Green Belt – the net approaches the gross as GMCA backtracks

Still from th ePlanning Inspectorate hearing on 9 March

When Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) published its Places for Everyone, 9-District Spatial Plan, it was keen to point out that the impact on the Green Belt had been reduced by the designation of some existing green spaces as Green Belt. While we welcomed the increased protection for those spaces, we noted that because the GMCA emphasised the net Green Belt loss, this tended to disguise the extent of loss.

“…some changes to the Green Belt boundaries are necessary, but these have been minimised as far as possible, having regard in particular to the need to promote sustainable patterns of development. This will result in a net reduction in the Plan area’s designated Green Belt of 1,754 hectares …”
Places for Everyone, p. 165

However, the actual loss, adding together the quoted net loss and the additions (which had been subtracted from the area slated for development), was to be 2,429 hectares. That does not include an additional 1,090 ha. of non-Green Belt green space loss.

Yesterday, however, at the ongoing Planning Inspectorate hearings about the plan, the GMCA sprung another surprise: what had been a total of 675.4 Green Belt additions will now only be 153.9 hectares of proposed new Green Belt.

Mr C Katkowski, the King’s Counsel appointed by GMCA to front the authority at the hearings, referred to the 2014 legal ruling of Gallagher v Solihull (at which he had unsuccessfully represented that authority which proposed to extend the Green Belt). This ruling mandates what is described as “a very stringent test” for establishing new Green Belt. That ruling cited a definition of the test (from the NPPF) but it is decidedly vague, “circumstances are not exceptional unless they do necessitate a revision of the boundary”. One might argue that taking 2,429 ha out of the Green Belt would indeed necessitate the remaining boundary. Presumably the GMCA believes it can make such a case for the remaining hectares 153.9 ha but not for the rest.  We also wonder why this old ruling has suddenly been resurrected by the same lawyer who was knocked back by it all those years ago.

Be that as it may, another veil has been cast aside. The net loss has become closer to the gross loss, weakening the green claims of GMCA yet again. That follows the weakening of policies on net zero emissions from buildings and the priority of building on brownfields.

Moreover, the change seriously undermines the validity of the already flawed public consultation, since that was conducted on the basis of the massaged “net loss” figure and the improved protection for those 675.4 hectares of green space. This must challenge the soundness of the plan.

Places for Everyone is an ecologically destructive plan with inflated projections for all types of building, far in excess of demonstrated need. That reality cannot be disguised with a sprinkling of sustainability policies.

We are grateful to Jackie Copley, Planning Director of CPRE, for alerting us to this development.  The post was amended ,11 March, to note the date of the Gallagher-Solihull ruling.

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Degrowth UK Website Now Open to Contributions

Reposted from

DegrowthUK sail logo with text "Call for Contributions: articles, news, campaigns and events.

Have you heard about a campaign, or perhaps you are involved in a local community group?

Have you read something interesting, or have you been thinking about writing a word or two to the Degrowth Community?

We are now accepting contributions!

We want to nurture the website to be a resource for the UK degrowth community and allies.

We are especially interested in signposting degrowth related activities and materials, including those which may have already been published elsewhere.

Submissions could include; information about campaigns, upcoming events, research, publications and comment pieces (short form is encouraged). We are open to your creative lead!

However, to do this we need your help.

What to do:

  • For content you would like to be re-posted on the website please provide a brief summary and link to the event or publication details, along with any copyright free images you would like included. We prefer open source publications, but all are welcome.
  • For original submissions, please send a brief email of enquiry outlining your proposal.

For all enquires and submissions please e-mail: degrowthuk[at]

Thank you! Your contributions will help us to develop and expand the degrowth community in these islands.

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More than just places

Book coverBook Review

Adamson, D., Axinte, L., Lang, M., & Marsden, T. (2023). Sustainable places: Addressing social inequality and environmental crisis. Routledge. £35.99 paperback, £26.99 ebook.

This short book covers much the same question that we have been concerned with in our own work. That is how to organise an economically, socially and ecologically viable local society, providing dignified lives for citizens without using more than their fair share of the world’s limited resources, nor overstepping the boundaries that the planet’s ecological and geophysical systems impose.

The first part of the book is an insightful review of the existentially challenging context in which genuine community development now takes place. This has environmental and social aspects; in all they list 14 key issues and trends, from climate change and land contamination to global poverty and inequality. Any developmental approach has to take them all into account. The analysis is degrowth-friendly, and maintains a global awareness grounded in the realities of local communities.

