On Tuesday 17th April around 50 people gathered in the Friends Meeting House to watch representatives of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens answer the question “Is Manchester City Council taking the right action on climate change?” At the outset, I’d like to thank the panellists for coming when they could have been out knocking on doors, and the chair for coming when she could have been out training for her upcoming John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle ride!
After housekeeping announcements, a “talk to the person behind you” and a quick strawpoll – no-one thought the Council was doing enough – the chair (Lucy Danger) introduced the speakers.
Brian Candeland of the Green Party said that the science of climate change is more definite than ever, despite what you might believe from the media. We are currently at 394 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with a nominally “safe” level being 350ppm. The issue has not gone away, even if it’s energy policy in the news at present. He made a jibe about the “Greenest Government never”, though conceded the Liberal Democrats were trying, but being drowned out. He stated that the room for Manchester City Council (MCC) to act was limited.
He praised MCC insofar as it had responded positively to the “Call to Real Action” campaign, and that it was ahead of other Greater Manchester Local Authorities, and had gotten into the top 5% in DEFRA’s carbon reduction league.
He felt it had not done well in reporting on progress (or lack of it), and that cities like Bradford and Sheffield were well ahead. He felt that the issue needed to be a higher priority, with more imagination (learning from Woking and Kirklees), and that the Airport City idea was fundamentally flawed.
Cllr Marc Ramsbottom, of the Liberal Democrats pointed to MCC’s success in raising recycling levels, albeit from a low baseline. He felt there had been a seachange in recognition, but much more could be done, and there was a constant battle to get green issues taken seriously by officers and councillors. Ultimately, he said, it’s not an issue of having new policies, but implementation of the existing ones.
He wanted to see more collaboration across Greater Manchester Local Authorities. He pointed to MCC leading the way, with the City Deal, and the Co-op sharing “best practice.”
On the national level, he he’d like to see more action, but stressed that it is a coalition government. “It’s no an easy job when dealing with Conservatives, I can assure you.” He made mention of the Green Investment Bank, the Green Deal and so on. On the international level, he felt it was important to educate people about the international impacts of climate change.
Cllr Nigel Murphy, victim of a cruel April Fool’s Day hoax, spoke last. He made the sound point that nobody is doing enough on climate change. He pointed out that MCC had signed up to the 10:10 campaign, to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% in 2010, but had ended up achieving a 6% reduction. Change takes time, there is no magic wand. MCC is a big organisation, with 1000s of employees.
He pointed to the innovation of carbon budgets in every department, and building and energy audits being completed in the next two months. He pointed to the challenge of retrofitting existing buildings (since 80% of the buildings we will have in 2050 are already with us). Manchester Town Hall is one of those, and there’s a heat network being built with the Midland Hotel and 1 Piccadilly Square.
He pointed to schools, which account for 30% of MCC’s emissions, but over which the council has limited control. He mentioned a recent meeting of 35 councillors on this question. On transport he mentioned the importance of encouraging cycling. He lamented the death of the Feed in Tariff, which had meant only 2000 houses owned by Northwards (the Council’s housing offshoot) got panels instead of 5000. He pointed to a recent Green Alliance survey that showed only 35% of local authorities are taking action. And, inevitably, mentioned the Environmental Business Pledge.
Two sentences or not two sentences, that is the question…
The first question was relatively brief – is “climate change” the right terminology – wouldn’t we get further on talking about energy prices and “resource management.”
Marc Ramsbottom felt this would be short-termist, and would imply that environmental issues are only to be dealt with in “rich” times, and pointed to the Town Hall refurbishment as something that is being driven through.
Brian Candeland pointed to the twin economic and ecological crisis, and said that the push to austerity has been a missed opportunity for a Green New Deal.
Nigel Murphy said that indeed some people do “switch off” when they hear the words climate change, but pointed to the landfill tax – once business found it cheaper to reduce waste, they started to do so.
The next question was on how to get schools “onboard”
Nigel Murphy conceded that it’s getting more difficult. Some head teachers are only interested in energy bills. Keystage 1 and 2 “eco-schools” are onboard, but it dies when key stage 3 comes along. He made the analogy with a talented footballer, who would be nurtured, where eco-behaviour is not.
Brian Candeland observed that schools do not exist in a vacuum, that action can happen if individuals are passionate about it.
