Shaping a sustainable vision for Greater Manchester

How do you come up with solutions to some of the biggest policy issues and challenges? Start with an expert panel, a metro-Mayoral candidate, and 45 people in a room.

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From Liverpool to the Tees Valley, regional government will undergo a mini-revolution this May, as city-regions across the UK go to the polls to choose their first ever metro-mayors. Not only will these be powerful voices for their communities (as Sadiq and Marvin have shown) but they will also have powers to boot, and the real ability to shape their areas. It’s vital therefore, that the environment and an ambitious green agenda are at the heart of their manifestos.

It was to this end that SERA, with the support of UK100, brought together the best of Greater Manchester’s environmental sector to discuss Greater Manchester’s green economy with Andy Burnham, Labour’s Candidate for Mayor. What could the new mayor do to encourage the green economy and develop Greater Manchester’s green leadership - so vital for health, economic security and quality of life?

There are huge opportunities and challenges for the new Mayor. Any Mayoral plan for the sector should bring housing, transport and education strategies together. ‘Green’ isn’t a bolt-on, but fundamental to the economy, health and quality of life of Greater Manchester. This was a clear message from our panelists: Paul Dennett, directly elected Mayor of Salford; Lucy Danger, Chief Executive of Emerge Recycling; Dr Mary Parkinson, Technical Director at Jacobs and Raichael Lock, Director of Manchester Environmental Education Network (MEEN),

The task we set the attendees was to turn this goal into practical solutions, in line with Andy’s own priorities, and to remember Andy’s own proviso that each policy’s benefits should be clear to a sometimes-skeptical public. The 45-strong audience broke into table discussions on possible solutions – and the room was soon buzzing with ideas. Each table was tasked with identify practical solutions and responses to key manifesto challenges – from traffic congestion to raising climate ambition.

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Housing was a significant priority for many – with support for retrofit to tackle energy efficiency, calls for a new GM standard for low carbon housing and clear training routes for the sector. The Mayor could also adapt procurement models to ensure local entrepreneurs had chances to contribute to new low carbon products. A variety of tree-planting schemes were also suggested, with multiple benefits to natural capital, air quality and green space. Finally, the room was unified on the need for more ambitious carbon targets, a clear practical step that would not only show leadership, but save Greater Manchester money.

It looks like the event has had a real impact on Andy, as his Manifesto demonstrates. With universal support for new CO2 targets, Andy suggested a green summit to announce the new ambition – now a central manifesto commitment. It also pledges support for tree-planting: three million trees in a new ‘City Forest Park’ and, as SERA has called for, strong action for clean air.  Perhaps most important however, is the recognition that the time has come to see climate change not as a peripheral concern but as a central challenge’.

With so much passion and expertise from businesses and campaigners across Greater Manchester, there’s a clear potential for Greater Manchester to lead the way on the green economy. And with a Mayor that’s actively listening to the sector, and ready to commit to greater ambition, this vision could soon become a reality.

Adam Dyster
National Organiser, SERA - Labour's Environment Campaign

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  • commented 2017-03-21 21:37:12 +0000
    It’s great to see the concrete environmental commitments in Andy Burnham’s manifesto. The tree-planting scheme is especially welcome, and hopefully will reverse the precipitous decline in numbers of trees right across the city over recent decades. As well as planting trees though, it would also be good to see some kind of commitment to a wider tree strategy with proper monitoring of the numbers of mature trees being felled for development, to ensure this doesn’t whittle away the impact of a treeplanting scheme. It would be great as well to include in a tree strategy some efforts to increase tree density in areas with higher levels of air pollution, as this is known to provide some mitigation. It is significant that Manchester City Council did have a detailed Tree Strategy from 2006-2010 (which can be found here: http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/download/6089/tree_strategy), but this was superseded from 2010 by a ‘Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy’ that ostensibly incorporated a new tree action plan but in fact saw trees slip down the agenda relative to other sustainability goals (see http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/download/6089/tree_strategy). Judged against the reduction in tree numbers during its period of operation the City Council Tree Strategy was not pro-active enough, and was too heavily focused on public engagement and education relative to actually planting and protecting trees, but it was at least an attempt at a comprehensive strategy, and is perhaps something that the new Mayor should revisit and evaluate in developing a new set of objectives for a leafier Greater Manchester. As other austerity-hit cities like Sheffield plough shortsightedly into drastic tree felling schemes in order to reduce the associated maintenance costs of tree-lined streets, it would be a great symbolic as well as material statement about our City to say that living in a green, leafy, and healthy urban environment is not a luxury we can’t afford but a core element of a decent quality of life, which can be expected by all the people of Greater Manchester.
    Dr Richie Nimmo, University of Manchester.