Fearless Cities: could we have the new municipalism in Greater Manchester?

Fearless Cities: the new municipalism.

Fearless Cities logo Today it is easy enough to think that people are not interested in politics, or even that they don’t value democracy. But it isn’t so. We want to have an active role in the decisions that affect our everyday lives, our neighbourhoods and our communities; but we don’t believe – and with good reason – that traditional electoral democracy is offering us that. We don’t believe that it is enough to only vote once every four years and that then the elected members – all too often in the service of powers that are not subject to democratic accountability – take all the decisions in our name.

Laura Roth, Brad Lander, Gala Pin. Radical democracy in the town hall. In Ciudades sin Miedo (Fearless Cities), Barcelona: Icaria, 2018. p. 113

We have previously discussed the challenges of governing a city as large and diverse as Greater Manchester1. How can decisions be taken that reflect the interests of the diverse population, distributed as it is in a variety of settlements with different characteristics and histories? How can the maximum involvement of citizens in the democratic process be realised, going beyond the ritual of putting a paper in a ballot box every few years (with pretty low levels of participation). How can representatives at all levels really learn to listen, and (to use a current buzz word) to co-produce solutions with their constituents – not just members of their own party, but with the full diversity of voices, including those whose starting positions might be difficult to understand or accept. How can political, economic and ecological education be integrated within this process, so people are better equipped – have a greater level of consciousness – to take part in shared government?

The answers to these questions are by no means easy. Some good things are happening in Greater Manchester, for instance the live-streaming of council and Combined Authority meetings and the Ask Andy sessions with the GM Mayor in each district. But much more could be done as we suggested to the former interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd in our widely circulated open letter.. A previous post discussed the Heidelberg model of a digital platform for participation. Here we look at the Fearless Cities movement which goes a lot further, and ask whether Greater Manchester could learn from it.

In 2015, a housing activist, Ada Colau was elected Mayor of Barcelona. She was not a member of a political party, but the chosen candidate of Barcelona in Common, (Barcelona en Comú, in Catalan, BC hereafter) an alliance of social movements, many with roots in the 15M movement, the Spanish version of Occupy, a response to the neoliberal austerity policies that were especially pernicious in Spain with its dispossession of people who fell into mortgage arrears. BC have a minority of seats on the council, so govern with support from other parties: the Spanish electoral system does lead to such arrangements.

Book cover: Ciudades sin Miedo

The Fearless Cities book – coming out in English some time in 2019. Spanish publisher: http://icariaeditorial.com/libros.php?id=1714

BC, from the outset, realised the importance of linking up with others attempting similar re-invention of politics, worldwide and last year, 2017, hosted an international gathering of the resulting Fearless Cities movement. A book, building on that event has appeared, in Spanish and Catalan (they say it will come out from Verso in English early in 2019, though there is nothing on the Verso site yet). The book has a lot of material from the Spanish cities, Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, A Coruña, and others but also from Chile, Poland, Italy, Croatia, Canada, USA, Rojava (Kurdish North Syria), the UK (Frome Independents and London’s “Take Back the City”) and elsewhere.

As a new movement, there is relatively more on forms of organising than on forms of governance, and a lot of great policy ideas but so far, not a huge amount of practical experience of implementation. Having said that, administrations such as those of Ada Colau in Barcelona, Jorge Sharp and Alcaldía Comunitaria in Valparaiso (Chile), Manuela Carmena and Ahora Madrid, and Une Ville Pour Tous in Grenoble have moved fast with a variety of initiatives to restore at least some social and economic justice and environmental stewardship in their areas. The popular administration in the Kurdish region of Northern Syria, Rojava, continues to inspire with its radical multi-ethnic, multi-faith, democratic model in the “limit situation” that faces the people there.

I will focus on the principles that underpin the movement, because it is from these that we could devise solutions we could apply in our own distinct political context. Ciudades sin Miedo sets them out as follows.

There are two defining characteristics of municipalism:

1) The way politics is conducted is as important as the content of the politics. So candidate platforms are participative in their construction and practice, and the organisations created for the new municipal politics have the kind of priorities and structures of power that they want to see in the world.

2) The local sphere allows politics to be approached in concrete terms that matter to people: “Although the powers and legal responsibilities of local governments can vary around the world, politics is inevitably centred on concrete issues that affect people’s everyday lives.”

The collective authors of the book consider that there are three dimensions of central importance, and these are used to structure the various thematic discussions:

1) The feminisation of politics, “which implies the questioning of patriarchal models of organisation and power, in order to situate the work of caring at the centre, of both the political agenda and the forms of organisation.”

2) The emphasis on concrete action. The authors write, “We believe that the best political arguments are the small victories that demonstrate that things could be different, both within and beyond the local institutions. Taking note of this, we have included more than 50 practical examples, tools and local transformative policies that can serve as inspiration and guides to action.”

3) International commitment. As much as municipalism prioritises local organisation, action and local solutions, that doesn’t mean that it has a merely parochial outlook. The issues affecting local communities have a global dimension, and they need to be overcome through joined up and joint action. The idea is to create an international network of radical municipalist activists, organisations and administrations, and the book bears witness to the fruitfulness of that aim, albeit in its early stages.

To give an idea of the content of this new municipal politics, here are notes on, and extracts from (translation MHB, Steady State Manchester: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license applies), two of the thematic chapters. One covers process issues and the other one area of policy formulation.

First, on process:

12. Radical democracy in the town hall (pp. 113-121)

The quotation at the head of this piece comes from this section of the book. The authors, from Barcelona and New York, go on to say that they are trying out new ways of taking decisions and that for local democracy this means that it involves more than putting into practice progressive local policies, but implies the decentralisation of power, providing communities with the means to take decisions collectively. But they are very clear that this is work in progress and not a finished work where all issues have been resolved. Remaining challenges include:

How to give voice to the population at large without leaving to one side the social movements and community associations that have more considered views and knowledge?

How to maximise participation without ensuring the quality of decision-making?

How to combine “digital democracy” and democracy based on people interacting face to face?

How to involve people that don’t show interest or who don’t have the necessary time or resources?

How to convince public servants and elected members to cede power to the people on the ground.

Mini Manifesto

Democracy means self-government: delegation and representation are second best options. Treat the communities as the true possessors of the power to decide, not just as sources of information and opinion.

Make institutions less hierarchical, less bureaucratic and more transparent. People can’t make decisions if the administration is too opaque.

Take into account the potentially excluding impact of every tool. There are not single solutions: it is necessary to establish alternative methods so that people with diverse abilities, interests and experiences can decide which means to use.

Facilitate the use of digital infrastructure that can be re-appropriated and ensure that they are accessible and that people can learn to use them. Combine them with methods that involve people being present.

Motivate participation by offering opportunities that are real and effective. Not everyone is a member of an association. Take account of those that haven’t yet been involved, demonstrating to them that their contribution can be effective, that we aren’t just seeking legitimacy but their empowerment and positive impacts on their lives.

Weave together social connections and make participation enjoyable. Radical democracy isn’t just about results. When it’s done well, people discover the joy of acting together, overcoming that which divides them. Participation and enjoyment have to go hand in hand.

Accept conflict and don’t try to falsely resolve the profound differences that are part of our complex societies.

Think in terms of participatory ecosystems and don’t isolate and separate the tools for participation. Find how these tools can work together and reinforce one another.

Pay attention to three classes of impacts of any procedure for taking decisions and find ways to balance them should they conflict:
– Impacts on the quality of the decision – aim for decisions are informed and reasonable.
Impacts on inclusion and equality – aim to even out the power of influence on decisions.
Impacts on participants – people learn to make decisions as they make decisions for themselves. Have confidence in that process and support it.

Promote radical democracy everywhere. Enable democratic culture in local associations, political parties and companies.

Examples follow (not reproduced here) from Barcelona, Belo Horizonte and New York.

Web resource (in English, Spanish and Catalan): decidim https://meta.decidim.org/

Feminising politics

.But radical democracy has its “dark side”. It uses a lot of time and that means that usually more men than women take part. That means that deliberative democratic procedures need to take account the fact that the opinions of men usually carry more weight than those of women and are more valued due to the prejudices of those that hear them, and that oftne men are more willing to express their opinions by speaking out in public, taking up more of the time available, etc.

And an example of a concrete area of policy:

16. Mobility and pollution (pp. 149 – 156)

Context

Mobility is one of the pillars of the right to the city, especially for those that live outside the big metropolitan areas. A restricted mobility implies a restricted access to employment, education, leisure and services. The problem is that, too often, our cities and regions are designed for the car rather than for people. Public investment has favoured the construction of motorways, tunnels and car parks, instead of public transport and infrastructure for cycling and walking. ……..

