Sunday, 30 May 2010

Another Talking Shop Bites the Dust?

And so the organisation formerly known as the North West Regional Assembly - '4NW' - has been read its last rites by the Coalition, and will grace the headlines no more. Which is sort of the point isnt it? It didnt grace the headlines and so you might be forgiven for thinking that its demise was a welcome part of the bonfire of the quangos.

The evidence for the prosecution would include the fact that we the tax-payer funded the organisation to little effect. But it's when you put it in the context of the governace of the North West that things get a little more equiviocal. Once the idea of a devolved region was scuppered (by the disastrous referendum on that subject for the North East), 4NW ended up as a secretariat for the NW Leaders Council - pretty much the only place where all the leaders of the local councils of the region got together. Again - so what?

The most powerful public body in the NW is the North West Development Agency - which as well as giving out many hundreds of millions in grants, is also the distributing agency for a pretty huge wad of EU money too. The NWDA also authored the Regional Economic Strategy which guides its investment decisions. It answers to a Board made up of a mixture Council and business leaders with a few other worthies thrown in but it is not democratically accountable. The Chair of that Board is pretty influential. The previous incumbent of that post, Brian Gray, was the former head honcho of Baxi the heating people, and the new one is Robert Hough. He used to be Deputy Chair of the massive Peel Holdings (think Trafford Centre, Salford Quays/Media City and all the land along the Ship Canal) and his NWDA predecessor went straight from that post to chair the Peel company that runs Media City - Peel Media. Can you see a name that is starting to pop up here a bit? Peel will also benefit massively from a huge NWDA project around the 'Mersey Gateway', and over a £100M of public money went into Media City.

So - on one side an unelected Board running a very powerful public body from which - rightly or wrongly - Peel Holdings benefits considerably. On the other - the democratically constituted 4NW who, up until the recent announcement, were for the first time co-authoring the next regional economic policy. The Chair of the Leaders Board, one Sir Richard Leese, has made it plain that they won't go without a fight. It should also be noted that the reclusive boss of Peel Holdings is a prominent Conservative.

Speaking of Sir Richard brings us to the other way that the wings of the NWDA are currently being clipped - by the creation of Greater Manchester as a 'City Region.' This brings considerable devolved powers and possibly control of funds from both Whitehall and the NWDA. The city region is governed by another council of leaders - this time the council leaders of the ten districts that make up the former county of Greater Manchester. All laudably accountable.

The Coaltion has made the decentralising of powers from Whitehall a central plank of its vision, and the word on the street is that they quite like the City Region concept. The policy nugget that could radicalise this picture is the Coalition's promise to allow referendums [or, for the benefit of pedants 'referenda'] on whether the country's ten biggest cities should have elected mayors. A Manc Boris anyone? It is by no means clear whether such a move would apply to the city of Manchester or the city region - but one could well imagine the concept being popular. A boost to public interest in local government would certainly be welcome... it is the list of ambitious former celebrities eying up a big chair in the Town Hall that scares this correspondent, as would any link between such an incumbent and, er, prominent NW business interests. Whatever happens - it's not going to be dull.

And the relevance of all this to the teeming throng of McFly readers is this... The NWDA, as well as being unaccountable, is all about Gross Value Added (that's pure business growth to you and me) whatever bells and whistles they put on it. Whilst this also features very large amongst the policy drivers of Sir Richard and his elected colleagues, we can be confident that it is tempered by real notions of social justice and, increasingly, sustainable development. Watch this space..

Friday, 28 May 2010

MCFly youtube video launched

The MCFly Youtube video about Manchester City Council is up.

It's not very polished, let's just leave it at that. But it fulfills (half) a promise that I made in MCFly #49 to have two videos up by the end of the week.

It was fun to make, and future videos will (fingers crossed) be marginally-to-significantly less rubbish.

Comments welcome, but ESPECIALLY, offers of help to improve things.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Ecoteams Schmecoteams

MCFly spent a glorious sunny Saturday morning... indoors, being depressed by the format and execution of a climate event called “Eco-teams”. Not asking for sympathy - MCFly is an idiot, and getting too old for this stuff.

The event was organised by “Global Action Plan”. They had contacted all sorts of groups, and invited people along to hear about what they do, with the idea of people leaving all fired up to lead “Eco-teams” of 4 to 6 people reducing their emissions over a few months.

As feared, it kicked off with a goodly portion of death by powerpoint. First off, a Council officer gave an overview of the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan. She managed to mention AfSl, FoE etc but not the group that actually created the conditions for broad participation. No surprises there then.

After that the audience sat through a twenty five minute explanation of "Ecoteams," a straight-forward concept that anyone who came was – by definition – sold on. It could have been explained in a two page briefing that could have been sent out earlier, freeing up time and bandwidth
Just when I - and others- were losing the will to live, we had a pseudo-mingler where we had to go around the room to find people who had led meetings, had alternative energy sources at home etc.

I say pseudo-mingler, because that didn't lead on to us forming groups based on where we live, what work we do, what we've already done, what we might want to do. Typical of the underlying (and false) liberal assumptions about individual behaviour change, we spent the day being bombarded with facts and gimmicks but never was any attempt made to find out what people already knew, were already doing, specifically wanted to know.

We then had lots of “put laminate cards of these appliances in order of least to most polluting” games, that you'd get teenagers to play. Nothing wrong with that, but is it the best way to embed an enthusiasm for/interest in being an EcoTeam Leader, and role-playing the difficulties etc?

The whole day seemed predicated on the tedious and ineffective* “information deficit model”, and the underlying assumption was that Consumer Capitalism was fine as long as it was Green Consumer Capitalism. In academia this is known as "ecological modernisation". All the talk is of “efficiency” and “waste-reduction”, never of justice, or lessening consumption.

Tony Lloyd, recently re-elected MP for Manchester Central bravely took on the post-lunch slot. His advice for effective lobbying?
a) feel entitled to do it
b) lobbying is a discussion, in which you have prove your case (blackmail along the lines of “Do as I say or I won't vote for you” is not effective!!)
c)the most direct (face-to-face) engagement is the best

Two more sessions and then we were done. We had the same person facilitating throughout the day (a mistake. If there are other people who could take some on, then let them. They will benefit from the experience, and the audience will hear a different voice!)

