but we could be wrong.   It’s a matter to which we hope to return later. For now, you get an outline of what was discussed, and especially what was agreed.

The meeting was opened by the commission chair, Dave Goddard (leader of Stockport Council).

FiT of pique
As its first item, heard from Michael O’Doherty, head of Manchester City Council’s climate change programme. He outlined the chaos (our word) caused by the government’s cutting of the solar feed-in-tariff and its challenge to the recent High Court decision which went against it.  Big companies are not going to be staying involved given the level of policy uncertainty. Some installation of panels has managed to go  on with  Northwards Housing (see MCFly co-editor Arwa Aburawa’s story in the Big Issue in the North), but not at the level it could have. He closed by saying the new rate – of 21p – could be viable for social housing.

Adaptation Conference
Director of Environmental Strategy for Manchester City Council Richard Sharland informed the committee that a date has been pencilled in for the (delayed) Ecocities Conference.  It will (probably) be on 14 May, probably at the Bridgewater Hall. It will be invite only (MCFly is waiting by its email inbox, on tenterhooks) and for  a high level audience (see previous). There will be a short presentation followed by workshops around adaptation themes.  How this sits with what we were told when we reported on the delay of the conference last November “take advantage of an opportunity to develop a collaborative conference with Greater Manchester stakeholders ” we’re not so sure. Collaborative means, we think, a wide-range of stakeholders, no? We’ll ask.

Worked up
Next the commission was invited to approve its “work programme” (what it will do, when, over the coming years. Cllr Neil Swannick, chair of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority made another shameless bid for media attention (the man has form).  He expressed “a little bit of frustration” with the slow rate of progress of the Commission, saying that he’d “seen versions of this work programme since he first sat on this Commission” and that he felt there was a danger of “accumulating lists of things to do, with not a lot coming out the other end.”
David Hytch, of Transport for Greater Manchester said that the Environment Commission’s work had helped TfGM to reset its priorities internally, around what it builds, how it builds and how it runs things (around materials, ongoing costs of lighting etc).
Charlie Parker, Lead Chief Exec of the Environment Commission, later pitched in with an intriguing statement to the effect that recent conversations with central government – which had had a lot of “churn” of civil servants – were “infinitely more productive”, and that central government was realising that it must engage with local authorities differently, and think about capacity issues, especially around “big ticket” issues like transport and energy.  He was hopeful that this would lead beyond “a similar iteration of process and paper”.  He told the commission that by the time it next met (in March) he was hopeful that they might have more to report, and forward momentum.  He said central government was also engaging with further and higher education institutions, business and so on. Watch this space.
At this point, Dave Goddard pitched in by saying the Environment Commission was not one for instant quick wins, given its width and diversity.  He good-naturedly suggested Cllr Swannick do the rounds of other commissions – which had been slower with their work programmes – and “rattle their cages.”
Unsurprisingly, he was of the opinion that the Environment Commission is the most important one!

A brief clarification and suggestions session followed. Of note, Keith Davidson of Pannone offered to help with the transport theme and to arrange a sort of informal “sounding board” of businesses to look at the Commissions work, an offer that was accepted.  Chris Matthews of United Utilities also offered to help with this.

Climate Change Strategy: slowly grinding forward
Richard Sharland introduced this item.  The Strategy was released last year (MCFly youtube pending!), and has four headline objectives-

rapid transfer to low carbon economy
collective carbon emissions reduced by 48% by 2020
prepared for and actively adapting to a rapidly changing climate
‘carbon literacy’ embedded into the culture of our organisations, lifestyles and behaviours

and five themes; buildings, transport, energy, sustainable consumption and green and blue spaces (from memory)
The implementation plan, which has been pushed back because of staffing issues, will run to the 31st of March 2015, to mesh better with other Greater Manchester plans.
The implementation plan will only be 10 to 15 pages, with an number of appendices. The first draft will be presented at the next Commission meeting, and so overview by the AGMA/GMCA exec is going to be pushed back.
Work to engage individual local authorities is underway, and other “stakeholders”  and organisations that have had to register with the Carbon Reduction Commitment has started.  A simple proforma to find out what organisations are intending to to is being planned.
Mary Heaney, Director of Services at Manchester Metropolitan University, suggested Corridor Manchester, with its NHS/Universities crossover potential – would be a useful stakeholder group for this.

Green Deal: Which horse to back?
The bulk of the meeting was taken up with a discussion of how Greater Manchester is going to reduce its emissions from its housing stock.  This is a HUGE and complex issue.  So in an act of responsible journalism, MCFly is simplifying it to the level of “which horse to back?”

Central Government is – it says – still committed to the “Green Deal” – a financial mechanism for encouraging people and organisations to insulate their houses.  There is a lot of business scepticism, and Greater Manchester has to decide just how involved it wants to be.
There are three options on the table, which Commission officers intend to reduce to one by the end of March.
These are being a “promoter”, (low risk, but also low impact), being a “marketeer” – local authorities being a provider, alongside getting a private sector partner to deliver and the highest risk (but potentially highest impact) of the local authority being a large scale Green Deal provider.