We understand mobility, not as a simple technical problem, but as a matter of health, ecological and social justice. More than 90% of the global population live in areas that don’t comply with regulations for air quality. ……..

The people who travel by car are disproportionately white men with above average income; that is to say that the models of urban and spatial development based on the car exacerbate the inequalities of gender, race and wealth. That’s why we adopt an ecofeminist approach to mobility, putting people and planet at the centre of the way we design and connect our neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

Municipalism allows us to confront those unsustainable, carbon-intensive models of urban development and propose healthy and sustainable alternatives, overturning this unjust system that gives greater freedom and mobility to the greater polluters and those with most resources.

We have to question the idea that driving is a right, opposing the motor car lobby and work to change the attitudes of the public and change our transport culture. ….

Mini-manifesto

Oppose the car lobby with the collective right to clean air.

Change the priorities of urban design in order to favour pedestrians and discourage the use of the private car.

Reduce the quantity of public space dedicated to private vehicles, through measures such as pedestrianisation and the conversion of car parks to alternative uses.

Promote public transport through public investment and accessible tariffs that facilitate frequent usage.

Facilitate transit by bicycle, creating, enlarging and improving cycle-ways and offering public systems for shared use.

Penalise or prohibit the use of high emission vehicles, for example by creation of zones where those vehicles are prohibited.

Introduce congestion charges for private vehicles that enter central areas, and increase the cost of parking to reduce car use and finance investment in sustainable transport infrastructure.

Invest in a low emission public transport fleet to reduce both energy use and carbon dioxide emissions per capita.

Create bus lanes to increase the average speed of transit by bus.

Promote shared use of cars to reduce the quantity of cars in the streets.

Fix speed limits to reduce pollution and accidents, for example, 30 kph [18.75 mph] in urban areas.

Examples are given (not reproduced here) from Vancouver, Bologna and Barcelona

Feminising politics

The impact of urban planning and transport policy is not gender-neutral. Our towns and cities were designed thinking of participation in the labour market, with little or no consideration of the labour of reproduction [biological and social – SSM] and of caring. This bias is clearly evident in the systems of transport everywhere, that tend to be defined in terms of the convenience of those that travel to and from workplaces twice a day, sometimes for large distances (the majority of whom are men), in place of the multiple short journeys typical of those who provide care and those that work part time (who are more likely to be women). Frequently the transport infrastructure turns out to be inaccessible for those with restricted mobility or who tavel with dependent persons, and women are at special risk of sexual harassment or assault in those public spaces they cross travelling on foot, cycle or public transport. A policy and politics [política] of feminising mobility implies questioning the privileges of htose who use the private car, giving equal importance to the transport needs of those persons involved in reproductive labour and caring and making it so short journeys, on foot or by public transport, are comfortable, accessible, affordable and safe.

English language resource: Ecomobility SHIFT – htpps://ecomobility.org/ecomobility-shift/

  1. Radical municipalism, radical democracy in Greater Manchester?

    Could Greater Manchester rise to the challenge of the radical municipalist agenda? Undoubtedly. It would look different here, because it looks different everywhere Nevertheless there is nothing to stop Greater Manchester citizens and political leaders taking up the key ideas of a more engaged, participatory democracy, a different kind of “feminised”, deliberative politics, with policies effectively “co-produced” with citizens. Nor is there anything to stop elected members making themselves more accountable to citizens, improving their reporting back, not just to party members, but to their electors, who have the right to know just what they are doing in their name, and not just through puff pieces put out to gain electoral support. We know that some councillors have got this message (and some clearly haven’t – we and you know which group you are in!); we also know that the GM Mayor, Andy Burnham, has been to Barcelona and discussed the revival of municipalism with Ada Colau and Barcelona en Comú. The tools, the processes, the principles are there, but none of this will happen in the absence of strong, “upward” citizen pressure. There are civil society and social movement groups calling for moves in this direction2 and we count ourselves with them. Their enthusiasm and positive ideas should be welcomed by politicians as an asset for strengthening democracy. That way we could end up with a “Viable Democracy” for a Viable Greater Manchester.

    Mark H Burton

    Steady State Manchester collective

    2These include DivaManc, Greater Manchester Housing Action, Acorn, the Jam and Justice collaboration, the Save Greater Manchester Green Belt coalition, amongst other and more locally-based groups..

Posted in cities, democracy, transport | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accountability for the Mayor of Greater Manchester: Participatory Governance?

cartoon laughing ironically at the idea that democracy means the people exercising sovereignty.

Mafalda reads the dictionary: “DEMOCRACY (from the Greek, demos, people, and kratos, authority) Government where the people exercise sovereignty”. By Quino, via https://bit.ly/2AuqzZM

Accountability for the Mayor of Greater Manchester: Participatory Governance in the 21st Century

by James Scott Vandeventer

It has been over a year since Greater Manchester elected its first Mayor. Since then, Mayor Andy Burnham has worked to build the Mayor’s office as an institution almost from scratch and within the confines of the devolution agreement with central government. This is no small feat, and the Mayor’s efforts should not be overlooked.

Still, there are deeper underlying issues that exist in Greater Manchester, which the mayor has not sufficiently addressed. These relate to his own accountability to the over two and a half million people within Greater Manchester. Yes, he came to power in a democratic election. But likewise true – and widely known – is that the long-standing Labour majority across the city-region meant his election victory was hardly a surprise (1). More troublingly, with approximately 29% turnout, the mayoral election came nowhere close to capturing the majority voice of eligible voters in Greater Manchester (1).

In fact, low and declining voter turnout rates are evident in many local and national democratic governments around the world. This trend spawns from a simple fact: we do not live in pure, direct democracies. In order to manage the scalar challenge of governing millions of people, representative democracy and parliamentary democracy have become the dominant models. As a result of this, and due to a perceived ‘expert’ bias in decision-making, many citizens feel unconnected with government at local, national, and especially supranational, levels. At the same time, there is a palpable feeling that the decision-makers don’t understand how these outcomes impact individuals.

Among all the causes given to Brexit, dissatisfaction with decision-taking from the E.U. level is an undeniable one. And given the widespread unconnectedness many citizens feel toward government, is it entirely surprising that 7 of the 10 boroughs in Greater Manchester voted to ‘Leave’ when given a chance to have their voice heard? (2) Across the Atlantic, part of Trump’s nationalist appeal draws on the myth of reclaiming a perceived lost ‘greatness’ when control over decision-making rested with the people (or at least when decisions favoured the particular set of people that favoured him). Indeed, both of these exhaustively analysed events can be seen through the lens of dissatisfaction with the endless expansion and subsequent loss of connection to everyday people that results from indirect democracy.

Through its loss of direct connection with the people, indirect democracy can be skewed in favour of certain interests. And, through their lobbying power, financial interests can influence decision-making to favour the interests of further capitalist development. Mancur Olson described this decades ago in ‘The Logic of Collective Action’: the smaller the group, the easier it is to organise and pursue their interests, which can easily come at the expense of a majority’s interests (3). This is certainly evident in Greater Manchester. Take, for example, the way financial actors operate in the housing market: a small group of developers regularly convince the government that they deserve exemptions from mandatory affordable housing and other Section 106 requirements in their buildings (4).

At first glance, devolution seems to be an attempt to counter some of the issues associated with indirect democracy, as it seemingly gives decision-making and responsibility to more localised institutions. Still, the issue of whether any significant power is actually devolved is less clear. After all, the Prime Minister and MPs in the House of Commons still control tax collection and budgetary decisions.

In either case, devolution does involve the creation of new institutions at a more local level, with the potential to get closer to the citizens in a more democratic way. At present, the Mayor has taken some initial steps to engage with stakeholders about issues important to Greater Manchester, including the recent Green Summit (5). However, these steps only scratch the surface in terms of reaching the many concerns of the people of Greater Manchester. A more innovative approach to governance is necessary, one which moves past formal consultation to actually embracing participation in the decisions that the Mayor takes.

In comparison with the business sector, the potential for crowdsourcing as a mechanism for participation is relatively new to governments. However, by using technology-based platforms, some local governments are innovating the ways that elected official engage with their constituents. One particularly promising example is happening in Heidelberg, Germany. Their #GetTheMayor platform, which received the People’s Choice Award at SXSW two years ago when it was first launched, enables citizens to nominate projects they are involved in and concerns that they have (6). After an open period of voting, the top projects are integrated into the Mayor’s schedule and a visit is arranged. While not perfect, and certainly with potential for improvements, this relatively simple process provides a completely new way for the Mayor to listen to and learn from the citizens of Heidelberg, only recently made possible by technology.