In part two the authors get into the alternatives. In doing so they review a number of increasingly influential mainstream and alternative economic and policy approaches, including those familiar to our readers, Social Exclusion analysis, Transition Theory, Total Place, The Foundational Economy, Anchor Institutions, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They then synthesise their own methodology, what they call Deep Place which they go on to explore through six case studies, four from South Wales (Tredegar, Pontypool, Llandovery and Lansbury Park), one from New South Wales (Muswellbrook, in the Hunter Valley), and one from Vanuatu (Freshwater, Port Vila).

Deep Place involves a series of steps, refined over the course of the case studies: socio-economic analysis, co-production and ‘think spaces’, horizon scanning, action points and setting up a ‘coalition for change’. This looks like a fairly standard approach – first understand the context, then identify needs, then action plan and evaluate. Of course the book gives more information about the content of each of the steps. Other approaches, such as Participative Action Researchi and Organisational Workshopii cover similar ground, as did the Reconomy projectsiii that arose from the Transition Network. Nevertheless it is useful to have the Deep Place approach as a model. An issue with all these approaches is that of “boundary judgements”. There are two types, firstly what is in scope for the analysis, and here the approach takes a broad view, with its dual local-global perspective. The second type is more difficult and concerns who sits at the table, with what legitimacy, and how the interests of those not represented are taken into consideration. Forty years ago Werner Ulrich devised a methodology for tackling these fundamental issues, and it has become part of critical systems practiceiv. There is insufficient detail in this small book to know how adequately the boundary issues of participation and representation were handled. The co-production work and the construction of the “coalition for change” could be problematic in these terms, making it difficult to arrive at interventions that have legitimacy in the community and backing from key resource gatekeepers.

I would also like to have had more detail about the projects and specifically the action plans and their fate. Not all the interventions really seem to match the aspirations of the authors, this was especially evident in the Australian case study where proposed projects included biofuels and household waste incineration. For other projects, for example in the care sector (a plank in the foundational economy), it was unclear what the funding and governance arrangements were to be and how feasiblev changes might be in the continuing neoliberal policy context. These are not criticisms of the authors but cautions as to the difficulties in meeting the ambitions for a truly Regenerative Social, Economic and Political Order – the theme of the final chapter which reprises the questions covered in the book.

The book is a helpful distillation of what elsewhere might be called a conjunctural approachvi, knitting together the local and global, the political, economic, social and ecological, in the context of intersecting and accelerating systemic crises, with Place as the uniting theme. It is of course far too expensive, and that is the reality of profit-seeking academic publishing, but it means that, sadly, the insights of the book, like that of so many others, will remain effectively locked up on the shelves of a few academic libraries.

Mark H Burton

iv Ulrich, W. (1983). Critical heuristics for Social Planning: A new approach to practical philosophy. Haupt.  Reprinted Chichester, Wiley, 1994.

Ulrich, W. (2005). A Brief Introduction to Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH). ECOSENSUS Project Website.

v The philosopher Enrique Dussel went so far as to propose feasibility as a fundamental principle of ethics.

vi The term comes from political analysis drawing on the theoretical contributions of Antonio Gramsci.

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We already have degrowth in Britain – really?

The Guardian’s economics editor has written an article on the impact of the economic impact of the preventative public health measures used in the first phase of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In passing he makes the rather surprising statement that “for the past three years the UK has been through a process of de-growth”.

I wrote a short letter in response.  The Guardian hasn’t published it, but some people who have seen it thought it worth sharing more widely. So here it is.

One might think that your economics editor, Larry Elliott would be better informed.  While his article ( ) was concerned with setting up and knocking down a straw man in respect of public health prevention measures in the first Covid wave, he also takes a sideswipe at degrowth, or as he, but nobody else, calls it, “de-growth”.  Degrowth is based on the established discipline of ecological economics.  One well known definition is “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet”*.  It most emphatically is not the same thing as recession, nor even secular stagnation, which is what happens when a growth-seeking capitalist economy can no longer keep on expanding, due to its internal and external contradictions.  It implies a managed, intentional trajectory, not an accidental and chaotic one, which is what the combination of energy crunch, supply chain disruption and brexit have, together, superimposed on the longer term exhaustion of the capitalist accumulation regime.  Make no mistake, contraction of the economy is the future, and degrowth is the way in which it can be made equitable while minimising the ecological damage.

Mark Burton

Steady State Manchester Collective and co-cordinator Degrowth UK network.

