Why environmentalists should oppose the “Clean and ‘Green’ Spaces” initiative (MCFly editorial) #Manchester

£14.5 million to make Manchester greener? Surely every ‘green’ should be jumping for joy? No, says Marc Hudson, editor of Manchester Climate Monthly. He lists four reasons.

There’s a principle at stake.
This is not a decision that should be taken by 8 people,* even if they have been elected. It is not a decision that should be taken by 96 people, even if they are elected. How to spend this “one-off” pot of £14.5 million pounds that Manchester City Council has thanks to its part-ownership of Manchester Airports Group should be taken by widest possible set of people. That means a public consultation. Despite what you will be told, a consultation needn’t cost a lot of money or time.

There will be HUGE interest in such a  consultation. It’s a chance for the Council to re-engage, and start to repair relationships battered by the decisions to close libraries and day care centres and the like (1). This is a big opportunity for Manchester City Council. We shouldn’t let them blow it.

It’s not ‘green’!
When I interviewed the Executive Member for the Environment Nigel Murphy after the 8-member Executive had endorsed the initiative, the conversation went, in part like this –

MH: And definition of green? Because there’s nothing in the report… that mentions carbon dioxide emissions or biodiversity. There’s certainly stuff in there about “clean” . But what does the Council mean by “green” in that context?
NM : “I don’t think we want to be too prescriptive… the green could cover anything; we don’t want to be prescriptive on what it’s actually going to be used for.”

Fourteen and a half million quid would need… no, let me say that again – FOURTEEN AND A HALF MILLION QUID … will need clever decisions, transparency and willingness to learn from mistakes. Given that the Council still hasn’t sent its “Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4” to Executive for approval, they don’t have a track record that inspires confidence.

Never heard of that plan? No, quite.! Just a tip – the Council tried to spin a 1.8% increase in its own emissions as a 7% reduction, because traffic lights were no longer its responsibility (2).

Environmentalists, unless they have been asleep for thirty years, know that their reputation is not a good one; they are perceived and portrayed as hippies and drop-outs or else out-of-touch, middle-class do-gooders and snobs.

So try imagine the resentment if this money goes primarily to things they like, and NOT to helping people in dire financial and social need!

And imagine the backlash when it emerges the even a small amount of this £14.5 million is wasted. Some of it WILL be, especially if the whole process lacks criteria (see again the Nigel Murphy interview) and is rushed through. The Council has a monumentally appalling record on the efficacy and openness of its “green” spending. Does anybody remember the million pound “Carbon Reduction Fund” of 2008/9? No, precisely.

Want to be able to get any money for a green project in three years time? I think you should be signing the petition (see below.)

In the coming decades, as the climate becomes more and more unpredictable, we will experience “1-in-a-100” year floods and heatwaves every four or 5 years. There will be (unpleasant) surprises. We are going to need to have bureaucracies and political systems that are far more nimble and responsive than what we have now. It’s known as “adaptive governance.”  It doesn’t come instantly, it doesn’t come by accident. It comes by creating spaces for genuine discussion and decision.

If this “Clean and ‘Green’ Spaces Initiative goes through unmodified – if the backbench Labour councillors choose to let that  happen – then the work of making Manchester fit for the future becomes that much more difficult. And it’s already looking quite tough enough, thank you.

Manchester has a choice – it can show the way in changing the relation between the governed and the governors. Or it can respond to every plea for respect, innovation and participation with the standard “It’s all the Tories fault.” I think I know which one helps us to a better future.

Marc Hudson
Marc Hudson is also co-founder, with Jo Campbell, of Ask the People of Manchester, a campaign set up to request a proper public consultation on how this money will be spent.

What you can do
1) Sign the petition. Got that? Sign. The. Petition. Only once, (paper or e-petition), and only if you live, work or study in Manchester City Council’s boundaries. But Please. Sign. The. Petition.
2) Ask/plead with/badger your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow worshippers, casual acquaintances to Sign The Petition.
3) Keep yourself informed. Read “both sides” of the argument. (MCFly will publish links to anything that isn’t simply re-hashed press releases. You know where you can go for churnalism of that sort.)