Trouble was, even on its own terms- of encouraging people to become eco-team leaders, this event was at best a half-success. At the end of the event, someone asked me “so, what now? Is there a pack that you get if you agree to be an Ecoteam leader?” This person is intelligent, dedicated and effective. If he/she is not able to get that basic information from a day, then the organisers have some soul-searching to do.

But, I suspect most of the feedback forms they got spoke in glowing terms (English people rarely tell hard truths, even in anonymous feedback forms) and that at least some of those who attended will start up teams. But not as many as could have. Verdict: yet another missed opportunity.

Disclaimer - MCFly is jealous of Global Action Plan's resources, and irritated that a bunch of Londoners have come up and done something that AfSL, FOE, C2RA, MCA between them could have done, only better.

*Ineffective in achieving the ostensible goals of the organisation – creating empowered and effective citizens who maintain long-term reductions of their carbon footprint and that of a bunch of people around. Very effective in allowing people to stay in their comfort zones, tick the boxes that say “information delivered” and so forth.

For how it SHOULD be done, see Cambridge Carbon Footprint

Green Expo report

by staff reporter Scott Templeton

A slightly nervous looking Cllr Nigel Murphy, the new Executive Member for the Environment, kicked off this exhibition and conference of sustainable building held over two days at GMEX (now known as Manchester Central). Our new Executive Member must still be getting up to speed with his new portfolio as his introduction to the A Certain Future report lasted around 12 minutes rather than the expected half an hour. To be fair this was his first speech on the subject and its probably too early to judge his abilities although his recognition that the Council “does not have all the answers” is a good start. The speech, which he had only looked at early in the morning and was reading word for word, was lacking conviction. However, in it Cllr Murphy reaffirmed the 10:10 pledge to carbon reduction, and suggested that Manchester City Council was the largest organisation taking part in this scheme. This civic boosterism characterised much of the presentation with claims such as “the only UK city to involve stakeholders” in the climate change strategy and the distinctive “original modern” approach to climate change that we are apparently taking continuing that well loved narrative about the greatness of the city so beloved by our leaders.

The exhibition and conference, a two day event, provided a showcase for the “latest ideas, products and technologies that help reduce the environmental impact of building” and there were dozens of companies displaying these solutions. From Malaysian timber housing systems to green roofs this was a reminder of the economic opportunities that are presented by climate change and sustainability needs. This underlying economic opportunity orientation of the event was confirmed when Cllr Nigel Murphy suggestion that there are “significant economic opportunities for cities that grasp this challenge” woke up the early morning crowd of developers, architects and builders.

With dozens of seminars from building green schools to the benefits of biomass providing a good opportunity to learn about some of the building/construction issues facing the industry and showed how these companies are at the forefront of developing new technological solutions to renewable energy systems. Yet this could be the weakness of the event with its focus on business and technology there seemed to be a number of unmentionable issues especially anything to do with politics. In fact the whole event seemed to be devoid of climate change politics or the need to make some increasingly tough decisions about our lifestyles with technology being positioned as the solution to all our worries. This was also reflected in seminars by Chris Birch and Robert Shaw, both directors of sustainability at planning consultancies who gave presentations looking at the planning systems and master planning. Using formulas such as P* + A* + T* = environmental impact or statements such as “everyone has a role to play in delivering the new paradigm” the speakers seemed to get lost in a world of built environment expertise and technological configurations that speak of a business as usual approach.

Another ‘elephant in the room’ was the economy with questions of funding for all these schemes being greeted by smiles and nervous laughter. The Green City team at the Council stand seemed to pass on the burden of its strategy to the mythical ‘business partner’ but there was no clear evidence that anyone in the conference had any idea about how their solutions could be delivered on a scale beyond the ubiquitous experiment or case study.

Still, there was lots of ideas and inventions at the conference, clever people coming up with all manner of energy-saving and generating devices of the future. It will be interesting to see how these develop in our new economic climate.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Who owns the emissions? We do.

Mary Heaney, top sustainability bod for Manchester Metropolitan University, isn't playing the game fair. At the end of an interesting and thought-provoking breakfast meeting at the CUBE, she was asked “who owns the aviation emissions of overseas students attending Manchester Metropolitan University?” Speaking for MMU she said simply “we do.” She was supposed to wiffle-waffle about off-sets this or the lack of a settled system for apportioning international aviation emissions that. Then MCFly could write a sneery snarky squib and MCFly reader(s) could be confirmed in his/her/their world-views. That's the game, or it was until this morning.

image courtesy Adrian Pope

Ms Heaney, the game-changer, was the speaker at a well-attended panel discussion on Sustainability in the Built Environment, organised by Insider Media (a source for some of MCFly's local/regional news snippets). She gave a coherent powerpoint presentation entitled by“A vision for transformation, regeneration and sustainability” about the (controversial to some) plans for expansion of MMU onto Birley Fields in Hulme.

The plans, approved last year by the City Council's Executive, are part of an overall strategy to consolidate MMU's seven campuses down to two. This will improve MMUs building usage and overall operational efficiency.

Ms Heaney alluded to previous masterplans for Hulme (the Crescents, anyone?) and admitted that residents could be justifiably cautious/suspicious. Her presentation made use of various (positive) comments that emerged from the consultation done last year. She spoke of 430 full-time equivalent jobs (with about 340 being local jobs), and an aspiration to dramatically increase local attendance.
She moved on to talk about the aspiration for “zero water, zero waste and zero carbon.” Water would be sourced from a bore, with 100% rainwater capture for flushing toilets etc. Waste would be tackled by minimisation first and aggressive recycling. MCFly may have misheard, but the phrase “48% reduction by 2020 for carbon emissions” seemed to be mooted.”The buildings would be all BREEAM 'excellent' or 'outstanding', and a low carbon energy centre looking at biomass and a power/heating approach. There is also a biodiversity plan looking at green roofs/habitat linkage.