* Source for the definition:

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Respond to the National Planning Policy Framework consultation

Strapline from government website, "Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill: Reforms to National Planning Policy"

The government is consulting on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.  This guidance governs the way planing takes place in England.  It covers plan making, for example through the council-level local plans, and development management, for example in determining planning applications.

We think this is an important consultation with lots of opportunities to support needed reforms and to suggest further good practice and policy.

So, we’ve provided a guide to help you make your response easily.  It is a template for a response to all the questions in the consultation.

Please do share it and ask others to make a response. Here is the preamble from the template document – the necessary links for responding are in the document itself.  The deadline is 11.45pm on 2 March.

This is a “template response” for the government’s consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework.    It is what Steady State Manchester will be submitting.    While most of the wording is our own, for some questions we have drawn on draft submissions from Friends of Carrington Moss and the CPRE, where they have added to our own responses and where (as in most cases) we agree.    We are also grateful to the Community Planning Alliance for provision of a blank template with the questions.

As respondents, you may use the wording below, but we strongly encourage you to personalise and amend it.    You can also just use some of the material in your response and there is no need to respond to every question.

Click HERE for the template – it is a .docx format wordprocessor document that, depending on your browser settings, will open in another tab or window.  Please do contact us if you’ve any difficulty using it.

Here are alternative versions:  PDF file and
RTF webfile on cryptpad (open source alternative to google drive) read only.

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Community campaigners probe Labour position on Green Belt development

Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt Group and Steady State Manchester have written to the leader of the Opposition (Sir Keir Starmer) on behalf of a number of GM community groups to provide evidence about the lack of justification for the release of Green Belt.  We have also requested his support to encourage the GM Mayor and Council leaders to remove the Green Belt allocations from the Places for Everyone (P4E) Plan.  Our alternative solution proposes that previously developed land (brownfield) is progressed as a priority and Green Belt is retained until need is explicitly substantiated.  At each 5-year review point for P4E, all newly available data can be examined and the release of Green Belt can be reconsidered following genuine consultation with affected local residents (which has NOT happened to date).

The email was copied to members of the Shadow Cabinet and Labour MPs in GM.  The full text of the email is available here.

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Places for Everyone: the carbon impact. Revised figures.

We have revised our previously published estimates of the carbon emissions that would occur as a consequence of implementing the Greater Manchester Combined Authority‘s (nine district) spatial plan, Places for Everyone.

That plan is currently going through an extended series of hearings, the Planning Inspectorate‘s Examination in Public.  We have commented here (and here and here) on  the sessions that have covered the overall strategy, the integrated assessment of the plan and some of the cross cutting policies.

We produced our estimates of the carbon impact of implementing the plan last May.  This we did because it seemed that the Combined Authority (GMCA) had not done this work, something that was confirmed by GMCA and the consultancy, Arup, that did the Integrated Assessment.  You might ask how the GMCA could possibly claim that their plan was consistent with the stated policy of carbon neutrality by 2038, if they hadn’t made any quantitative assessment of the emissions that plan implementation would lead to.  We remain puzzled too, despite the GMCA’s lawyer invoking the “Wednesbury precedent”, that it was reasonable for them to do this because other assessors would have done (or rather failed to do) the assessment in the same way.  Our invoking of the Cambridge plan, which did conduct quantitative modelling of the carbon impact of different spatial options, was dismissed as an outlier.  We contend that it set a standard that other plans should be following.

The hearings also produced some clarifications and changes to policies.  In summary these were,

  1.  The policy for buildings to be net zero by 2038 was clarified.  The plan was more ambitious than we had understood from the plan document, particularly on embodied emissions, so we have taken that into account.
  2. The GMCA has backtracked on a number of policies, net zero buildings is now something to be worked towards rather than an expectation, and it will be subject to ‘financial viability’ – the ‘get out of jail card’ routinely used by developers to avoid planning policy obligations.  These two reversals will mean that the net zero buildings policy implementation will be partial.  We have made an estimate to take that into account.
  3. GMCA also backtracked on some other aspects, namely the targets for affordability and the brownfield first preference.  We have not made adjustments to our modelling for these changes as their impact is uncertain, although the weakening of the brownfields first policy (viability again) will surely increase the take of green space and this will have some additional carbon impact.
  4. The Wildlife Trusts provided some evidence about the extent of deep peat in some of the development sites in the plan, and we have uplifted our estimate for the carbon escape from building on peatlands as a result.  The impact is not great in the scale of things (land-related emissions are small compared to the other classes of emission).