UPDATE: * The decision was agreed by Labour Group (86 councillors) the night before.

(1) And I am NOT disputing that Manchester has been unfairly and relentlessly targeted by the Coalition and its austerity agenda.
(2) So blatant was the attempt that Friends of the Earth felt compelled to submit a statement that read – “Achieving the operational and cultural changes to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions is clearly not a simple task and will require dedicated and continuous action. it will also require a commitment to transparent and meaningful progress reporting.”
It continued “We therefore call on the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee to request that the Annual Carbon Reduction Plan be amended to clearly state that there was a 1.8% increase in like-for-like emissions between 2011/2 and 2012/13, and that there has only been a 5.2% reduction in like-for-like emissions against the 2009/10 baseline.”

Getting ahead of the game: Some of the bad reasons THAT will be put forward by the “initiative’s” defenders.

“It’s too costly to do a public consultation” – well, on that argument, just abolish elections and let Labour run Manches… no, wait…
“It’s too bureaucratic.” You say “bureaucratic,” we say “considered, accountable and systematic.”. And anyway do you use the term “bureaucrat” as an insult when you are talking with your officers? That must make for some fun collaborations.
“It will slow things down.” Yes, because we MUST SPEND ALL OF THIS MONEY RIGHT NOW. I don’t understand this objection. Unless? No, that’s crazy talk – you’d have to be a swivel-eyed conspiracy loon to believe that...
“The petition is inspired by a hatred of the Labour Party.” Sigh. Do you really think I’d be sitting quietly if the Liberal Democrats or Tories had the preponderance of power in my local authority. Really?
Everything is the Tories fault. And their gross little enablers the Lib Dems Sigh. You really haven’t taken in a word of this blog post, have you?

Disclaimer: My thoughts are evolving on this matter. In a week, after I’ve listened to people who broadly agree, and who broadly disagree, then maybe I will have come to different assessments. We will see.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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5 Responses to Why environmentalists should oppose the “Clean and ‘Green’ Spaces” initiative (MCFly editorial) #Manchester

  1. Dave Bishop says:

    Yes, this ‘blame game’ that these politicians play all the time has become very, very tiresome and unconvincing – especially as they all play ‘fast-and-loose’ with the truth. Instead of constantly demonising the opposition, perhaps they would all benefit from some introspection and, instead of blaming each other, examine their, more or less identical, unhealthy relationships with High Finance, Big Business and the likes of property developers. I suppose we can always live in hope …?

  2. cllrcpaul says:

    You may have a quibble with the *name* Mark, and in fact that may have been what set off a series of rapid fire and negative responses, I’d have considered calling it “The Manchester Resilience Fund” or a more Trotty “Austerity Figghtback Fund” perhaps, but you cannot really have a problem with the concept of using a windfall for essentially capital and one off items – suggested by citizens directly or through their elected representatives – which investments will then make it possible to do the cleansing and to keep the city’s green spaces ticking over with what will inevitably be less money year on year?

    I have explained before about the Graph of Doom which has been expressed in various graphical forms and which does not come from any political party or caucus but from a body which includes Councils of all stripes (The Local Government Association).

    In essence with revenues reducing in absolute never mind real terms Councils as a whole could find themselves with only enough money to pay for Adult and Childrens services, the basic waste removal needed for health and hygiene, the precepts and levies to emergency services and transport, and little else. Schools of course, in a separate budget.

    Nothing for parks, nothing for street cleaning, nothing for libraries, nothing for leisure, nothing for highway repairs, nothing for culture, nothing for retrofit, nothing for anything barring the very limited statutory services.

    Something has to be done to transform the way we do things.