Critics of this plan (whom MCFly will invite to comment on this blog post) will doubtless point to the loss of green space and the building of a car park.

The final point Ms Heaney made was very sound indeed- buildings can be 'green' but the outcomes 'brown' because of the way they are used. Behaviour change (education, incentives, social norms engineering) are all essential. It's almost as if folks need “Green Nudges”.

Hopefully MMU will put the powerpoint presentation online, and we can link to it.

After her presentation, she, Felicity Goodey (see disclaimer below) and Professor Andrew Thomas of CCINW fielded questions from the audience.

The first was on on which of economic, environmental and social sustainability was being paid the most attention.
Prof Thomas said definitely economic, because the building profession is dominated by engineers and quantity surveyors, and that economic sustainability can be easily measured.
Felicity Goodey chipped in agreeing with this and adding that evidence showed that social sustainability could also be measured and shown to have an economic impact. Her example was that having trees around reduced stress levels and therefore staff sickness decreased. In terms of being able to retrofit 1960s buildings, she pointed to the example of Wythenshawe Hospital, first hospital to win a Carbon Trust award, as well as dramatically reducing its heating and cooling bill.
Ms Heaney added that as well as being driven by government fiat, there were also expectations from students that the institutions they attended would behave responsibly.

As befits these events, there was a question about retrofitting. Given that 80% of the buildings we have in 2050 are already built, this is where the real savings will have to come from.
Felicity Goodey agreed, saying that to win arguments you need to have case studies to show how much money could be saved how quickly. She advocated that there should be an expectation that any publicly owned building (hospitals, police HQs etc) should be replacing windows during routine maintenance with double-glazing and thermal maintenance. She lamented that this doesn't happening. She cited the current VAT regime as a perverse incentive for knocking down buildings and replacing them with things that had the same carbon footprint, calling it “absolutely barking mad.”

Prof Thomas chipped in with the observation that who pays and who benefits is a key question. Landlords are (sometimes) paying up front, with tenants getting lower fuel bills. He advocated “pay as you save” schemes, and pointed out the challenges will only get bigger as time goes on.
Mary Heaney, who now sits on the Environment Commission, advocated looking to the Registered Social Landlord sector as 'low hanging fruit', and mentioned cladding work done on 60s buildings at MMU.

The next questioner took the retrofitting theme further. Was it possible to retrofit to zero carbon by 2050? Prof Thomas was reluctant to prophesise. From the floor (Roger Burton of JMarchitects) came the observation that doing energy generation on a per-building basis was not going to work, it would have to be done at a community level, with heat mains, recovered waste etc. He said that the city has to lead.”

Felicity Goodey added that zero carbon also involved procurement of, for example, food. She gave the example of food being brought in from South Wales by contractors when it could be sourced more locally. She also wondered aloud if too much emphasis was being put on recycling and the waste minimisation (and consumption reduction generally, if MCFly doesn't misrepresent) was where the action was at.

Alex Sol of Sheppard Robson said, while everything MMU was doing was good, wasn't it maybe fiddling around the edges, with legislation needed to force things to happen.
Prof Thomas proclaimed himself a great believer in sticks as well as carrots, but was worried the early adopters would lose their competitive advantage if everyone was having to perform at the same high level. MCFly reckons this is wrong on two levels- one the goal is to preserve a habitable biosphere, not (necessarily) current market models and two the 'early adopters' will simply push on to even more ambitious technologies/techniques.
Felicity Goodey was also not keen on legislation (though the reason she gave – globalised economy- wouldn't hold carbon if the disclaimer (see below) wasn't in play; States can – and do- impose conditions on capital flows/capitalist behaviour. Thus the spatial/sustainability fix. She advocated using audit tools, since the UK is “audit mad.”
Mary Heaney cited MMU's use of Display Energy Certificates on all its buildings, big and small, as a way of driving behaviour change (with informal competition between faculties) and speculated that if DECs were put on private buildings, this would create reputational risk/opportunity.

And the final question? MCFly's attempt to bring the love-fest down to earth, exposing the contradiction between all the good stuff aimed at making Manchester 'greener' but within the context of 'Manchester as a “world city”' and the attendant aviation emissions. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids... Now, if we can just get Manchester Airport to adopt MMU's logic...

The event was hosted by the Centre for Construction Innovation and sponsored by AECOM and Sheppard Robson. The coffee, pastries and networking were all good. MCFly will highlight future events of interest to its reader(s).

Disclaimer- Ms Goodey is MCFly's boss in real life, so OF COURSE every single word she uttered was a pearl of wisdom!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Manchester Airport invaded by activists

Fresh from bringing an inflatable elephant to last Wednesday's post-election City Council meeting, activists from Manchester Climate Action and Manchester Plane Stupid have broken into the freight terminal of Manchester Airport and chained themselves to the wheel of a plane.

You can read about it here.

Protesters have cut through a perimeter fence at Manchester Airport and chained themselves to the wheels of a plane.

Members of the group Manchester Plane Stupid are demonstrating against the expansion of the World Freight Centre.

A spokesman for the airport said six people cut a hole in the fence and flights were suspended for 20 minutes following the security breach.

Police are currently working on removing the protesters, who started their demonstration at about 0700 BST.

As per the latest MCFly's calendar, the next meeting of Manchester Climate Action takes place this Wednesday, 26 May, starting at 7.30pm at the Bowling Green Pub, Grafton St.

MCFly will be there, and doubtless there will be some new faces, complete with inquisitive minds.

MCFly 049- Glebelands

Glebelands city growers is a haven of green lushness hidden behind a simple walk way between two buildings. The scenery is idyllic; a market garden perched on the banks of the River Mersey, the earthy smell of freshly tilled soil and sounds of chirping birds fill the air. A gentle breeze and the flowing river all but shut out the noise of traffic from the M60, isolating the farm from the hustle and bustle of Sale South Manchester.