The next question was on “Food for life”
Nigel Murphy pointed to the work done by Manchester Fayre around Carbon audits of their food, meat free Mondays and fish Fridays. He pointed out that schools have the choice to opt out of Manchester Fayre, so it’s difficult to impose solutions.
The grandchildren of the questioner don’t talk about climate change. Should the Council be leading a public campaign on the dangers?
Marc Ramsbottom felt that MCC is only one body – others should be pitching in too.
Brian Candeland agreed that there was a span of responsibility in the City.
Next up, cycling and recycling.
Nigel Murphy pointed to the GMWDAs work, and praised the cross-party support for Zero Waste.
Brian Candeland was of the opinion that incineration was not the preferred solution – emphasising reduce over reuse and recycle.
A further detailed question on how the Greater Manchester Police deal with cycling accidents and situations where cyclists are the victims of deliberate assaults/intimidation by car drivers
[Irony alert – MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson was on the receiving end of a taxi recently, and the initial GMP response was “no-one’s seriously injured – it’s between you and him.” Their second response, to be fair, was a lot more reasonable]
Our willingness to try to make sense of very long questions died at about this point. The longer the question, the longer the answers. So, from here on it’s more a Seurat than a David…
Can MCC pressure business. Nigel Murphy – if we had control of business rates… We’re trying to do thins with social landlords and private landlords.
Brian Candeland – infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet
Marc Ramsbottom – financial crisis has led to a reconsideration of the treadmill of production. Renewed growth via hitting a “reset button” cannot be done. There’s a major question around inequality, which has grown.
At the death there was a question on the airport. We will look at the video footage and come bck to you on that…
The event happened. There aren’t many local elections hustings these days. And this is the only one we are aware of in Greater Manchester on climate change. In twenty years time we will look back in disbelief and anger on that fact.
We made a youtube advertising it, and a youtube about what has and hasn’t been done. We didn’t publicise those enough.o it goes.
The event was filmed by ReelMcr, and will prove useful to their upcoming documentary about retrofit in Abbey Hey.
Very few people in attendance were from beyond “the usual suspects”. This is to be expected, given the nature and venue of the meeting, but better – more effective – efforts will have to be made in future
Some people chose to demonstrate massive disrespect for the rights of other members of the audience, by using a question period to make speeches that often did not make sense, or were vastly over-long. This deprived other people of their right to ask questions.
More publicity targeted beyond the “ghetto”. (We did liaise with the Manchester Evening News before the event. They chose not to run a piece about it.)
During the Q and A we may have to resort to only have questions submitted on paper, since there are a minority of people who deliberately choose to abuse the system and make dreary pointless speeches.
Have a team of people doing a write up of different bits of the evening (e.g. three questions per writer, which can then be stitched into a decent account).
Comments from feedback forms
NB MCFly has decided to hold some of the feedback, but has shared it people it concerned. No feedback critical of the organisers has been held back.
Trinity high decided to remove all the mature trees along Cambridge St to build new blocks
It was a pity we did not have longer. Have a monthly meeting
Two sentence limit on questions only works if people get a chance to discuss outside of Q and A. This didn’t happen tonight.
I couldn’t hear Marc Ramsbottom very well. Everything else was well done. Interesting questions.
Seemed more about reassuring and justifying. Instead I would like those with the power and responsibility to “take actions” and be accountable for carrying them through. An ounce of action being worth tonnes of air. Ideas came and went… What will be done by who and when??
Get questions in advance as people come in so you can choose/time better.
Room temperature could have been two degrees lower. Perhaps needed more time. Good idea to allow written questions at the end.
Start earlier. Good meeting.
Mark’s idea of a mingle period was a good one – we do need to meet each other! A poster invitation (e.g. here’s me, what I’m interested in, contacts, etc) would have helped. Blue tacked on walls?
Marc Roberts feedback form terrific, as usual.
No one kept to two sentence question – some were very long and rambly. Collect outstanding (unasked, not amazing) questions at the end – done!
Needs just a little more time
I was happy with meeting
Was good. Good energy. Good participation
Not too bad at all
Fitter questions – need to be more specific. Discussions and feedback
It was a good start/stab. Something about their manifestos on display?
Need more time. (I was late [listening to the Archers]).
Numbers and money
Once we figure out how to do a decent graphic represenation based on the 23 completed feedback forms (anyone any good with spread sheets?) and we’ve figured out the accounts, we will make those public too. Shouldn’t be long.