4 reasons to oppose the “Clean and ‘Green’ Spaces” initiative of #Manchester City Council

[This is a repost from Manchester Climate Monthly. Its editor, Marc Hudson, is co-founder of “Ask the People of Manchester”.  Please sign the petition, and share it with your friends afterwards.]

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.”

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