    Having an open call for ideas from citizens, both direct and via their elected representatives on how to use a £14 million windfall – incidentally arising from something which very faulty opposition and green lobby analysis said Manchester City Council shouldn’t invest in (clue: we didn’t) – seems fair to me. Making changes quickly so that savings arise quickly, and being very strategic indeed, both seem to be 100% the correct approach here.

    Do you understand what £14m represents as a proportion of the Council’s annual budget? Do you know that the Council regular consults on that annual budget? Have you seen the Viewpoints mailbox in the regional paper on the failures to keep our city cleaner over the past year?

    The mandate is very clearly there for making our streets cleaner. Particularly for the City Centre and District and Neighbourhood Centres. The mandate is also clearly there for retaining more of other services such as libraries as the squeeze comes and that squeeze continues.

    By driving down costs of street scene cleaning – for example by changing the way we do things with better bins and better citizen behaviour – and by driving up recycling, and by making highway repairs more resilient, and by getting more people on bicycles and public transport, to name but a few ideas – we will save money year after year after year that can be used for other budget areas.

    Incidentally: the point on the Annual Carbon Reduction Plan (which was in full view in the report and not hidden as you imply) is interesting but not much more than that.

    The Carbon saving calculation may indeed benefit for one year only from a transfer out of traffic control to TFGM but then it does not benefit from the transport savings – IN MANCHESTER – from modal shift to clean, green trams; modal shift to bikes; modal shift to buses; the Carbon reductions of having a newer and greener bus fleet on our streets and so on.

    I welcomed the MAG investment of their (not City Council) money in their assets and I welcome the windfall which has followed. I also welcome the idea that this be spent on increasing the City’s resilience to spending cuts and our ability to do more things more effectively in future.

    The opposition proposal of creating an outsize CASH Grants pot for each ward is so crazy that it hurts. It only takes a quick look for any legacy from most of the grants they made in wards they historically controlled to see how they blued even the small pots away.

    Clearly a strategic approach is called for and clearly Manchester City Council welcomes any and all smart ideas for investment to create future savings in what we might broadly call environmental services. Cleansing, waste, open spaces, highways, utilities, transport.

    All a concerned citizen need do is contact their local councillors with their ideas for one off investments that will pay for themselves over and over again as savings accrue. Divvying the money between wards and spending on the here and now would be a complete waste.

    If your readers want to go to the top they can simply contact Richard Leese, Nigel Murphy, Bernard Priest or Jeff Smith at the usual Town Hall address or at:


    • I agree with just one IDEA here, Councillor Paul –
      “Something has to be done to transform the way we do things.”

      Yes, speaking to people on the telephone yesterday and on the streets today, collecting petition signatures for a public consultation on how to spend the fourteen and a half million, one theme comes out clear – that this is an arrogant, high-handed council that pretends to listen, and then rubberstamps decisions it wants to take. And I find it extraordinary that you can advocate people submit ideas for a fund that hasn’t even been ratified by Full Council yet. Is it a key decision or not? Or do we now all agree that the formal and constitutional controls are irrelevant because of Labour’s preponderance?

      Why don’t you read “5 reasons why Manchester City Council should welcome a public consultation.”
      Because there is an opportunity here for the Council to begin to really transform the relationship between the governors and the governed. But they’ll probably blow it, despite the best efforts of people to help them.

      And here’s another transformative IDEA. When councillors nix proposals that all the scrutiny committees look at climate change, maybe they could actually engage in civilised and *reasoned* debate, instead of flinging words like “vexatious” around.

      And as for spelling my name “Mark” – well, either you’ve forgotten our previous interaction, or you’re trying to troll. Neither reflects well on you, does it?

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go collect more signatures. We may not get to our target, (it won’t be for want of trying) but it’s fascinating hearing from so many people about how dismayed they are about the way this Council behaves, and how it doesn’t listen or trust them.

  3. cllrcpaul says:

    Press Release just issued gives :

    Place for residents to give their suggestions – within a framework – for the use of the Clean and Green Places Reserve

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