Sunday, 22 November 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

The City Council have now produced their long-awaited Climate Change Action Plan, following their ‘Call to Action’ earlier this year and the activists response of a ‘Call to Real Action’, and just in time for the Copenhagen summit. Sir Richard Leese and others will fly off to Copenhagen (i.e. by the most carbon intensive travel mode) and proudly brandish it in front of world leaders.

What do I think of it? Well, there are plenty of fine words in it. To be fair, the Council are being ambitious with it, particularly when compared with the other Greater Manchester boroughs. As well as a proposed 41% cut in the City’s carbon footprint by 2020, there is a ‘commitment to create a Total Carbon Footprint framework’ by 2013 (this means including embedded carbon, i.e. the carbon cost of everything consumed in and by the City). The 64 page document contains numerous welcome ideas ranging from the large-scale insulation of housing to increasing local food production.

But - of course there is a but; in fact there are several buts. In his foreword Sir Richard talks of a picture being painted of our City’s future, What follows however is a picture which is little different from the City today. On transport for instance there is no recognition of the need (beyond a nod to video-conferencing) to move away from the commuter model and the recognition that public transport also has a carbon cost.
The vision could and should be better. Major deficiencies are the lack of detail as to how the 41% will actually be reached, and the absence of any plan for beyond 2010.
It is somehow expected to co-exist with the Council’s other plans for continuous economic growth. And perhaps most blatantly, any recognition of the real impact of the airport (the air travel) is coyly shelved until beyond 2013.

Following the influence of Call to Real Action, the Council have included a large number of people in their writing groups and, to be fair, they have produced the plan in a relatively short period of time. So can I say that the approval on Weds 18th November of this document by the City Council marks a big step forward?….
Well, What a difference a day makes – on Thursday the 19th the Council Planning Department approved the demolition of 200 year old cottages, and a neighbouring beauty spot at Hasty Lane; this to make way for an extra airport freight hanger. Never mind that airfreight has been falling for 2 years (and in the promised low-carbon city should fall much further); never mind that the Wythenshawe councillors (of all Parties) unanimously voted to opposed the plan.

To their credit the Lib Dem councillors on the committee opposed the plan, but the Labour majority on the committee saw it through.
It is hard to have any confidence in the City Council’s ability to make the changes it claims to want, when it commits such blatant acts of vandalism in almost the same breath.

Cockermouth memory

The news of the terrible flood in Cockermouth brought back a memory for me, indeed one of the very earliest, and haziest, memories I have; this was of floods there in 1954 (our family lived there between 1953 and 1957). Although that was a very wet year, the floods in the town did not match what we have just seen, and there was never a day when 12 inches of rain fell; in fact before last week there had never been a day in Britain since records began when 12 inches of rain fell - that is no longer the case.

For me this illustrates that whilst extreme weather events have occurred throughout history, and while no single event on its own should be taken as proof of climate change, the evidence of more extreme weather is definitely stacking up.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It's Just Not Cricket!

Sport is the theme again in this blog, although this time it's the 'summer game'. Lancashire Cricket Club (LCC) are seeking to renovate their nearby Old Trafford ground and get back on the Ashes test trail. There is competition for the honour of holding test matches and other grounds around the country (e.g Southampton , Cardiff)have also been investing. None of the others to my knowledge however have prostituted themslves to the corporate monster that is Tesco.

I am stumped as to why LCC and Trafford Council haven't had the imagination to come up with something better.

It should be noted that this is no ordinary Tesco (indeed the Supermarket chain have had planning permission for a 47,000 sq ft store at this location for 5 years, but have done nothing with it, clearly hoping for something much bigger). A store of 140,000 sq. ft. is threatened which would make it one of the largest in the country, sucking the life out of all other retail sites for miles around. The plans have just been submitted and are not available for public viewing at the time I write this; the accompanying press release refers to a 100,000 sq ft store, so maybe even they realise they were going too far. We shall soon see.

For full details of the campaign, in which our fellow Greens in Trafford are very much to the fore see here.

