Manchester must do better on climate emergency

In the second part of our series on the progress of local authority climate emergency declarations, What has changed?, Alison Hawdale, a Manchester Green Party member who heads up the council scrutiny group in the party, looks at how Manchester’s progress on its climate emergency plans is being hampered by contradictory policy and a lack of local engagement.

Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Alison Hawdale

On 10 July 2019, Manchester City Council (MCC) passed a motion to declare a climate emergency in the city. It was proposed and seconded by Labour councillors, and such was the level of goodwill and feeling around the enterprise, that a Liberal Democrat amendment was passed for the for the first time in a decade – to explore reducing the chosen target for becoming carbon neutral by 2038 to 2030. The motion was passed to a standing ovation from activists and local residents in the public gallery, to the wonderment of councillors gazing up at the gallery from below. 

That was just over a year ago. Any feel good factor from that meeting has long drained away from those of us who were up there in the public gallery. 

The Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) had 23 elements – the first being to declare the emergency itself, and the second to deliver on carbon neutrality by 2038. In order to reach this target, Manchester had a year-by-year target of reducing emissions by 13 per cent. In 2019, they fell by four per cent. This now puts hugely increased pressure on emission reduction in the following years. 

OK, so we didn’t do that well in 2019, but maybe it’s unfair to expect a big impact in the first year? Perhaps what we need to ask is, are we going in the right direction? One of the elements of the CED was to “make climate breakdown and the environment, an integral part of activity throughout the council”.

MCC has taken some actions in the right direction, but others appear to be going backwards. For example, MCC: 

  • Has pedestrianised Deansgate (a major road running through the city centre) but refused to put up “pop-up” cycles lanes for which funding was available;

  • Is working toward including aviation emissions in the carbon reduction programme, but has bailed out Manchester Airport (in which it has shares which generate dividends on which the council is highly dependent) to the tune of £143 million to due to Covid-19; and 

  • Has commissioned the Manchester Civic Quarter Heat Network to save carbon emissions, but has just approved £854 million of new developments with the city, none of which will provide any affordable housing. 

A look at the Manchester Local Plan consultation document shows that MCC’s vision for Manchester over the next 15-20 years has two major pillars – the development of the city centre and the expansion of Manchester Airport, neither of which takes us in the right direction. 

MCC is keen to point out that it is acting with other partners and citizens across the city, and cannot be responsible for all emissions. One of the elements of the declaration was that ward meetings should be held “to identify residents and partners who want to be actively involved in achieving the target”. Few of these ward meetings had taken place even before Covid-19 hit, and one of the main complaints against MCC is that they are arrogant and don’t listen to people. For example, they received a huge amount of kickback in their decision not to install “pop-up” cycle lanes, all of which was ignored. 

Which brings us on to the Green Party. MCC has 96 councillors – 93 Labour, two Liberal Democrat and one Independent and, as you can see, no Green councillors. We were on target to win a council seat this May, but Covid-19 robbed us of the opportunity. We have therefore stepped up our efforts to scrutinise council activity from the outside. Members have followed the work of scrutiny committees as they have gone online. We have kept up pressure by writing letters, being active on Twitter, and responding to consultations and planning applications. But if local people are going to be listened to, we need that “Green in the room” and we will continue to press ahead with getting our candidate into the council chamber next year. 

Further reading: Climate Emergency Manchester (a non-political group of local activists who continually hold MCC’s feet to the fire on their climate commitments) have produced a report, Climate Emergency One Year on: What Manchester Says containing the views of a range of groups from across the city on MCC’s climate record. 

Alison Hawdale is a member of Manchester Green Party and heads up the council scrutiny group in the party.