The land for the farm is on lease from the Trafford Metropolitan Council and the market garden is run by a friendly and dedicated four member strong team of Charlotte, Adam, Sally and Ed. They are helped by Emily, who has been volunteering on the farm for over a year. The team met through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a registered UK charity made up of an international network of organic farms, gardens, and small holdings which are called hosts. These hosts offer food and accommodation in exchange for practical help on their land which they farm using ecologically acceptable methods.

Glebelands is certified by the Soil Association, a membership charity that campaigns for organic food and farming. The farm operates on the principle of feeding the soil rather than the crop and has a balanced ‘ecosystem’ approach to farming without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Rows of polytunnels, a glass house and a green house filled with ready to plant seedlings, help ensure the production of leafy crops all year round. All produce - mainly vegetables - is sold within 5 miles of the farm. Composting is done onsite with additional plant inputs sourced no further than 5 miles. The farm has just one tractor, keeping mechanisation to the minimum. Most of the work done manually, which helps to significantly reduce the farm's carbon footprint.

Although the team members do admit that it is a lot of hard work, they are also quick to add that they find it rewarding and well worth it. Innovative irrigation systems applied on the farm comprise of buried pipes under the vegetable beds with tiny holes to ensure that the soil is properly irrigated with no water wastage. This is usually not the case with traditional sprinklers due to changes in wind direction. Plans are currently under way for a sustainable irrigation system that is to be served by the River Mersey.

The farm's steadily increasing clientele include Unicorn- Manchester’s Co-operative grocery a successful whole food UK outlet named The Observer Food Monthly's 'Best Independent Shop' and Radio Four Food Programme's 'Best Local Food Retailer in 2008. Dig food box scheme a South Manchester home delivery service started in Chorlton but now moved to Altrincham. It specialises in locally sourced organic fruits and vegetables. Glebelands also supplies Organic North Wholesale, a co-operative formed by a group of organic businesses. Café Ark-Sale Water Park a vegetarian café located adjacent to the Mersey Valley visitors centre and Jam Street Café, Chorlton.

In April 2010, the Glebelands City growers’ team began work on the ‘Grow for it!’ project an educational programme for local schools, being funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food scheme. Training and volunteering opportunities do exist on the farm as well; visit their website/ for more details.

Forthcoming events include the "Open Farm Sunday" scheduled for the 13th of June 2010 and Community Volunteer Task Days that run throughout the year. There is a ‘Hoe down’ event coming up on Saturday 17th July 2010. The team hopes that community involvement would help raise the awareness of low carbon food production, which is an undeniable benefit of urban sustainable horticulture.

Membership based organisations such as the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA) provide support in the form of workshops, forums, quarterly magazine etc to organic horticulture practitioners throughout the UK. The support helps overcome challenges such as land procurement, finding the market for the produce, funding, weather, crop failure etc. These challenges notwithstanding, market gardens such as city growers serve as not only a shining example of the successful practice of urban sustainable horticulture, but also remind us of where the food we consume comes from. I agree with Ed’s words ….. ‘We have all become far too removed from how our food is produced’. As I sit down enjoying a cup of tea and biscuits with the team, I am reminded of nature’s ever-nurturing capacity.

by Lilian Ikiriko

Interested in volunteering at Glebelands City Growers? Send an email to

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Green Wave

Hundreds of people tonight packed the Great Hall at Manchester Town Hall, and cheered the premiere of a new film about North Manchester leading the way on all things green. The forty-minute film, “The Green Wave”, looks back from 2080 at the present day, and shows how a small group of people made a global difference. It was made by people in Charleston and Higher Blackeley, supported and guided by an innovative organisation called Reelmcr.

The new Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr Mark Hackett, introduced the evening. He said that, as a councillor for Charlestown for 20 years, he was delighted to see the “skills motivation and talent that we know are already there” unlocked. He was followed by Manchester-based poet Tony Walsh, who spoke of the “journey of learning and self-discovery” that the cast and crew had been on, before expertly whipping up (even more) enthusiasm for the film.

The film itself is book-ended with scenes of an elderly couple being interviewed about the year 2010. The female interviewee's father is trying, with no success, to get his friends and family to take care of resources (and save money). For MCFly, the best quality of the film was how it captured the loneliness of 'activism' - the derision and gentle/firm telling-off activists can get when they try to raise uncomfortable issues. The film also looks (in an admittedly 'short-hand' way!) at the vested interests that stand in the way (a cartoon villain from the Hexagen energy company), and the ease with which people can be distracted or corrupted from the path of green-ness. Ultimately the message is one that anyone who has been paying attention these last twenty years can agree with- we can't wait for governments and corporations, we have to act now (and bring them along with us).

After the main film, which is filled with memorable performances from young and old, professional and amateur, the audience saw an interesting “making of” documentary, which explained just how interactive and collaborative the process of making the film had been. This was intriguing, and something all involved can be proud of. After that there were a series of speeches and presentations. Deputy Leader of the Council, Jim Battle gave a speech where he used the “f” word and the “c” word – fun and commitment. He was among a large number of people who gamely gave out awards to cast and crew. The loudest applause came for Jacqui Carroll, director of Reelmcr.

MCFly caught up with Jacqui, who led a large team of dedicated and talented people in making it all come to life, and asked her what the most important outcomes of the film were. She told us “the biggest thing was that it was a celebration of community. The film- and the process of making it, taught people things we didn't know, that people had taken for granted. For example, that not switching off appliances costs lots of money. We've learnt that the oil isn't going to last forever, and that we have to do it together. No-one is going do it for us.”

The film was made with money from Manchester City Council's Carbon Innovation Fund, Enterprise Manchester and the Climate Change Local Authorities Support Programme, with many other organisations and individuals donating time, skills and facilities.

What next?