A platform like this would not only help address the challenge of indirect democracy faced by Greater Manchester, it would also place the office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester alongside cities like Heidelberg at the forefront of innovative approaches to participatory governance. By ensuring that some activities of the Mayor are decided by the people (not all, of course, which would be a truly revolutionary approach to governance), such a platform blows up the traditional model of government and creates a more participatory form of governance that is relevant in the 21st century (7).

Of course, #GetTheMayor would require adapting to the Greater Manchester context. For one, the potential projects and concerns would need to be filtered based on the specific roles that are within the devolved power of the Mayor. Another change might be the name, which translates imperfectly into English. Perhaps #EngageTheMayor or #MobiliseTheMayor would better capture the spirit of this platform for an English-speaking audience. Finally, access to technology is a requirement for using the platform, part of a deeper issue regarding social equity. Still, this could be partially addressed by placing computers or tablets in public buildings, such as libraries, and directly linking them to the platform, by making available a text gateway to the platform, and encouraging collective submissions.

There is a clear opportunity for this kind of technology-supported approach to build a relationship based on trust between the Mayor and the people, and enhance the legitimacy of the office of Mayor of Greater Manchester as a new institution. In fact, building online platforms that allow people to voice their concerns, based on the model of #GetTheMayor, would make governance more participatory in other places that have reached devolution deals, such as Liverpool City Region or Sheffield City Region. It could also be implemented in the not-so-new, yet still young enough to innovate, institutions of the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Finally, older institutions, such as city councils – and even national governments in the U.K. and elsewhere – would be wise to adapt and creatively approach participatory governance and accountability in the 21st century.

We at Steady State Manchester would welcome this. We would utilise a participatory platform as part of a broader strategy to encourage the groundswell of change we support and encourage others across Greater Manchester to do the same. Strategic localism and democratic decision-making by the people are two pillars of a more viable economy (8). We would be more than willing to work with the Mayor to make this a reality in any way we are able.

However, a technological platform for participatory governance can only be part of a broader vision for a Viable Greater Manchester. The overarching prioritisation of economic growth continues unabated, whilst social challenges and ecological degradation pile up. These issues must be addressed both at the city-regional level, and through national and international changes. Perhaps, a participatory platform is place to start (9). It has the potential to generate greater citizen engagement that catalyses change and places democracy and the common good first. In a forthcoming piece, we plan to outline some of the points in the book Ciudades sin miedo (translation: Fearless Cities), which we understand will be released in English early next year. This powerful book, the result of the international 2017 Fearless Cities gathering in Barcelona, spells out the principles of the new municipalist movement and describes concrete policies and steps that cities can take to restore democracy and prioritise the common good.

The choice is with the Mayor and his office: revolutionise the approach to governance and begin to embrace a new paradigm of democracy in the 21st century, or flail for support until a citizenry increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo looks elsewhere for revolutionary approaches and ideas. Let us hope they make the right choice.

Sources

  1. https://www.gmelects.org.uk/info/2/i_am_a_voter/3/gmca_mayoral_election_results
  2. http://www.gmcceuref.co.uk/how-did-greater-manchester-vote.html
  3. https://moodle.drew.edu/2/pluginfile.php/225050/mod_resource/content/2/Olson%20%281967%29%20Logic%20of%20Collective%20Action%20%28book%29.pdf [Accessed on: 12 July 2018]
  4. http://www.gmhousingaction.com/housing-financialisation-deliver-viable-economy-greater-manchester/
  5. https://steadystatemanchester.net/2018/03/24/the-mayors-green-summit-a-balance-sheet/
  6. https://holdenoberbuergermeister.de/?lang=EN
  7. For a very relevant discussion of ‘blowing up the model’ in existing sectors, and potential for revolutionising others, the author recommends David McCourt’s new book Total Rethink: Why entrepreneurs should act like revolutionaries (2018, RedDoor Publishing).
  8. https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/the-viable-economy-master-document-v4-final.pdf
  9. We made a number of other suggestions in our Open Letter to the interim GM Mayor, Tony Lloyd: https://steadystatemanchester.net/2015/09/09/mayor-tony-lloyd-responds-to-our-open-letter/
Posted in democracy, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester City Region, international, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Will UK government commit to real climate change action, or continue to prevaricate?

Dramatic picture of the Sadleworth moorland fire.

The Saddleworth moorland Fire, made more likely and deadly by climate change, releasing yet more carbon dioxide. via Express and Star https://bit.ly/2NWuqAK

As the world experiences record high temperatures, from the Arctic to Africa and India, Steady State Manchester collective member Richard Shirres has written a powerful letter to the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Some key points follow, followed by the full letter (or read as pdf here).  Do consider following his example.

“Quite simply, the UK not only seems adrift from its 5th Carbon Budget objectives but it is
not plausibly on track to meet its implied commitments to the Paris Agreement targets,
an agreement it ratified in late 2016.
“The UK may be responsible for around 1% of global emissions but historically it has a
crucial responsibility, at 5%, for the single greatest component of historical global
temperature rise* since pre-industrial times. Yet the UK’s existing long-term target is
based on the judgment that it should be no more than an average emitter in per person
terms by 2050 on a global 2°C path…….

“There needs to be a relentless series of radical measures promoted now by this
Government, and successive administrations, if it is to conform to a suitable trajectory to
achieve ‘zero carbon’. ……

“A more stringent target, with compressed timeframe, would inject a great beneficial
impetus into all levels of spatial, development and economic planning right across the UK
and would act as a catalyst for the transformation of the UK economic culture. Above all
it would be sending a strong political message, both at home and abroad, about the
imperative of addressing climate change….”

He concludes,

“Any further delay, backsliding, in reviewing the 2050 target simply amounts to politicians
cheating on our future generations and kicking the burden of action down the road; as
were Minister’s promises of March 2016. Needless prevarication, or inaction, will be
rightly judged with utter contempt by those cheated generations….”

___________________________________________________________

pdf version

Richard A Shirres
Address withheld
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Rt Hon Greg Clark
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET

Dear Secretary of State,
Re: Pending implementation following Energy & Climate Minister’s expression of
intent at CHOGM Meeting, April 2018
The key goal of the Paris Agreement is to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
The minimum aspiration of the Paris Agreement is to limit global temperature rise to
“well below 2°C”. But it would be perverse to equate this with a 66% chance – ie. a 2 out
3 chance – of avoiding “around” a 2°C temperature rise, which was the original basis for
the prescribed 2050 target of the 2008 Climate Change Act.
One can only argue that the current target is technically consistent with the Paris goal to
limit warming to below 2°C IF one has a casual approach to the odds of exceeding
planetary boundaries, lack of concern for intergenerational equity and the UK’s
responsibilities for its major component of global warming to date (See below).
Since 2008, there have been considerable advances in climate science, such as
understanding of ice sheet dynamics and permafrost status, these not only raise the risk
level but also now point towards a more dire prognosis for a 2°C world; even if one
believes we can constrain ourselves to that limit. Whilst the 2013 IPCC 5th (working group
1) assessment report’s scenarios are liberally underpinned by the idea of carbon-capture
and storage (CCS), there is now also a growing appreciation that industrial scale CCS is
infeasible to effect any significant mitigation before 2050.
In recent years the UK Government has made a number of decisions that have impeded
progress even on attaining the current 2050 target. These include reneging on a
commitment to zero carbon development from 2016; failure to support sustainable urban
drainage; cut backs in onshore renewables – notably in the months just before COP21 in
Paris – as well as being slow to implement the green finance initiative.
Consequently, the UK is not currently on track to meet its 5 th Carbon budget.
Furthermore, capacity of central and local government institutions to deliver both
mitigation and climate change adaptation is currently inadequate even for the short-term
challenges ahead.
Quite simply, the UK not only seems adrift from its 5th Carbon Budget objectives but it is
not plausibly on track to meet its implied commitments to the Paris Agreement targets,
an agreement it ratified in late 2016.
The UK may be responsible for around 1% of global emissions but historically it has a
crucial responsibility, at 5%, for the single greatest component of historical global
temperature rise* since pre-industrial times. Yet the UK’s existing long-term target is
based on the judgment that it should be no more than an average emitter in per person
terms by 2050 on a global 2°C path. The intergenerational inequity of that impact alone
behoves the UK Government to exercise global leadership and take action. Meanwhile,
the carbon footprint culture of the UK remains one as if we had three planet earths,
helped by the carbon externalisation in the way we consume.
*[ Matthews, et al. (2014) National contributions to observed global warming, Environmental Research Letters 9]
Manchester Climate Change Agency is already advising Manchester City Council on the
need for a 2040 zero carbon target (Excluding aviation & shipping). And this is likely to be
extended to all the Greater Manchester Authorities. 2018 will see their local councillors
and officers undergoing carbon literacy training.
Meanwhile, this country suffers from some of the greatest levels of ignorance about
climate change in Europe. This comes about not just from its media but is abetted by
organisations such as the Met Office and, notably, the Environment Agency (Nb. I write
with experience as an EA employee) who do not see it as part of their role to educate the
public. The culture needs to change and not just for the public but also across
government (including within the Treasury) where acknowledgement of the challenges is
at best patchy and does not match the systematic appreciation of the CCC’s reporting.
There needs to be a relentless series of radical measures promoted now by this
Government, and successive administrations, if it is to conform to a suitable trajectory to
achieve ‘zero carbon’. The UK Government knows full well the technical contents and
scientific basis of this year’s IPCC 1.5°C report on potential global impacts and has known
for most of this year, which is merely now in the throws of finessing the executive
summary. A revision of the 2050 target, of the 2008 Climate Change Act, is long over due
and there is no excuse for anything other than an immediate review to be expedited.
A more stringent target, with compressed timeframe, would inject a great beneficial
impetus into all levels of spatial, development and economic planning right across the UK
and would act as a catalyst for the transformation of the UK economic culture. Above all
it would be sending a strong political message, both at home and abroad, about the
imperative of addressing climate change. It requires bold political leadership, which
would derive best effect before the COP24, in Katowice this year, in order to help with
leverage for all NDC global ambitions.
Any further delay, backsliding, in reviewing the 2050 target simply amounts to politicians
cheating on our future generations and kicking the burden of action down the road; as
were Minister’s promises of March 2016. Needless prevarication, or inaction, will be
rightly judged with utter contempt by those cheated generations.
Months actually do matter. JFK’s policy determination for the US to go to the moon took
less than five weeks in the absence of an assured technology. Whether our government
is capable of such leadership seems to be the question.
Yours faithfully,
Richard A Shirres
CC.
The Rt. Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben, Chairman of Climate Change
Liz Saville Roberts MP
Mary Creagh MP, Chair, HoC Environmental Audit Committee
Lord Teverson, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Posted in Climate Change, economics, energy, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Burners and preservers: most Greater Manchester MPs voted for more climate change

You’ll no doubt have seen the parliament vote on Heathrow. It indicates the appalling disregard by a majority of politicians for the threat of climate change and for sensible economic policies more broadly. Only 5 out of 26 Greater Manchester MPs voted against expansion. Click here to see who voted how. Credit to those who did the right thing.  As for the others, even disregarding climate change, what were they thinking, voting more billions to infrastructure in the South East?

Friends of the Earth said it very well in this short statement:

“MPs who backed this climate-wrecking new runway will be harshly judged by history.

“The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming – and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery.

“The aviation industry has been promising cleaner planes forever and a day, with little progress or investment.

“With no government plan to mitigate Heathrow’s carbon emissions, or to address its already illegal levels of local air pollution, it’s astounding that this scheme has been given the go-ahead.

“The only credible vote was to reject the third runway.”

As most Greater Manchester MPs are from the Labour party, SERA’s statement is relevant, though the “cakeist” punch line saying you can have economic growth and environmental protection is fantasy, as followers of SSM will surely know.   SERA lobbied Labour members to vote against the third runway which was also the position of the Labour leadership which inexplicably did not whip their members, so that more Labour MPs nationally voted for rather than against – and this included some front benchers.

Greater Manchester also has an aviation problem.  Councils rely on a contribution from Manchester Airport’s profits which they part own.  While the Metro Mayor and Combined Authority want us to be a Green City, the airport plans further expansion, and markets frivolous short haul flights: yet degrowing aviation seems to be something that can’t be mentioned in “polite company”, or at least when you do you will be ignored.

Think of that as you watch our moorlands burning in the driest June after the hottest May, releasing yet more stored Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere: I can smell the smoke as I write this.

I may be a member of the Labour Party, but I will neither campaign nor vote for people whose actions contribute to runaway ecological and climate collapse.

A personal view from Mark H Burton

 

 

Posted in Climate Change, environment, transport | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Economics is for everyone

“In Manchester, groundbreaking economics courses are giving locals the means to challenge some of society’s received wisdom – for free.”

Another article in  Aditya Chakrabortty’s Guardian series “The Alternatives”.  This time we can’t claim any involvement (though one of SSM’s members is named as a participant in the workshop).  But this is an excellent initiative.  One thing we did once was run a workshop specifically on the steady state economy / degrowth.  Maybe people would like more of this kind of thing.

More broadly, the initiative Aditya describes recalls Manchester’s rich history of working class self-education.  We wrote about this in relation to the broader need for cultural alternatives in our pamphlet In Place of Growth and this seems like a good moment to reproduce that section.

From In Place of Growth, 2012:-

Reducing consumption and strengthening community

Our culture today is a strange one. In many ways we have been de-culturised. Even by comparison with Celtic Britain the lived culture of Manchester (like most of England) is weak, dependent on passive consumption. Some of this is a consequence of waves of the successive destruction and re-making of communities due to the enclosures and migration to the cities over the last 200 years. Comparing the cultural life of Manchester at the start of the 20th Century with that now is instructive. For example, a popular progressive movement organised around both political action and cultural events and practices, with choirs, walking and cycling groups, working people’s institutes and educational resources, even secular churches. There were parallel participative cultures linked to other sectors too. That cultural life will not be re-created in the same form, but a re-discovery of those lived forms of culture and community would help both reduce our dependency on the consumption of consumer goods and services, and help build stronger and more resilient communities where mutual aid is the norm. In a context of welfare austerity too, such a transformation is a real necessity.

Box: Historical memory and lived culture

Manchester has an impressive history of participative people’s culture that was an integral part of the struggles for social justice of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Taken together these examples suggest how a new people’s culture could emerge again to replace the current culture of passive cultural consumption. That movement was much more than its trade unions and political parties, instead it was an all embracing social movement with a whole way of life, of social relations that embedded social solidarity, learning, healthy living and cultural enrichment.

These are some of the main structures and initiatives in the working class history of Manchester.

Mechanics Institutes

Working Men’s Associations

Co-operatives – retail and producer

Unions

Journals

Bookshops

Socialist faith groups and socialist churches

International solidarity (Spain, 19th Century independence
struggles, anti-slavery)

Clarion clubs – cycling, walking and music, and a newspaper

Access struggles culminating in the Kinder Trespass

Manchester and Salford Labour Halls

Socialist choirs

Orchestras

The Hall of Science.

Beyond Manchester there were also intentional communities and housing schemes linked with the Chartist, Owenite and later movements.

In the 1970s there was also another resurgence of radical lived culture in Manchester, centred on two small groupings, Community Research and Action group and the Manchester Non Violent Action Group. Some initiatives variously linked to these groupings included

The Community Levy for Alternative Projects

On the 8th Day

Grass Roots Books (later Frontline)

Several alternative newspapers including Manchester Free Press

North West Spanner Theatre Company

Community Arts Movement

If we are to reduce reliance on energy intensive passive entertainment and at the same time build a new social movement for ecological living that lives its values and principles then these traditions need rediscovering, renewing and reinventing. And this must be done in a way that includes everyone, not just a section of those centred on districts like Hulme and Chorlton. Moston Miners’ Community Centrei and Moston Small Cinemaii is an excellent example of what we have in mind, but such examples are scarce.

We need to radically reduce unnecessary consumption, that is to say any consumption that does not meet a social or personal neediii. Sadly, we are at a point where people’s identities are tied up in consumption and without finding some way of addressing this it is difficult to see how there can be success in building a steady state economy. This means that it is not just about replacing one ‘type’ of economy with another but it is about how together we shift values, perceptions and what people aspire to. There is a potential debate here – is consumerism a side effect of the underlying dynamics of growth and accumulation, or is it a key support for those processes, or again, do they mutually reinforce each other? But that does not matter too much so long as we attack both ends of the problem. As we feel loss more strongly than gain there is a need to find ways to highlight that this would be a gain (in terms of better quality of life, environment, community, etc.), rather than a loss (you can’t buy mangoes from wherever). This is clearly very challenging, particularly at the local level but maybe there are some practical things that can be proposed.

iii We acknowledge that the definition of ‘real needs’ requires debate and discussion: that discussion and consideration of what we actually need, individually and collectively for well-being and fulfilment, is a pressing need. Up to now a model of mindless consumption has been promoted and imposed without democratic debate or decision making.