Alongside this, there’s a need to have a “Plan B” if the Green Deal either doesn’t come into existence (Chris Huhne’s departure strips it of its champion at a crucial stage), or if it proved to be too unpopular in Greater Manchester.  Even if the Green Deal DOES come in, Greater Manchester will not be geared up to take advantage of it from October 2012, when it is due to start, and won’t be until April 2013.  The stop-gap would probably be the first “promoter” option.

Work is being done with Greater London Authority, Newcastle and Birmingham to share learning on the Green Deal, and private sector engagement so that the final of the three options – which ever is chosen – is not a model that private sector doesn’t want to know about.

Neil Swannick opined that local authorities would be essential in this process – with the finance to make it happen, with assurance for home owners and organisations that they wouldn’t get ripped off and for a collectivisation rather than individualisation approach (contrasting with Warm Front).
Commissioner Cllr Nigel Murphy (Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for the Environment) pointed out that the the involvement of private landlords would be crucial, and Commisisoner Cllr David Molyneux (Labour, Deputy Leader of Wigan Council) pointed out that all Local Authorities would need to be onboard.

Commissioner Roger Milburn of Arup asked if the three options had been looked at not just for risk but for the number of jobs created that would be involved.  He was told that work was underway.
Chris Matthews of United Utilities asked just how much of the 48% reduction of carbon emissions that is the Climate Change Strategy’s target can be met from retrofit of housing stock. Roger Milburn said he thought that it would result in significant savings, but the question was whether the Green Deal was the right and only way to achieve those savings. He pointed out that if the Green Deal doesn’t work, the problem will still remain…

Steve Turner of the Commission for the New Economy then gave an overview of the Low Carbon Economic Area sub-groups.

Transports of Delight
David Hytch of TfGM then told the commission that he has a Valentine’s Day one hour tryst with the Department of Transport for a “clarification” session around the Local Sustainable Transport Fund bid.  They’ll find out in June if they were successful in getting £35m for various initiatives.
The thorny subject of an “oyster card” system for Greater Manchester was brought up by Dave Goddard.  David Hytch said this was very very difficult due to the deregulated nature of the bus market, but that the existing “System One” process offered some purchase (our pun, not his).

Nature of the Beast

Electric Vehicle plug-in points were briefly discussed, before Commissioner Anne Selby (Wildlife Trust) gave an update on  a proposed Local Nature Partnership.  While DEFRA were happy for such a thing to exist, and had even asked what she felt the criteria for a successful bid should be (!), they weren’t ponying up any money for its costs, and had also knocked back the GM bid for a wetlands (on land co-controlled by Salford and Wigan).
Dave Goddard offered to write a letter to DEFRA about the fact that not a single urban -based bid for a “nature improvement area” had made the shortlist of 12.  So, somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall, a bureaucrat should be putting on his lead underwear…

Energy Plan: Focus!
Chair of the newly formed “Energy Group” Neil Swannick (we’re going to start charging him for having his name appearing in MCFly) told the Commission that the group had a good mix of public and private sector folk, who were enthusiastic and gelling well. The next meeting (in March) will involve “cutting through the undergrowth and focusing on three projects.

Meanwhile, the Energy Plan has been slightly delayed by staff sickness. However, a launch is planned with a minister from DECC (not Chris Huhne, cough cough) in late March.

The final item was about Electricity North West‘s successful bid for “an ambitious £10m trial which could double the capacity of power networks without the need to install new cables or overhead lines. Ofgem is providing £9.2m of funding. A further £1.5m will be invested by Electricity North West and other partners.”

If you have read this far, please contact mcmonthly@gmail.com and we can set up a support group “PWN2GALA”* for people like yourselves and MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson, who sat there taking detailed notes and then battled with a dodgy interwebs connection to populate it with the blasted hyperlinks.

*“People Who Need to Get a Life Anonymous”


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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2 Responses to Environment Commission Feb 2012 – for policy wonks only!!

  1. Patrick Sudlow says:

    One way Manchester could very cheaply cut carbon emissions, is by reducing the energy consumed by unnecessary lighting. Some years ago, there was supposed to be a ban on up-lighters, due to light pollution. Most of the new public realm, from Exchange Square, Piccadilly Berlin Wall and First Street have used up-lighters extensively. Switch them off, for ever and the same goes to all businesses that use up-lighters on their buildings. This is a waste of light and energy, just switching them off, permanently, would reduce Manchester’s carbon footprint dramatically. Then remove all the illuminated advertising hoardings that are now polluting the whole of Manchester and increasing the City’s carbon footprint. So much for, Manchester – A Certain Future.

    • Hi Patrick the Indefatigable!

      I will put this to one of the pollies or officials next I see them. I do think they will say this; “though cuts like that have a symbolic value, the scale of the challenge – a 41 to 48 per cent cut in ten years – is only going to be achieved by massive retrofit of housing stock, and by decarbonisation as far as possible of transport.” And you know, I think they’d be right… If it were as simple as switching off the lights, I reckon they’d do that, declare victory and spare themselves
      a) the endless consultations and negotiations with central government and the private sector
      b) the sitting in long meetings having to be extremely careful what they say because some uninvited and self-appointed scribbler is writing down their words and hoping to get a killer soundbite…

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