It's great to see so much enthusiasm and concern. The challenge for all involved will be to harness that energy, minimise the inevitable falling off in participation, and choose new projects that will keep people involved and enable more to use their energy and talents. Given the good will, hard work and brimming talent on display already, this is very doable.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Manchester City Council's first post-election meeting

For anyone who has been observing Manchester City Council's slow slide back into 'business as usual' on climate change, it will come as no surprise that there was no mention of the subject in today's full Council meeting. The job of raising the issue of this most threatening of problems was left to Manchester Climate Action, who greeted the returning – and new – councillors with a larger-than-life inflatable elephant wearing a banner reading: "Manchester Airport – the Elephant in the Room." An amplified recording of the noise of planes taking off ensured that the windows of the Council Chamber were firmly closed.

As the first Council meeting after both local and general elections, there were Council formalities to be attended to – including the election of the new Lord Mayor and the confirmation of Leader of the Council Richard Leese back into post (despite an unusual challenge from the Liberal Democrat opposition).
Cllr Mark Hackett's acceptance speech as mayor included nostalgic references to the suffragettes and Chartists and to his own days protesting against the Vietnam War and supporting striking miners in 1964. Sadly, this radicalism wasn't replicated in his planned focus for his Lord Mayoral year. Although he did apparently consider championing the natural environment, he's actually plumped for upping the profile of volunteering, especially in sports clubs and teams. Nice, but not very earth-shaking – or -saving.
The new Executive Member for the Environment was confirmed – as per rumours - as Councillor Nigel Murphy. He will, according to the new web page listing the new Executive,
"Lead on:
* Transport Policy (including highways & parking)
* Green issues (including waste strategy & waste collection)
* Planning
* Licensing Policy"

So, no mention of climate change there either, which is mildly worrying, unless it's been given to someone else... in which case, who? Councillor N. (there are 3 other Murphys on MCC) Murphy's Assistant Executive Member is Fallowfield's David Royle.
The other nine executive members, and their responsibilities, are listed here. The other main appointment likely to be relevant to day-to-day environmental activities in the chair of the Communities & Neighbourhood committee, which remains with Cllr John Flanagan.

Monday, 17 May 2010

News flash - rumours of new Environment Executive

Rumour reaches MCFly from more than one source (so it MUST be true!) that on Wednesday May 19th, at the first full Council meeting since the May 6th local elections, Cllr Nigel Murphy will be named as the Executive Member for the Environment. He will replace Richard Cowell, who lost his seat in Northenden to the Liberal Democrats, a ward in which the Green Party did not stand a candidate.

Cllr Murphy, who retained his Hulme seat in the 2010 elections, was officially Richard Cowell's deputy. However, MCFly never saw him at the meetings that Cowell attended, whether Environmental Advisory Panels, public debates, the meetings around the creation of the Climate Change Action Plan last year or the like. Cllr Murphy also did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Manchester Climate Fortnightly, both before the elections and at the count on Friday May 7th. It will be interesting to see if- assuming the rumours are true - Cllr Murphy takes a different view on communication after he rises to a position of some power in the City Council's political structures.

It appears that Cllr David Royle (Fallowfield) will be deputy Exec for the Environment.

The full council meeting takes place at 10am, the Council Chambers, 3rd level of the Town Hall Extension. It is open to the public. MCFly will be there.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

FutureCity mass "debate"

MCFly went along to the “City Debate” that was part of the FutureEverything festival. It was perfectly clear from the blurb that this was mostly going to be about shiny technology and weightless informational flows yadder yadder yadder. The format was also a little unusual, in that there were 17 speakers listed, each who would get approximately 90 seconds, with a couple of panels chipping in questions at some of those 17, and a couple of opened-out Q and As for hoi polloi to intervene.

For an event all about how the future is about hi-tech, there were entertaining (and instructive if we care to think about them) snafus involving dead microphones and even the simple matter of getting a 'tape' of Sir Howard Bernstein to play. Moderator Jenni Murray tried to forge on regardless, only to be “interrupted” by the absent Sir Howard on his second or third attempt.

There followed a rush of speakers. All the usual jargon and cliché got an airing- forefront of cutting edge... global... connected... game changers... challenging... hugely rewarding... going forward.. diversity... the future is speeding up... independent business... collaboration.... step changes... There was also a fair amount of vacuous boosterism, but I suppose that will come as a surprise to no-one.
The medium was the message, to quote somebody. Each speaker could only speak in banalities, unable to unpack their ideas and allow the audience to see if they made sense. There was no give or take, nobody was really able to pick up on other people's points. It all resembled a google-binge, where after 90 minutes you've been exposed to a lot of shiny ideas and words, but they're all muddled and you feel a bit queasy.

Only one speaker (asides the taped SHB) explicitly mentioned Climate Change and low carbon economies. That was Roger Milburn, Environment Commissioner and also Director of Arup. One of the provacateurs, Maarteen Hajer asked Roger Milburn to elaborate. [Hajer implied that the climate science suggests we have four decades left to do anything. I hope he's right, but MCFly's understanding of the climate science is that it is very much 'now or never' for this species]. Milburn did elaborate a bit- a low carbon economy has, in his eyes, finance mechanisms, a changed skill base, “product” and research (the Manchester Corridor, with the universities and the entrepreneurs was his example). Jenni Murray, who was chairing the meeting, invited other speakers to chip in on this question of “low carbon”. Incredibly, they didn't. It's not on their radar, they don't think it matters, they've not informed themselves; MCFly doesn't know why, but it's grotesque- how can you talk about the future of this city without grappling with the fundamental crises of peak oil and climate change?

So there was more talk, with the real standout one– grounded in social realities – saved for last. Patsy Hodson, vice principal of the Manchester Communication Academy, gave a succinct account of what the MCA will be trying to do, in an area where 41% of the people are economically inactive and 49% have no qualifications. With that, the room came to life a bit, and the Q and A that followed was a little more “real.” The 'elephant in the room' (the public sector money running out) even got a mention!

On the plus side- an innovative format that mostly worked (and given that it could have failed spectacularly, it should be chalked up as a success, even though it was the intellectual equivalent of speed-dating.