 

 

Posted in community, economics, education | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

We need a A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework

A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework for a Viable Greater Manchester.

update: 3 July, 2018:  Indeed, as anticipated, the new draft has been delayed again to accommodate the new population projections from the Office of National Statistics.  These project 9.37% population growth by 2035 rather than GMSF’s former 10.22%.  Applying this on a simple pro-rata basis to the projection for new homes, we find that at 170,994, it is now just under the number GMSF now thinks can be built on brownfield sites, 175,000. Will that mean the pressure now comes off the Green Belt?  Read on to understand what that might mean for the overall model and the opposition to it.

read the following text as a pdf

 “Rewriting the spatial framework is our opportunity to plan for sustainable development and shape a Greater Manchester that best meets the needs of local people and our environment, and is not just driven by the needs of developers and a market-led free for all but is an opportunity to secure mutually supportive economic, social and environmental outcomes that benefit people now and long into the future.”  Paul Dennett, Greater Manchester’s lead for housing, planning and homelessness, and City Mayor for Salford1

The rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will soon be out (unless the rumours about its delay until the autumn prove to be true). But will the new version address the real problems that the previous version would have merely compounded?

We said this about the GM Spatial Framework, 2016 draft:

The model of urban development that emerges from the GMSF draft is problematic. It envisages a “regional centre” consisting of flats, offices and shops, dormitory suburbs and warehousing and industrial sites on the periphery, in addition to “Gateway” areas with high concentrations of goods in transit. People will often have to travel long distances to work (for example in the city centre). The plans for renewing local towns (or rather their centres) seem like an afterthought, and there is little on the ecological, social and economic renewal of Greater Manchester’s vast swathes of suburbia. Had the Framework started by asking the question, “What makes for a Viable Community2 – socially, environmentally and economically?”, then a very different Framework might have been the result.

We weren’t the only ones offering a critique of the underlying model: a group of scholars from the University of Manchester said:

When Greater Manchester has been formatted for exclusive growth by the mono-culture of flat building in the centre, the city region needs a policy reset. Instead it has a draft GM Spatial Framework for the next twenty years to 2035 which envisages a near doubling in the number of flats in the new town in the centre, plus more than 175,000 homes on new edge city estates for houses and warehouses often on green field sites off the orbital M60 and other major roads(p. 30).

This reflects the close relation in Greater Manchester between political and (property) business elites who ignore the risks of overbuilding and property price crash in flats which would probably panic buy to let investors dependent on increasing property values. The need for more than 150,000 extra edge city homes is based on the implausible assumption that the regional growth rate will accelerate to a sustained 2.8% and on a supposed “land supply gap” which reflects the developers’ preference for green field sites (pp 33-4). 3

Both ourselves and the University of Manchester group make the connections between the assault on the green belt, the failed “jobs and growth” model, the devastating city-centre building frenzy, and the housing crisis. The driving forces and outcomes of the city centre boom were explored in another piece of research by Jonathan Silver of the University of Sheffield in a piece commissioned by Greater Manchester Housing Action4. In an invited commentary we drew attention to the neglect of human scale liveability and the ecological impacts of the building boom, not least through its material and energy use5. We will return to these issues below.

The 2016 draft Spatial Framework hit two unanticipated blocks.

Firstly, there was an unprecedented response to the consultation, 27,000 separate submissions. A variety of community groups organised demonstrations, culminating in a large one brought together by the newly formed umbrella organisation Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt in Albert Square, outside Manchester Town Hall, seat of the council most associated with the agglomeration, boosterist, developer-friendly approach to planning6 (or more truly the lack of it7). The latter group also ran a well attended day conference Breathing Space: Building our Greater Manchester this March which went well beyond the defence of the Green Belt to consider key issues in urban planning, including transport, housing, and the future of the High Street, giving the lie to the suspicion that the Green Belt campaigners are merely a bunch of NIMBY’s.

Secondly, the incoming Metropolitan Mayor, the former government minister Andy Burnham, called for a radical rewrite of the Framework. More recently he has said:

There’s a feeling that cities get all the policy attention and towns are left to struggle and this is an issue for Greater Manchester if we don’t wake up to it…… people ….are proud and passionate about Bolton, about Rochdale, Leigh, you know, Stalybridge, wherever it might be. They care about those places and they want to see them on the up. We’ve got to start there. Start with what they care about and think about the housing that we truly need rather than the housing that developers want to build. ….. And that’s where you start to tell a more coherent story for how we’re going to develop a planning and spatial framework that is actually about rejuvenating the whole of Greater Manchester in the right way.8

There is some overlap here with the emerging critique of the previous Greater Manchester development model [maybe headline this concept earlier]. But the public statement on the GMSF rewrite frames it in terms that hardly suggest the kind of “radical rewrite” of which Andy Burnham spoke during his election campaign.

The framework is a joint plan for Greater Manchester that will provide the land for jobs and new homes across the city region, setting out ambitious plans as we seek to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world.

The framework is a huge part of securing the future success of Greater Manchester as we build a powerhouse of the North which reaches its full potential.

.The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which is being produced by all 10 councils working together in partnership, will ensure that we have the right land available in the right places to deliver the homes and jobs we need up to 2035, and will identify the new infrastructure such as transport, schools, health centres and utility networks required to achieve this. By working in a coordinated way, we can ensure the right decisions can be taken on both locally and at a Greater Manchester level.9

We can make the following observations about this statement:

    1. It still adheres to the agglomeration-boosterism that has characterised what has passed for policy up to now.

    2. There is no mention of heritage, amenity (other than formal services), biodiversity, or natural resource conservation and management. And there is no mention of liveable spaces that help the population to construct, reconstruct and maintain communities of conviviality and well-being.

    3. It is clear that the massive interest from the citizens of Greater Manchester is not being utilised in any kind of a collaborative way to jointly construct a new plan. Instead we have the familiar model of put out a document, invite responses, and then publish a revised version: the antithesis of living, participatory democracy.

  1. A crystal ball: the Next Draft of the Spatial Framework.

    Here’s what we think might happen now:

    1) To recap, the 2016 draft GMSF wasn’t bad just because of building on the green belt but because of the whole developer-led speculative model. That means an unliveable region with swathes of neglect, and concrete hell in centre, vast material flows via “logistics hubs”, cars and lorries /

    2) Given brexit, growth projections will be downscaled10. That will reduce pressure on Greenbelt, placating some opposition, weakening the loose social coalition for change.

    3) So the speculative, oligarchic, developer- captured, neoliberal, boosterist, growthist model will continue, despite tweaks to give some thought to the smaller town centres.

    4) Which means those of us who see the need for a totally different future for our city and region need to
    stick together (don’t let the developer lobby divide and rule),
    clarify our understanding of the driving forces, and
    agree design principles for a liveable, inclusive, post-growth region, a Social-Ecological Spatial Framework.

    In the next section we set out the key dimensions of this alternative approach to spatial planning.

The Alternative: A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework.

Workshop events we have run on the spatial question in our region always lead to the conclusion that social life or liveability, together with the natural world are two aspects people find most important and which are most typically eclipsed in economy-framed discussions on spatial planning. With this in mind we set out a two level approach to planning within the region.

    1. Places to live, work and be

The core of a regional spatial strategy must be two-fold: a focus on local places and local assets; and on region-wide places and regional assets. Two key questions to ask of every plan and every development are,

      1. Exactly how does this plan or development make this place a better place for everyone, across the lifespan, to live, work and be – in the short term and for ever?

      2. Exactly how does this plan or development increase, preserve and enhance green and blue space to grab greenhouse gas emissions, manage heat and flooding under conditions of climate change, protect biodiversity and nature, while offering amenity to the population.

In what follows, we argue for a return to an earlier stated purpose of a regional spatial framework

Planning shapes the places where people live and work and the country we live in. It plays a key role in supporting the [Region’s] wider social, environmental and economic objectives and for sustainable communities. …spatial planning goes beyond traditional land use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function”11

This is the orientation supported by Paul Dennett’s acknowledgement in the quote at the top of this article; there can be no spatial planning that does not consider at its heart the lived experience of our communities and the things that are needed to sustain them in the broadest sense.

