Councillor Rosa Battle, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, told elected members of the Council that hundreds of people had been consulted on the outsourced-for-£30,000 “Green and Blue Infrastructure” strategy. The actual number, once you take out council employees? Less fifty.
In December 2014 Manchester City Council presented its draft Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy, very long overdue. (1) The thorny question of who had been consulted came up spontaneously (Cough, cough; see this video for the gory details.)
Councillor Rosa Battle, who was presenting the report because the Executive Member for the Environment was then on maternity leave, said that if all the stakeholders consulted were invited to the March 2015 meeting of Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee (where the final strategy is to be presented), the meeting would need to last 24 hours and “this whole table [of over 20 people] would be full of people ten times over.”
You can see that for yourself here. (sorry, the embedding is not working.)
So, how does this statement of “over 200 people consulted” actually stack up?
An official document has been released (it’s attached here.)
The ACTUAL number is even less than fifty, because the list provided includes people who attended a “meeting/briefing with a specific agenda item on the GI Strategy”
and also seems to include attendees at a (University of Manchester) workshop that didn’t in fact take place until 2 months AFTER the claim of hundreds of consultees. And I’ve nothing against academics (cough, cough), but they’re not exactly ‘members of the public,’ now are they?
Will Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee take this forward?
Watch this space.
(1) In July 2013 the Council Leader Richard Leese told full council that the already long-delayed Green and Blue Infrastructure strategy was going to Neighhourhoods Scrutiny the following week.
(2) MCFly sent Councillor Battle a series of questions in December. Some of the answers to those questions are provided in the document above. And the ignored questions are –
“Finally, since the last document and its consultation in early 2014, there doesn’t – to my clearly inadequate eye – seem to have been much consultation and engagement. To correct my misapprehension, could you please point me to
- any pages on the City Council website where people have been invited to leave a comment about the evolving GBI strategy
- any public events held by Manchester City Council at which the Green and Blue Infrastructure was the focus of discussion, including the dates and venues of these meetings, and the rough estimates of attendees.
- any use of social media (facebook, twitter, youtube) about the GBI by Manchester City Council
- The same questions as above for both the BDP, the contract winner, and the Manchester A Certain Future Steering Group Green and Blue Subgroup (fortunately, the same person will be able to provide answers for both organisations!)
- Indicative examples of where opinion has been sought via the communications (newsletters, magazines, e-bulletins) of partner organisations (e.g. Red Rose Forest, GM Ecology Unit). As I said in the meeting, no mention of the GBI strategy has, to my knowledge, been made in Friends of the Earth’s weekly digest.
- The dates and venues and attendees of any academic workshops held with experts at University of Manchester. [They did this in February 2015. Perhaps prompted by this very question?!]
- The numbers of official consultation documents sent out and the number of replies received.I know this seems like a long list, but you were very confident that a large amount of consultation had indeed been done, so this shouldn’t take too long to knock together.”
you’ve been doing this for years, haven’t you realised yet that the council has a different definition of ‘consultation’ to the rest of the known world?
I have indeed been doing this for years!
I do hope that we do indeed get what all councillors want – a robust and adequately-consulted-upon strategy, instead of something that is just another top down document with no community ‘ownership’. One that is actively ‘done’ and measured, unlike the Biodiversity Action Plan, which has, to my knowledge, never been reported on to any Scrutiny Committee.
And how many of those academics actually live in the City of Manchester? Those of us who have had dealings with Rosa Battle, know she takes after her father, a liar and a bully.
Well, I want to make it clear that nowhere in the article did I imply that she had deliberately mis-led the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee.
The lack of a Green & Blue Infrastructure strategy doesn’t seem to have stopped some of the amazing things that are happening now, or are going to happen soon, to our local environment. We’re only half way through the second month of 2015 and I can’t believe some of the plans that are being implemented now, or are about to be implemented!
Last year the Council went into partnership with the RSPB to manage the Mersey Valley – and possibly because the RSPB is the UK’s leading wildlife charity, wildlife seems to have more priority than it did before. Next week, Mike Carswell, Manchester’s professional coppicer, will start managing the woodland on Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green in the traditional way. The woodland will be divided into blocks, and these blocks ‘coppiced’ on a 10 year rotation. Most British broad-leaved tree species will, if cut to ground level, sprout multiple poles from the base. These poles are then harvested, on a long cycle, and are used for firewood, charcoal, fence posts, tool handles etc. This process is called coppicing and is an ancient craft in Britain. In each block, a few healthy, robust looking trees are left uncut. Because they have less competition they develop into even healthier, robuster ‘standards’. A by-product of coppicing is a more biodiverse woodland because more light is let into the habitat and it becomes more varied.
The Greater Manchester Ecology Unit also have a plan to cut Mersey Valley grasslands for hay and to re-introduce some grazing. This is, of course, the way that MV grasslands were managed for centuries and should also lead to an increase in biodiversity.
The SUSTRANS cycling charity are now managing their cycle tracks (e.g. the Fallowfield Loop in South Manchester) as ‘wildlife corridors’ using ecologically sound methods. I have found the Fallowfield Loop to be particularly rich in plant life – so the application of the right management techniques should help to conserve these plants and, in time, lead to the habitat becoming even richer.
In Trafford’s part of the Mersey Valley (wildlife doesn’t recognise human boundaries!) the local branch of the Trust for Conservation Volunteers are now based at the old MV Visitors’ Centre at Sale Water Park. They are working with volunteers to manage the rich habitats around the Water Park. Meanwhile, Red Rose Forest are working in partnership with Trafford Council on their part of the MV. Recently, RRF did a fine job clearing the vegetation that has been encroaching on the Trans-Pennine Trail, in the Stretford area, for years. This management should also increase local biodiversity.
There are several other things happening as well – but that’s enough to be going on with! Who needs a Green & Blue Strategy?!