Tuesday, 29 December 2009

What's the Core Strategy? - Comments

Firstly, a Very Happy New Year to one and all!

Now back to 2027...

Following on from my last post on the City Council's Core Strategy document for now until 2027, and having had a chance to read and comment on the document, here are some observations and thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, a key theme is 'growth' - not just the economy but the population as well. To some extent the City is at the mercy of higher bodies, the Region (which has its own 'Spatial Strategy', The 'Northern Way' group of northern cities and the Government itself. Even allowing for these constraints, the plan shows insufficient recognition of the imminent challenges of climate change and peak oil.

For instance, when listing employment opportunities in the city, the six main sources are stated as being aviation/airport, new media, financial services, IT, life sciences and manufactoring. Environmental technology only makes it into the second division here, despite the clear opportunities for retrofitting housing stock and other buildings.

The Airport is very prominent in the document generally; here the figures in particular seem to reflect pre-crash, pre-climate change optimism. Three options are offered posing three degrees of impact on the green belt; the least damaging is the first of these, which retains the existing Green Belt, and requires any expansion to be managed around that.

A population growth of around 100,000 (to 557,800) is planned over the next 20 years, with the increase in housing targeted mainly for the city centre (28%) and east Manchester (32%). 63,000 new residential units are planned in all. Affordable housing is encouraged, although they have given themselves a couple of get-outs i.e. "not if it would undermine 'proposals critical to economic growth' or if 'financial impact would affect scheme viability".

Despite the population increase, the number of District Centres is almost the same, the only new centre being Baguley, in Wythenshawe. It surprises me that there is no increase in the number of District Centres in the north and east and it makes me wonder what quality of services the increased population in those areas will get.

Incidentally the main reason for the population increase is givan as Manchester's regional capital status, i.e. forces outside the Council's control. There is no doubt however that our City fathers (and they are mostly men) welcome the challenges which this increase will bring. It is true that there are some environmental benefits in relatively high city centre dwelling, if that is also where people are working, but the city will have its work cut out providing sufficient local services, and balancing the increase with preservation of what green infrastructure remains.

A word that seems to crop up even more than growth is 'sustainable', which is used, misused and abused on a regular basis. Climate Change is mentioned extensively but it is clear that its challenges have not really been taken on board. The intention is that growth will be zero-carbon, 'decoupling growth from emissions', but as with the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP)there is insufficient detail on how they are going to achieve this, although it does include more detail than the climate change action plan with respect to improved energy rating of new build.

The targets on carbon reduction predate the CCAP and are slightly less bold (36% by 2020 vs 42%, and no mention of embedded carbon).

Once you find it (Manchester City Council just love to consult), the ability to respond online is good, with a chance to see previous comments, not just on this document, but on previous stages in the process. It's a pity that there are not more comments (and there's only 3 days to go now), particularly from ordinary citizens; good to see some fellow Greens in there though. Hopefully we'll have some effect.

Monday, 14 December 2009

'What's the Plan' - the Story continues....

Whilst most green-minded people have been focusing their attention on Copenhagen, and more locally on the City Council's Climate Change Action Plan – see previous blog post, the Planning Strategy process (now known as the Local Development Framework (LDF)) for the City rumbles on. We are currently in the consultation period for the 'Core Strategy' document – and indeed this is the core of the whole process, and will influence what happens in the City for the next twenty years. And yet, hardly anyone seems to be aware of the fact; another testament to our Council's communication strategy... Incidentally the Council's slogan to catch the eye is 'What's the Plan?' hence the title of this post.
How the different parts of the framework link together is illustrated in
this diagram. Any the wiser?

Having been involved in an earlier phase I did get an email advertising a series of drop-in sessions and I duly dropped in to the Chorlton session – I was the only member of the public there during my visit. I was also advised of a consultation event at the Town Hall, which I also attended (evening session). Again there was very little attendance from members of the public, although I was informed that the afternoon session had been much better attended. In mitigation, the evening session did coincide with a Rally with Climate Change Minister Ed Milliband, which will have drawn many of the green-minded people mentioned earlier. It certainly drew some of my Green Party colleagues, and I am reliably informed, and pleased to note, that they were very prominent in asking questions of Mr Milliband and the rest of the platform.

Anyway, Back to the 'Core Strategy':-
At the evening session I attended 2 workshops. The first was entitled ‘The Economy and The Airport’ – I was relieved to find that this was 2 workshops combined, and it wasn’t an assumption that the airport and the economy are the same thing (although they are sometimes made to sound that way). With the planners on one side of me uttering ‘growth, growth, growth’, and an Airport representative on the other, I did feel like a fish out of water – it’s at times like this one realises what we are up against.
The second workshop was on ‘The Environment and Climate Change’ although I said more about climate change in the first workshop.

Questions and comments made at these workshops have no bearing on the consultation apparently, to exert influence one has to submit formally.
One personal advantage of such a low attendance is being able to leave with one of the printed copies. The document is 194 pages long and submissions have to be in by 4th January. Good job Christmas holidays are coming up, to give me time to read it. I’ll post some more detailed thoughts on it when I’ve had a chance to do that. I'm particluarly interested to see how it stacks up against the climate change plan.
Here is the link to see the document on-line: Core Strategy. To maintain Council consistency in these matters, it is hard to find on their website.

Busy times

An advantage of working in the City Centre is the ease with which I can ‘drop in’ to various protests, actions, meetings etc. In many cases ‘drop-in is all there is time for. In recent weeks alone these have included a pre-Wave climate change ‘flash-mob’ with Oxfam, a ‘pots and pans’ protest against the Banks, a pre-planning meeting demo to ‘Save Hasty Lane (see previous blog post – in this case a quick 5 minutes before returning to work was enough to make a Manchester Evening News photograph), and a No2ID stall on the day the cards were ‘launched’ in Manchester.

All in all this gives an indication of the range of activities which can occur in the centre of our city during the week, and which may be of interest to a Green. No doubt this will continue, especially as elections approach...