On the minus side – utterly disconnected from the real challenges that will face us.
If it's ok for the speakers to drag out hoary old images, so it is for the blogger. This event made me imagine us all as passengers in first class on the Titanic. The unsinkable ship has – thanks to the greed and hubris of its owners - hit an iceberg. In the background we could, if we chose to, see crew and other passengers talking about life rafts and so forth. Do we join that fact-based initiative? Sadly, no. We're having too much fun speculating on all the things to do and buy in New York... The stupid, it hurts...

Friday, 14 May 2010

News flash- Council releases a Carbon Reduction Plan

Manchester City Council has released a "Carbon Reduction Planfor 2010/11 (Including action on the 10% in 2010 Campaign)"

It's a 24 page pdf document that can be downloaded here-

MCFly will digest and do an analysis.

News flash- Lib Dems appoint new environment spokesman

OK, we here at MCFly Towers have enough of a sense of irony to realise that this newsflash isn't up there with "Kennedy Shot" or "Man walks on the fucking moon", but here goes. The Manchester Liberal Democrats have announced that Cllr Paul Ankers (Chorlton) will be the new shadow Environment Spokesperson. He takes over from Cllr Graham Shaw, who has had the role for as far back as MCFly can remember (that is, at least two years).

On Wednesday 19th, Council Leader Sir Richard Leese (yes, he's back) will unveil the new Council Executive. A new Exec Member for the Environment will be needed, since Richard Cowell lost his Northenden seat at the May 6th local elections.

Next newsflash- Council's Carbon Reduction Plan announced.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A tale of two meetings: barges and argy-bargy

First off to Castle Grayskull to hear about “The Science Barge,” a floating greenhouse on the Hudson River that is the brainchild of Groundwork Hudson Valley. The two American speakers have been touring Manchester today with people from Manchester City Council. After a scene-setting presentation by a Food Futures person, Groundwork USA deputy director Curt Collier spoke at just the right length and detail about the rationale of the project. (Give it a year and the good people of Ancoats will be getting their fruit and veg from a converted coal barge parked alongside MERCi.)

Then off to the Manchester Skeptics Society, where Dr Andrew Russell gave an entertaining whizz through the standard skeptic 'arguments' (you know- natural cycles, the sun, climate gate, glacier gate etc) to a large audience (60?). Carol Batton, well-known fixture on Manchester's poetry scene heckled the third slide and then self-ejected in a robust and somewhat premature fashion. Things settled down after that, with Russell enjoying himself and not bothering to hide his disdain of zombie arguments and the zombies who try to spread them.

The Skeptics Society meets monthly, covering a bunch of topics (including an upcoming one on the 'Quacklash', of libel laws being used against journalists critiquing homeopathy etc). On tonight's showing, they seem a friendly and intelligent bunch. If you need an excuse to get drunk and argumentative, then this looks like a good place to start.
Just visited their website, and found their tagline- "a Manchester based organisation dedicated to rational thinking, non-homoeopathic drinking and the promotion of skepticism."

Monday, 10 May 2010

Thinking about transitions

The Planning and Environment Research Group (PERG) for the Royal Geography Society had its annual get together last week in Birmingham. The aim was to think about issues around transitions and climate change. Somewhat surprisingly, many of the geographers present were engaged in practical projects a long way from the ivory towers of academia. The workshop covered a lot of ground, since papers were circulated beforehand. Attendees were therefore spared two days of powerpoints, which allowed for much longer discussions on the issues. Not so surprising was the constant debate about what transitions are and who they are for, with a lot of criticism on the so called ‘Dutch School’ of transitions...a discussion far from finished by this group of geographers.

Amanda Smith from Nottingham Trent University gave some feedback from her work with
the Nottingham Transitions Town group ( and their focus on community resilience, permaculture, changing behavior and the desire to be seen as ‘apolitical’. A discussion on whether the transition town network had a cult feel with its ten steps to happiness took up some of the questioning, as did the inaction of a number of transition town groups and the often bumpy relationships with local authorities.

Harriet Bulkeley from Durham University gave an overview of initial findings from her mammoth quest to create a database of hundreds of transition experiments from cities across the globe. Harriet went on to show how the collection of over 450 of these experiments shows the diversity of different things going on and the different ways community groups and local authorities are thinking about the challenges of climate change. Manchester had a number of entries into the database which will be finished over the next year.

Sarah Hards from York University presented some of her initial research looking at people lifestyles in relation to addressing climate change and how transitions in individual lives are shaped by their location in specific times and places. Does this mean that people in Manchester are transitioning differently to people in neighbouring cities?

Other discussions included how communities are adapting in Hull to the danger of flooding and what this means to different neighbourhoods in terms of being prepared for climate change affects. A paper about public building energy systems in Burkino Faso began a fascinating debate about the responsibility of African countries to lower their carbon emissions...should they bother when people are poor and hungry? Should historical polluters such as the UK pay for these changes? and should African
cities see these as challenges or opportunities?

It was good to see much of the research supporting practical action alongside communities and local authorities showing the positive role academics can play in addressing climate change challenges.

These conversations will continue at the annual Royal Geographical Society conference in London 1st to 3rd September. You can email James Evans,( a Manchester based geographer for more information about the work of the PERG group.

All papers are available for download on the blog
"MCFly's roving reporter"

MCFly 048 - Book Review: Global Warring

BOOK REVIEW: Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map by Cleo Paskal Palgrave Macmillan £20

Cleo Paskal has written an interesting if uneven book that contains enough startling information and tricky questions to keep most people interested. The opening sections – on the US and When Paskal tries to be Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker journo who wrote the best book MCFly has read on climate change so far- “Field Notes from a Catastrophe”) the results aren't pretty.

Side-stepping the he said she said minutiae of climate science, she focuses on rising sea levels, rising storm surges, melting glaciers and changing precipitation (rain, snow) patterns and how they will play out around the world. She looks at the Arctic and the opening of the Northwest Passage, China vs India and their mutual need, and closes with an extended look at the much-neglected Pacific. Throughout she has compelling stats, concepts and anecdotes.