    1. Local places and local assets

Greater Manchester is made up of different places, each with different strengths, cultures, histories, traditions and aspirations to be great places to live, work and be. The ambition should be to plan to make all of these places great, not just in terms of the built environment but in terms of what buildings are there for. The starting point is to make good use of what is there already in terms of the existing population in all its complexity, knowledge and talents; homes and a diversity of kinds of living spaces; local workspaces and places of employment; shops; cultural facilities (including community centres, pubs, cafés, faith centres, schools and colleges, health centres, libraries and places for meeting and for entertainment); transport facilities, green and blue spaces.

      • Community engagement and participation – all developments done participatively with a focus on built-in safety and increasing space for growing

      • Homes fit to live in.

      • Retrofitting housing to reduce energy demand and hence costs and emissions while improving comfort and health.

      • Mixed communities with citizens of different ages, socio-economic circumstances, ethnicity and faith, abilities, life-stages living side by side.

      • Local places of employment including workspaces for entrepreneurship and development of community good employment as well as for support for growing, maintenance and repair (as both employment and as non-employed activity).

      • Shops for everyday, fresh vegetables and fruit; affordable staples, convenience, accessibility (within walking distance of homes) and all age friendly – for example with places to sit (without spending) if necessary.

      • Walking routes, whether by pedestrianised areas or via pavements accessible for all and in good repair. Crossings that give pedestrians the priority over cars.

      • Cultural facilities for all within walking distance of homes. Divers kinds of affordable venues and support for home-grown entertainment (film cubs, drama groups, choirs etc).

      • Public spaces with art installations and importantly places to sit and rest or to talk.

      • Health centres, service centres offering a range of health and well-being services with public rooms open in the evenings and at weekends for community groups

      • Schools and colleges with facilities made available out of hours on a community-good basis.

      • Transport, affordable and taking people where they want to go. To other towns, to hospitals, to the countryside (so not just radial routes).

      • Green spaces available to everyone for growing and for recreation but also just to be, within easy reach of homes. New developments to have gardens and if flats to have both private and public green and blue spaces. This might mean an increase in ponds and wetlands around housing developments (with seating!)

liveability walkability breathability just being conviviality (true) prosperity resilience safety

    1. Regional spaces and assets

There are some aspects of space and place that can and should be addressed at a regional level. Connectivity between community places; transport within and between community places and beyond; access to the countryside; large areas of green and blue spaces; larger developments for employment, education, health care, etc.

But starting from this latter level, imposing developments that serve a discredited theory of agglomeration economics and speculator-developer financial interests, will lead to a devastating impact on life in the city region and a missed “opportunity to secure mutually supportive economic, social and environmental outcomes that benefit people now and long into the future”.

Instead the GMCA and its constituent authorities have to consider “how are we going to work with local communities, to support and strengthen them”. It then needs to look at the in-between spaces and understand how these contribute to and impede community life, and agree ways to enhance them while protecting nature. Planned region-scale developments need to be designed organically on the basis of the mapping of need that can be derived from these two strands of work, while taking account of the bigger picture of macro-social-economic trends and eco-system threats.

Building on this way of thinking and working we can draw attention to the following frameworks:

1) The elements of sustainable communities, for example in the 2004 Egan Review12.

Illustration 1: Elements of sustainable communities. From the Egan Review, 2004.

2) The Garden City principles13 – not as a recipe for new housing estates, but in a way closer to Howard’s vision of integrated home, work and amenity with the benefits of both urban and rural environments close by. We suggest these ideas could be used (retrofitted) to turn the Greater Manchester City Region into something like an Extended Garden City14.

Illustration 2: Ebenezer Howard’s idealised Garden City design

3) Allied to this, the idea of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes15 that, as trialled in other cities, brings food production and greenways into the urban environment.

The configuration of the towns and districts in Greater Manchester, with the ample green and blue spaces between, would lend itself well to the extended garden city and CPUL concepts as has been illustrated in relation to Leeds.16

For this to happen, GMCA needs to construct ways in which developers and planners can be educated by local communities – possible approaches include community-designed and hosted local tours, local participative planning workshops (for example to produce the neighbourhood plans that current legislation provides for but which seem to be discouraged by some of our local authorities). These approaches are a long way from the typical “This is what we are going to do: do you agree?” style of “consultation”.

Mark H Burton and Carolyn Kagan

Steady State Manchester

Notes:

2   The Viable Economy. Manchester: Steady State Manchester, (2014) https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/the-viable-economy-master-document-v4-final.pdf

3 A point also made by colleagues at University of Manchester Business School: Folkman, P., Froud, J., Johal, S., Tomaney, J., & Williams, K. (2016). Manchester Transformed: Why we need a reset of  city region policy (CRESC  Public Interest  Report) (p. 61). Manchester: Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester. Retrieved from https://foundationaleconomycom.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/manchestertransformed.pdf

4 Silver, J. (2018). From  Homes  to  Assets  Housing  financialisation  in  Greater  Manchester. Manchester: Greater Manchester Housing Action. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/45uj6plrnl4hwrb/FROM-HOMES-TO-ASSETS.pdf?dl=0

5 Vandeventer, J. S. (2018, May 6). Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy for Greater Manchester? – [Greater Manchester Housing Action]. Retrieved May 22, 2018, from http://www.gmhousingaction.com/housing-financialisation-deliver-viable-economy-greater-manchester/

6 Haughton, G., Deas, I., & Hincks, S. (2014). Making an impact: when agglomeration boosterism meets antiplanning rhetoric. Environment and Planning A, 46(2), 265–270. https://doi.org/10.1068/a130335c

7  The observation that the last 20 years of development in Manchester manifests a lack of strategic planning comes from colleagues leading the University of Manchester’s “Doing Devolution Better” research project.

8 Making policy Q and A, Andy Burnham. Metropolis, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2017 (2) 22-27 (p. 25). https://app.box.com/s/1p01sodnnq92pgymy1dlahc5c1thlx9h

10 This is already happening: the new homes projection has been quietly reduced by 27,200 units. See new housing estimates and land identification from GMCA: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/article/288/greater_manchester_publishes_land_available_for_jobs_and_homes
The number of new homes needed has been revised downwards to 200,000 – close to the CPRE estimate. The estimated number of homes that can be built on brownfield sites is now up to 175,000, an increase of 12,000. There is still some way to go but the closing of the gap is to be welcomed. However, it remains unclear where the revised housing estimates come from and there is no discussion of the other factors that we, and those commenting on our earlier post, have raised.

15Viljoen, A., Bohn, K., & Howe, J. (Eds.). (2005). Continuous productive urban landscapes: designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities. Amsterdam: Architectural Press. Available online: http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Food/Continuous_Productive_Urban_Landscapes.pdf

16 Tom Bliss’s film series, The Urbal Fix, apply these ideas to Leeds City region. http://turnstone.tv/NEW_UTV/the-urbal-fix.html

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Calling out BP at their AGM in Manchester

Steady State Manchester campaigners joined yesterday with Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Frack-Free Greater Manchester, Friends of the Earth, Platform London, Global Justice Now, Fossil Free UK, Justice for Colombia and Argentina Solidarity Campaign to share experiences in the opposition to BP, Shell and other fossil fuel companies’ continued drive to extract as much fossil fuel as possible, whether conventional oil and gas or unconventional, fracked, shale oil and gas.

We heard about environmental and social destruction in Argentina from Fernando Cabrera of Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur) and in Colombia from Fabian Laverde of COSPACC.  Their presentations were complemented by Helena Coates of Frack Free Greater Manchester and Maggie Walker of Fossil Free Greater Manchester both of whom drew out the connections between what happens here in the North West and in the global South.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester’s Maggie Walker explains how Greater Manchester pensions are funding the frackers.

Steady State Manchester participants also pointed out (to broad agreement) that the fossil fuel industry itself sits as an integral part of an economic system that seeks continual expansion, reliant on the concentrated energy provided by fossil fuels.  We do want to see renewable energy replacing fossil fuels but this is far from happening and nor is it likely that it would “fuel” the continuation of material growth production and consumption.   The implications are profound for our way of life.

Video interviews with speakers will be available later.

Meanwhile here is the press release from Fossil Free Greater Manchester drawing attention to the involvement of Greater Manchester Pension Fund whose two biggest holding just turn out to be in Shell and BP.