This is not the only Tesco controversy in the area. They seem to be taking over the City Centre, much to the consternation of the growing inner-City citizenry, e.g. with this development in the Northern Quarter. and there are also plans for another huge store (another 140,000 sq ft again) in Salford. Greater Manchester is indeed becoming Tescopolis

A final point on the subject of cricket (which I do follow despite having absolutely no talent for playing it whatsoever) I notice the authorities are complaining about Ashes test being shown free on terrestrial television in the future. I see this as another example of the sad trend in sports for money to take priority over enthusing the nation's youth. In the light of this it is hardly surprising that in the English team's latest thrashing, its two highest scorers were South African and in the previous match the highest scorer was an Irishman.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

People Power on the Meadows!

A picnic on Chorlton meadows organised by the the Save the Meadows campaign
attracted about 250 people this afternoon. On a cool,overcast but dry afternoon, they celebrated this beautiful local amenity. Chants of 'ditch the pitch' and 'don't yield the field' were interspersed with balloons and ballgames, whilst local entrepreneurs sold home-baked food (70p for a cake and a hot chocolate drink - delicious and great value). At one point a buzzard soared high overhead - hopefully a good omen.

Picnicers were informed that 1000 letters of objection had now been received against the proposals, a remarkably high number. For my own part the more I think and know about this proposal the worse it seems. From the centre of the meadows field where the picnic took place, one gets an idea of the size of the development. The developers claim that there is insufficient capacity for footballers in South Manchester, particular for youth football. Well, on my walk down this afternoon, through Chorlton Park, I noticed that only 2 of the 5 pitches there were being used. As I commented earlier this is clearly a commercial development.

Whilst local Labour councillors have joined Lib Dems and the Green Party in opposing the development, the Council's Leisure Dept. are apparently supporting it. And whilst it is true that the Council is obliged to consider any planning application submitted to it, there is a pattern of threatened green space across the city (see below).
Opponents of the development from further afield include Prince Charles and Mike Harding; Mike's letter of support made reference to Manchester's position at the bottom of the charts when it comes to park provision. The application is still due to be heard on 19th November; let's hope the Council does the decent thing on this occasion and boots it out of play.

Examples of the council's cavalier action towards green space elsewhere in the city have already been covered on this blog. With regard to one of those examples - Charlestown Wood - an application for a village green has been turned down by the Council's Licensing Committee; this is apparently on the basis that the Woods are covered by the 1906 Open Spaces act and are therefore protected anyway. local residents are only too aware that the Council's intentions are far from protection, the matter has now gone to judicial review.

Next year is the International Year of Biodiversity; are Manchester City Council aware of this??.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

'Shaw station is closed'

...Was an internal email I received at work recently. The reason is that that the existing rail line is being replaced by Metrolink, and this work will take approximately 3 years. The reason for the Shaw mention is that the company I work for has its logistics operation in Shaw, and therefore people travel between the sites – I do myself occasionally. For the next three years public transport between sites will not be a practical option.
I wonder how many commuters who currently use that line and who will switch to the car, will give up the car for the Metrolink when it is finally in place?

Closer to my home in Chorlton, the next phase of Metrolink development (beyond the line to Chorlton already under construction) will put a line across the green lungs of the Mersey Valley. It will also, if existing plans are retained, take out the tree-lined central reservation of Mauldeth Road.

Trams have a place in the public transport system of our conurbation but they should be taking road space instead of existing rail and green space.

A further adverse impact can be seen in Didsbury as reported in this week’s ‘South Manchester Reporter’. Parrs Wood allotments were run down by the City Council, and are now to be replaced by a multi-story car park. The reasoning behind this is that it will form part of a Park and Ride scheme, linked to both the existing rail station and the proposed new Metrolink station (if and when the Didsbury spur gets the go-ahead). Sadly both local MP John Leech, and former Allotments Chair Geoff Bridson seem to have given up on the allotments and backed the proposal.

This is regrettable and short-sighted. For the City, and indeed the country, to meet the carbon-reduction targets which are essential to combat climate change, 2 areas where we have to change are food and transport. We need to be growing more food within the city, and we need to reduce the need to travel, not just by car but across the board. This move goes against both of those requirements. It will of course be argued that a ‘Park and Ride’ approach is better than people taking their cars into the city centre; I can understand that argument, but we have to think beyond that. The Council is busy preparing a Climate Change action plan, promising radical reductions, which it will proudly brandish in Copenhagen. How are expected to have any confidence in its ability to deliver?