Occasionally the prose is breathless to the point of purpleness (e.g. page 62 “the thawing Arctic, where the shimmering mirage of untold riches is leading to decisions that may dangerously undermine North American and European security”) the clumsy 'nationalistic capitalism' where neo-mercantilism would have been more historically informed, and digresses into the history of the Suez and Panama canals. There's a lack of 'further reading' or further doing. It's not clear what she hopes people will do with the information she has gathered. Other reviewers compare it unfavourably to Gwynne Dyer's “Climate Wars”, but if you're looking for a well-informed 'Green Confucian' overview that doesn't think “the world” consists of the US-Europe and China alone, then you could do worse than this. £20 is a bit steep, so wait for the paperback, it should be along soon enough.

MCFly 048 - MCFly in abusive email allegation shocker

MCFly was at the local election count on Friday afternoon at Castle Grayskull (aka Manchester Town Hall). We tried to get a statement from Nigel Murphy, who retained his Hulme seat despite a spirited and clean challenge by the Green Party. Cllr Murphy, Richard Cowell's deputy, had not responded to multiple emails inviting him to answer the same questions we posed to the Greens, the Lib Dems and to Richard Cowell himself. Cllr Murphy told us somewhat abruptly “I'll call you later.” [We're still waiting by the phone like a lovelorn teenager]. His fellow Hulme councillor, Cllr Mary Murphy, then helpfully interjected that she'd “seen [MCFly's] abusive email.” Well, we've checked our correspondence to Nigel Murphy- three unanswered emails. We've posted them at for the world to judge.

If Cllr Murphy (either of them) would like to point out the abusive bit, we will gladly apologise. If there is nothing abusive then we are certain that Cllr Mary Murphy will - despite what some might predict - publicly retract her allegation and apologise for it

MCFly 047 - Peat, leave it as the ground

In MCFly 47 we wrote of a direct action to prevent peat being dug up. (See 'For Peat's Sake). Since then we've received a facebook message from a campaigning group. From it we learnt that Salford City Council is demanding a change in planning policy to ban future peat extraction on Chat Moss. The call comes in response to a consultation by the Greater Manchester Minerals Planning Committee - set up by the 10 councils in the city region to develop a statutory plan. The 10 councils are required by law to produce a plan to lay down rules for deciding planning applications from those who want to extract sand, gravel and other minerals including peat.

In a letter to the Committee, the Council says: "Salford's view is that the Minerals Plan should contain a clear policy statement that no further peat extraction should be permitted including time extensions to existing permission."

Salford's planning lead member Cllr Derek Antrobus said: "Curbing climate change is a central aim of the planning system and peat bogland is an important carbon sink. The Government has announced the phasing out of peat for gardening so there can be no justification for its continued exploitation." Salford has already proposed a policy in its own key planning document- the Core Strategy – to restore and enhance peat bogland on Chat Moss and prohibit future peat extraction. But this has still to go to a public inquiry.

Four historic permissions exist for peat extractions on Chat Moss from a period when planning rules were more relaxed. Salford faces a battle with Peel Holdings who have also responded to the consultation. They argue that there is no justification for a ban.

MCFly 048 - Richard Cowell, Exec Member for Enviroment

Richard Cowell, who has lost his Council seat by a margin of only 25 votes, is owed a debt of thanks by Manchester environmentalists (and also 'normal people'). He became Executive Member for the Environment in May 2008, at a crucial time. Climate Change was not supposed to be his baby, but for whatever reason, his deputy did not -despite initial expectations - take on the role. Cllr Cowell responded to the “Call to Real Action” report positively, and set up an “Environmental Advisory Panel” to be a 'critical friend.' He was a tireless ambassador for the Climate Change Action Plan that emerged last year.

Did MCFly always agree with him? No, of course not. The EAP (MCFly's editor sits on it) has suffered logistical problems, and is too much the fig leaf/rubber stamp to be effective. And the last 6 months have shown the Council returning to its bad old ways of low momentum, low transparency and low ambition. The incipient networks built last summer have been ignored, not nurtured. How much of the blame for this can be laid at Richard Cowell's doorstep is moot. The fact remains that whoever becomes Executive Member for the Environment would do well to replicate his willingness and ability to learn, listen, engage and champion community initiatives.

MCFly 048 - Getting REEL

On Friday May 21st there will be a red carpet reception at Manchester Town Hall for the cast and crew of a new Mancunian film about climate change. As we reported on in MCFly 44, Reelmcr have been working with residents in Higher Blackley and Charleston. The film has been funded by The Carbon Innovation Fund, CLASP, NWDDA and Northwards Housing. It is set in the future looking back to Blackley 2010 and how the GREEN WAVE movement and a child's film changed the world. The film script was written by local writer Richard Davis in collaboration with the film's participants, who are aged between two months, (baby Leo born during the project) to 87 years old.

MCFly will be at the premiere (no pap shots please) and will interview those who made it happen.

MCFly 048 - Status Quo Anxiety

Sometimes it's a case of “the less things change, the more they stay the same.” The political make-up of Manchester City Council (MCC) remains unchanged after the May 6th local elections, with Labour on 62, the Liberal Democrats on 33 and the Conservatives with 1.

The Greens failed to win their target seat (this would have taken them from 0% to 1% of the 96 seat chamber.) The Conservatives languish in richly-deserved irrelevance; pulling out of the debate on “Is Manchester City Council taking the right action on climate change” at the last minute tells you all you need to know about how much respect they have for local democracy, and how much concern they have for the key issue of the 21st century.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats will be telling themselves that they've done well by taking Chorlton from Labour and bagging the scalp of Richard Cowell, who was the Executive Member for the Environment. But climate change was not a priority in their manifesto, perhaps because they did not perceive it as ballot box boffo. And they are right- it isn't a vote winner. The people of Manchester seem unaware of the need to cut emissions, and the need to adapt/create resilience. It is this status quo - far more than any political deadlock – that we will look back on with dismay a decade from now.