_________________________________Fossil Free Greater Manchester news release

Immediate release

On Monday 21st May, campaigners from Fossil Free Greater Manchester and pension fund members will be joining campaigners from Latin America at a vigil outside BP’s Annual General meeting in Manchester, calling on BP to stop fracking in Argentina and worldwide. [1]

In 2017, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s second largest investment holding was in BP.

Greater Manchester residents overwhelming oppose fracking. The Manchester Evening News conducted a poll in 2014 and found that 73% of respondents opposed fracking.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called for a presumption against fracking [2]  and Manchester, Bury, Salford, Trafford concils, and Westhoughton town council in Bolton have also come out strongly against fracking.

In a Manchester Friends of the Earth survey of local election candidates across Greater Manchester, 87% of the 342 candidates who responded agreed that “the Greater Manchester Pension Fund should fully divest from fossil fuels in the next five years.” [3]

In 2017, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) invested over £820 million in companies that are involved in fracking in the UK and worldwide. And BP was the GMPF’s second largest investment holding. [4]

BP, does not frack in the UK because of concerns for its reputation here (it would attract the wrong kind of attention).  However, BP is a key backer of the Vaca Muerta mega fracking project which, according to local community organisations in Argentina, is being forced through by the Macri government and major fossil fuel corporations at the expense of the indigenous peoples living in Patagonia. The project is also reported as being associated with countless environmental and human rights abuses, including the deaths and disappearances of known local activists and community members. [5]

Ali Abbas from Fossil Free Greater Manchester said:

“The consensus in Greater Manchester is against fracking, and yet the Greater Manchester Pension Fund continues to invest huge sums into the fracking industry and dirty fossil fuels. We need the Pension Fund to show leadership on climate change and divest from all fossil fuel companies”.

Research, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe, and undertaken by researchers at the Tyndall Centre (University of Manchester) and Teeside University has shown that fracking will add more greenhouse gas emissions to an already overburdened atmosphere, amplifying the already accelerating process of global warming and climate change. [6] As well as having more immediate impacts on air, water and land in the fracked places and on the communities who live there.

ENDS

Contact for comments

Ali Abbas, Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Mobile: 07786 090520

Notes for editors

[1]  See: Call out BP’s Human Rights Abuses in Latin America – AGM Vigil, 10am, Monday 21st May.

Join us on 21 May outside BP’s Annual General Meeting to call out the social and environmental devastation they are bringing to Argentina and remember those who’ve been affected by BP’s operations in Colombia.

Meeting outside Manchester Central Library at 10am, we will hear from a speaker from Argentina on the damage BP’s fracking pursuits are causing to communities and the environment in Patagonia. We’ll also be joined by Fabian Laverde, from Colombia, who will be challenging BP about its impacts on communities and their lands, and demanding justice for those abuses. We’ll then stage a vigil outside the BP AGM (at the Manchester Central Convention Centre) for those affected by BP’s current and historic abuses.

Join us to demonstrate to the shareholders that BP is a toxic company to invest in for people and climate.  https://www.facebook.com/event s/357912441366813/

[2] See http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/14524044.Greater_Manchester_mayor_hopeful_Andy_Burnham _will_oppose_fracking_in_regio n_if_elected/

[3] Manchester Friends of the Earth local election survey.  See Question 2 – Divestment from Fossil Fuels.  299 (87%) of 342 local election candidates agreed.  http://www.manchesterfoe.org.uk/election-survey-2018-parties /

[4] Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) holdings at the end of year 2016-7 can be found here: https://www.gmpf.org.uk/documents/investments/holdings/2017/ mar/mainstream.pdf

Shell and BP: As of 31 March, 2017 (the most recent report from the Fund on its investments), the Fund’s two biggest investments were in Shell at £318 Million BP at £275 Million. BP does not try to frack in the UK because it “would attract the wrong kind of attention”. But both BP and Shell are involved in Vaca Muerta (which, appropriately enough, means “Dead Cow”) a fracking mega-project in Argentina. The extraction of this, the world’s second largest reserve of gas, threatens indigenous land rights, safe drinkable water and clean air for people in Patagonia.

Barclays: At £119 Million, Barclays was the fourth biggest holding of the Fund. Barclays has been heavily involved in the financing of fracking. Under considerable pressure from campaigners it has announced that it is to sell off its stake in Third Energy, but as yet it has not, and indeed it has increased its loan to the company. It seems from statements made at the AGM that they may be waiting for fracking to begin before selling. Barclays still has a statement in favour of fracking from 2015 on its website.

Centrica: The Fund had £78 Million in Centrica, which owns British Gas. Centrica is one of the backers of Cuadrilla, the UK fracking company that has been drilling in Lancashire.

Chevron, Exxon, Conoco Philips: The Fund has investments (totalling £20 Million in 2017) in all these major oil companies, heavily involved in fracking in North America.

Other companies: The Fund invests in Duke and Schlumberger (£16.4M in 2017), both companies heavily involved in fracking.

[5] See Vaca Muerta Megaproject: A fracking carbon bomb in Patagonia.  http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2 018/02/05/vaca-muerta-megaproject-a-fracking-carbon-bomb-in- patagonia/

[6] See Natural gas and climate change (2017) http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/extractive_industries/2017/natural_gas_and_ climate_change_anderson_broder ick_october2017.pdf

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Does housing financialisation deliver a Viable Economy for Greater Manchester?

Does housing financialisation deliver a Viable Economy for Greater Manchester?

By James Scott Vandeventer, Steady State Manchester
originally published by Greater Manchester Housing Action, 6 May, 2018.

Manchester’s skyline is changing. Fast. While the dominant narrative is that dozens of the 2 contrasting pictures of housingbuildings transforming this skyline aim to provide more housing in the city centre, the recent report From Homes to Assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester by Dr Jonathan Silver makes clear that these housing developments are overwhelmingly driven by financial institutions and actors who have identified Greater Manchester’s urban core as an attractive site for investment. Indeed, the primary function of these developments is financial speculation. We are witnessing the process of housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For those concerned about the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in Greater Manchester, as we are at Steady State Manchester, this poses the question: Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy?

What is a viable economy?

As we describe in our 2014 report The Viable Economy and in other publications, a viable economy is predicated on a shift in political decisions and societal actions away from the growth-driven instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, a viable economy demonstrates greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without growth. Further, a viable economy subordinates the economic system to the control of society, and organises around cultural attitudes favouring equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.

So, how does housing financialisation in Greater Manchester measure up against a viable economy? This commentary applies a viable economy perspective on housing to Dr Silver’s report: it analyses the motivation driving housing financialisation, the evidence of it in Greater Manchester, and the social and ecological impacts of housing financialisation, and – importantly – concludes by proposing ways this trend could be reversed.

Housing financialisation for profit

Housing financialisation treats housing as an asset that can, should, and must, generate profit. So, housing assets are expected to provide a steady return to the financial actors developing or investing in these assets. This overarching motive remains firmly stuck in the growth-driving circular reasoning of capitalism whereby profit is necessary to accumulate wealth, and accumulating wealth is necessary to secure further profit. Perhaps due to its remit, Dr Silver’s report does not really explore housing financialisation as part of the desperate search for profit that characterises a stagnating capitalism.

Still, housing financialisation is a clear case of the constant search for profitable new frontiers inherent in growth-oriented capitalism. How can this continuous accumulation through profit to enable further growth treat anything other than profit as the goal? Indeed, any goal aimed at bettering the lives of Greater Manchester’s residents will be placed secondary to the goal of profit for the financial actors behind this housing financialisation. It fails, then, to utilise the economy for delivering societal well being if this profit is ever at risk. Any housing financialisation for the sole purpose of profit has no place within a viable economy.

Analysing the evidence of housing financialisation

To document housing financialisation in Greater Manchester, Dr Silver presents two types of evidence: one relates to government policies, and the other to the changing characteristics of the housing market.

Considering first the latter – evidence of which includes the expanding Private Rented Sector (PRS), involvement of financial actors, and the international origins of capital – it is clear that housing financialisation is not unique to Greater Manchester and occurs in many housing markets around the world. Two common explanations are, first, that the Internet and information technology have enabled financial actors to invest at a global scale, and second, that consumers lead increasingly mobile lives and careers and therefore demand more short-term rental accommodation. However, in both cases the role of producers in shaping housing markets is underappreciated or ignored altogether.

There is little doubt that technology has increased global capital mobility. But this has in turn allowed the concentration of capital into fewer and fewer – corporate or individual, and domestic or international – hands, thereby increasing the power of these few to set market conditions for pursuing profitable endeavours. So, the rise of the PRS reflects less the unified voice of a homogeneous consumer group demanding rental accommodation, and more the power of those that control international financial capital to maintain ownership of housing developments from which to extract revenue. Not only is this ownership model inherently undemocratic, but claiming that individuals can make their demands known through market choices misses the reality that financial actors increasingly dictate – and limit – the choices available to consumers. In other words, this is an oligopoly. The mechanism for reigning in this unequal power arrangement is through government policy.

Before examining government policies enabling housing financialisation, an elaboration on the outcome of the above ownership model is necessary. There are several ways international financial actors obtain ownership of housing. Large institutions can develop a site and maintain ownership, sell the entire building, or investors can purchase individual property – so-called ‘buy-to-let’ schemes. In each of these cases, owners have no meaningful stake in the local community. What sense of community emerges from thirty floors of identical, rented flats where one-year contracts ensure few neighbours get to know each other?

A viable economy approach would, for example, demand supporting local community infrastructure like green spaces, walkability, civic engagement and mass transit. It would recognise the persistent – and increasing – homelessness issue in Greater Manchester, and developers would proudly meet and perhaps even exceed affordable housing requirements. A viable economy approach may even find common cause with environmental groups over issues such as air pollution affecting health and wellbeing and contribute toward taking action. Of course, these proactive stances extend far beyond the concern of the financial actors involved in housing financialisation. So, how is government responding?

There is evidence of both local and national government policies supporting housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For large development projects, legal obligations are waived, including affordable housing requirements and other Section 106 obligations, which mitigate the impact of a development on the local community. The ‘viability assessments’ – procedures that examine the financial viability for developers – should provide a transparent view of why affordable housing and Section 106 requirements are not being met. But these assessments are withheld from public scrutiny. Finally, Dr Silver’s report identifies government loans amounting to £265 million to developers by the locally-controlled Greater Manchester Housing Fund, which must be allocated to market-orientated developments, and a further £50 million from the national government.

All of these actions reveal that both local and national policies are helping to shape the housing market in favour of the housing financialisation model. This comes at the expense of other models, such as co-operatives or mutual ownership schemes, that align with a more viable economy. Further, the skirting of affordable housing requirements for developments in Greater Manchester’s urban core risks segregating society based on income. Other Section 106 obligations would require that developers address relevant social concerns, including the above mentioned investment in local infrastructure, alleviating homelessness, and air pollution, as well as others that would emerge through dialogue with local stakeholders. By waiving these obligations, local government – with backing at the national level – advances the housing market of Greater Manchester toward further financialisation.

Housing financialisation’s social impacts, but also ecological concerns

Dr Silver’s report identifies a range of impacts housing financialisation is having on Greater Manchester. With the local economy starved of funding, there is insufficient investment in the local community. Housing in the urban core is increasingly unaffordable for the working class. The threat of future boom and bust cycles in the housing market looms. Spatial implications include areas surrounding the city centre becoming targets for housing financialisation, the privatisation of public space, and destruction of the historic built environments. Finally, there are transparency concerns about the international financial actors involved in housing development.

These impacts reflect how changes to the housing market can be inherently unequal. A viable economy approach would respond to the increase in people living in the city centre by providing opportunity to all kinds of people. A mix of people living and rooted in a community leads to fundamentally different social solidarity than segregated, isolated and transient residents. Further, the population of Greater Manchester is expected to increase in the years to come. From the perspective of a viable economy, the solution is not a focus on densification in the city centre, but rather on encouraging medium-rise developments beyond the inner urban core that are accountable to Section 106 and are affordable to the working class. This should be complemented by renovation of the existing housing stock and continued investment in local infrastructure. This spatial distribution should occur across Greater Manchester and prioritise replacing existing stock or developing brownfield sites, not expanding to the green belt or other green spaces, which all provide significant amenity, biodiversity or carbon or floodwater capture services to Greater Manchester and must be protected.

A spatially distributed and diversified model is also more resilient: in the face of a potential housing bubble, hundreds of units with nearly identical offer do not flood the market at once. Instead, differentiated units are gradually developed.

Dr Silver’s report names many of the financial actors currently involved in housing financialisation, from pension funds and private equity firms to banks and wealthy individuals, providing a clear picture of the international nature of the current model. Instead of international financial actors, a viable economy approach would depend on local financing for housing projects, ensuring investors have a stake in working toward the betterment of Greater Manchester.

This would be a radical change from the current situation, where the citizens of Greater Manchester typically have little way of knowing who is behind the changes to Manchester’s skyline. Dr Silver’s report provides the beginnings of transparency regarding this housing financialisation, a standard that should be adopted by local government for all future developments. As the report indicates, transparency extends to information about the existing investments of international actors involved in financing these housing developments. At present, these actors profit from, among other activities, petroleum and palm oil extraction. If the attitude toward these investments is any indicator, these actors will ignore the impacts of their profit-seeking behaviour on individuals, communities, or the environment.

One area the report does not address, which may sit outside its remit, is the direct ecological outcomes of this housing financialisation. The energy footprint of high-rise buildings is enormous, including petrol engines running construction equipment, the transport of construction materials, and the production of those materials themselves. Concrete and steel are two of the most energy and carbon intensive products of industrial manufacturing, and thousands of tons of both are required for any high-rise development. Further, the international sourcing of the materials and fuels to produce them means these developments support extractive industries, which often exploit workers and ruin livelihoods and landscapes. Of course, the above critiques could be made of most new construction sites. What is worth noting is the role of housing financialisation in catalysing these projects at such a scale, volume and concentration in the urban core of Greater Manchester.

A related case of the way that ecological considerations are not addressed is how energy efficiency and the size of flats are dictated by housing financialisation. The extent to which energy efficiency is deemed a key feature of these new developments, and whether their design embraces alternative spatial norms favouring sufficiency – less square footage – deserves further scrutiny.

If consumer resistance due to the above social and ecological concerns leads to refusal to inhabit these new housing developments, there is a potential for oversupply in the housing market. Thus, echoing the call in Dr Silver’s report, new policies and standards should be applied to all future developments, and not only address social impacts but also adopt higher ecological standards.

The recent Green Summit, organised by the office of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, considered discussing the large scale retrofitting of the existing housing stock to improve energy efficiency, with the potential for creating 55,000 jobs. Thus far, there is little indication this is moving forward. A policy subsidising the retrofitting of all housing to meet the highest energy efficiency standards would create many more thousands of jobs and would entail moving housing in Greater Manchester toward a more viable economy.

What can be done?

To the debate about the future of housing in Greater Manchester, Dr Silver’s report makes an important contribution. Recent media coverage on affordable housing, the council’s swift retaliation and subsequent withdrawal, and a recent motion by backbench Councillors to make viability assessments more transparent, all respond to the key messages in the report. So, what further specific actions can be taken for Greater Manchester to deliver a more viable economy?

The prior analysis points to some positive actions. Reigning in the lust for profit inherent to housing financialisation would involve holding financial actors accountable to affordable housing requirements and Section 106 obligations, making investment in the local community a prerequisite to future developments. Encouraging innovative ownership schemes and medium-rise redevelopments, spatially distributed across Greater Manchester, would diversify the housing market and improve its resilience. Demanding transparency about financial arrangements and social and ecological impacts of developments would honour the local government’s commitment to represent the interests of its constituents.

Still, these recommended actions entail a more proactive stance by the local government toward new developments. It is important to note that this certainly occurs within the constraints imposed by the national government and the concentrated power of international financial actors. Still, local government can be an agent of change. Proposing to retrofit the existing housing stock is an indication that these issues are at least being considered by Mayor Burnham.

Greater Manchester should utilise its clear appeal to set a new benchmark for housing developments in urban centres not only in the U.K., but across the globe. By acting as a facilitator toward a viable economy approach to housing, local government can reverse the detrimental trend toward further housing financialisation.

The upcoming release of the rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is an opportunity to articulate a new approach to housing development that places the interests of residents in Greater Manchester above financial actors. The Spatial Framework should articulate how mechanisms to decelerate housing financialisation in Greater Manchester will be implemented. But this is not a foregone conclusion and, at Steady State Manchester, our work in the coming months will focus on communicating a new vision for the spatial framework away from housing financialisation and more in line with a viable economy. This is an opportunity to position Greater Manchester at the forefront of innovative approaches to housing. Let’s not miss it.

 

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