Given the mistrust the public has for politicians, the political parties cannot create the space for bold action. That's down to 'civil society'. Currently the self-proclaimed climate campaigning groups – Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Call to Real Action, Manchester Climate Action – are not doing a very good job of pressuring the Council and creating a groundswell of people for future pressure. Will that change, or will we have, a year from now, the status quo? For anyone who cares about the future, there's plenty to be anxious about.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election results for Manchester City Council

The Green Party failed in their effort to regain the Hulme ward seat that they lost in 2008. The sitting Labour councillor, Nigel Murphy, retained his seat comfortably.
Labour 2445, Lib Dems 1229, Greens 1172, Conservative 490

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Mary di Mauro, has - after a recount - unseated Cllr Richard Cowell, who was the Executive Member for the Environment, by a narrow margin of 25 votes (2503 to 2478)

Overall, the make up of seats on Manchester City Council - Labour 62, Lib Dem 33, Conservative 1 - is unchanged, with the Lib Dems losing two wards to Labour (Rusholme and Gorton South) and gaining two others from Labour (the aforementioned Northenden and Chorlton).

Further analysis in MCFly 48, out this Sunday evening.

For raw numbers (and the other 9 AGMA authorities), the Stockport Express has the raw numbers...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

"Hungry City" author at Urban Thinking Forum

Carolyn Steel, author of “Hungry City,” tonight gave a broad and deep overview of how food shapes us and our cities, at the first “Urban Thinking Forum”. An audience of around 60 were treated to an historical and geographical tour of the world, focusing on how we got into our current mess and how we might, via “sitopia” get out of it.

Kerenza McClarnan, who has set up the Urban Thinking Forum a project within "Buddleia", briefly introduced the event. Andy Spracklen, whose “Ning” restaurant provided some of the food (with salad coming from Glebelands) gave a brief account of Steel's varied work. Steel, started and finished her talk with an aerial image of Shanghai, all glass and steel and nights at light. She warned us never to think of cities without also seeing her next slide- of a row of giant combine harvesters on the Alto Plano of Brazil, harvesting the food to feed those cities.

She looked at how we construct our visions of the city and of rural idylls in paintings, pointing out that “natural” places like Yosemite in America had actually been altered and maintained for thousands of years before Teddy Roosevelt turned it into a “national park” and shifted the locals off. Staying in America, she showed photos of the industrial meat production of Cincinnati (aka Porkopolis).

This segued into a discussion of the positive correlation between increased urbanisation and meat consumption..

Steel then laid out the meat (sorry!) of her talk, under the themes of 'how we got here' and 'what to do about it'

With great humour, fluidity and erudition, she galloped through the birth of civilisation (without mentioning the linguistic link between culture and cultus (plant growing) and the Fertile Crescent, the importance of sea transport (especially in feeding Rome).
She drew an intriguing analogy between the various edicts to deflate the cost of maritime transport then and the current tax-free status of aviation fuel.

She gave a quick spin around the theories of Johann von Thunen(1826, the Isolated State), and showed how this 'ideal type' of how and where a city would get its food is borne out, with maps of London (essentially you've got a ring of market gardens providing perishables, then a band of 20 miles of grain growing until transport becomes too expensive, at which time- animals get walked in, the fattened up on grain leftovers).

Did you know that “shambles” is the medieval word for 'slaughterhouse'? MCFly certainly didn't...

All this changed, Steel says, “almost overnight” (she had the good grace to apologise for the cliche, while defending it) with the coming of the railways, which allow essentially instantaneous transport of goods, especially animals. She zipped ahead to the 1950s and the vast tracts of suburbia, all of it dependent on the great car culture.

She said some choice things about supermarkets as urban developers, sitting on land until the local city council lets them build a giganto-market in exchange for a couple of 'affordable flats'. Barnbury in Oxfordshire is a Tesco town- 6 of 'em and nothing else...

On what to do, Steel was possibly less sure, partly because she is – as she re-iterated in her Q and A session answers – not so fond of big overarching ideas which don't work.

She pointed out that as long as there have been cities, people have worried about their sustainability. She looked at Thomas More's Utopia with its deliberate ambiguity on whether it was “good place” or “no place”, Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities, and said some suitably rude things about Frank Lloyd Wright.

She spoke of her neologism “sitopia”- from sitos, the Greek for food and topia for 'place. From there she looked at Dutch polders, Vertical Farms (they don't work, she said, to some consternation from architecture students in the room) and then onto Dongtan, the much fabled 'eco-city in China

MCFly was about to intervene by quoting from Cleo Paskal's “Global Warring'-

“Unfortunately, the location the Chinese government has chosen for this low-carbon vision of the future was a low-lying alluvial island off the coast of Shanghai, one of the areas almost certain to be hit by rising sea levels and storm surges. It's not building utopia, it's building Atlantis. This is a classic case of focusing on our impact on the environment while ignoring a changing environment's impact on us, giving rise to potentially disastrous consequences.”
page 176

In the end it wasn't necessary- Steel pointed out that it hadn't left the drawing board and wouldn't.
She cited the “Growing Power” program in Milwaukee and the recent “Requiem for Detroit” film. She gave a shout out to permaculture and her penultimate slide was of Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Governance.

All the questions came from men, and were of varying quality. Steel used each as an opportunity to expand on previous points, including explaining that squeamishness was not an option before railways externalised animals and their ways from cities, that Escher drawings where what you draw out depends on your presuppositions, on the turn around in HMG thinking on food security after the 2008 price spikes.

All in all, a tour-de-force. What was lacking? Well, more time of course. A focus on the practicalities of implementing solutions (this was more an event for those who don't yet have an overview that satisfies them, rather than those who have clocked all this and are busy creating facts on the ground).
A few of my favourite concepts- Permanent Global Summertime etc

Further readingsuggested by MCFly
Why look at animals by John Berger
Much depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser
The Oil we eat: following the food chain back to Iraq by Ricahrd Manning
Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg
Zdt by the late great Julian Rathbone
What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe
Community Technology by Karl Hess

Further reading suggested by Steel
Family Meals (NYT thing)
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
All Manners of Food by Stephen Mennell
Paradox of Plenty by Harvey Levenstein

Billy Bragg “The World Turned Upside Down
Leonard Cohen”The Future”
TV Smith “Free World”