A further, and significant change has been made to our estimates of emissions from the increase in passenger numbers that the plan envisages.  Previously we estimated this by taking an average between the unmitigated emissions at current levels and a trajectory based on the UK’s carbon budgets, to net zero in 2050.  Since it is generally understood that aviation emissions can not be mitigated to anything like that extent, on the basis of known and likely technology change, and they would have to be mitigated by further reductions in the other carbon budgets, we have now used the guidance from the government’s independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which indicated that aviation emissions are likely to be at no less than 80% of current levels in 2050.  We have made a linear reduction of emission intensity, per passenger, over that period.  Since the CCC notes that most reduction will have to come from demand reduction, we think it likely that we are still being over-generous.  While the policy on the airport in Places for Everyone does not state that passenger numbers will double, other policies make that assumption and the narrative text also makes mentions of this ‘ambition’.  At best, we suggest that the GMCA is taking a laissez faire approach to this area of climate threat.

The changes we have made do not make any difference to our overall message.  Building on the scale envisaged in Places for Everyone will incur significant additional carbon emissions and that will make it difficult for the conurbation to stay within its stated carbon budget, which represents its fair of the Paris agreement, on the basis of a two thirds chance of staying within 2 degrees of average global overheating.

You can read the revised and detailed report, HERE.  Our methodology and assumptions are explained there and the detailed results presented.  We are also clear about the limitations of the work: we will welcome informed contributions to help refine our estimates.

Here are some snapshots of the data but do examine the report for the full story and explanations.

GM 2038 carbon budget and the carbon impact of Places for Everyone - bar graph
Note, all data is presented in tables in the report.

Overall emissions are down from our previous estimate, largely due to assumed mitigation of embodied emissions in buildings.

Pie chart: additional carbon emissions by sector.
Note, all data is presented in tables in the report.

This is the top level of breakdown by sector.  Here and elsewhere we show the additional emissions that the plan would cause.  Aviation, which is said to involve a doubling of passengers by 2037, would be the biggest contributor.

Places for Everyone additional annual emissions by sector (excluding aviation) - line graph.
 Note, all data is presented in tables in the report.This is what the emissions would look like year on year.  See how the embodied emissions fall after 2027.  That assumes they are successfully avoided (by using alternative, low carbon or carbon capturing materials, or by using offsets – problematic as we explore in the report).  We allow a generous 75% reduction in these embodied emissions.  Our previous estimates were over-generous regarding operational building emissions (making a double reduction for the government’s gas boiler ban and the local net zero policy) so we have changed our modelling to reflect what the policy should have stated (and will, in the proposed revision).  Although stock built after 2024 and after 2027 will have lower inherent emissions than that from previous years, the higher (operational) emissions levels will be ‘baked in’ – those buildings will be churning our emissions at a higher level than the later stock every year, unless the owners and occupiers took (costly and inconvenient) steps to retrofit them.

This is what that looks like cumulatively.  This is important since it is the total emissions over the time period that matters – greenhouse gases stick around for a long time!

Places for everyone, cumulative additional emissions (excluding aviation) stacked line graph.  Note, all data is presented in tables in the report.

Finally, let’s look at the two types of transport emissions on the same scale, again cumulatively.  You can see what a big problem all those flights are.  In both cases, again, we just show the additional emissions associated with Places for Everyone.

Cumulative additional emissions, aviation and other transport.
 Note, all data is presented in tables in the report.

And here, again, is the link to the new version of the report.

Finally, as you will probably have seen, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations (to give Michael Gove his full, current, title) made an announcement before Christmas that has major implications for the planning system.  For Places for Everyone, it could reduce the level of housebuilding undertaken (we and other objectors believe this to be both inflated and of little real relevance to the housing crisis) and also encourage the use of brownfield sites.  While Gove has responded to back-bench Tory agitation, not the best recipe for policy change, we do consider his statement to be potentially helpful.  We will continue to monitor and report on developments and, if indicated, will update our estimates in the light of policy changes.

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Strategising Degrowth – book review

Degrowth and Strategy

Barlow, N., Regen, L., Cadiou, N., Chertkovskaya, E., Hollweg, M., Plank, C., Schulken, M., Wolf, & V (Eds.). (2022). Degrowth & strategy: How to bring about social ecological transformation. Mayfly Books. Available Picture of the book, Degrowth and Strategyas paperback or a free download at

The current economic and social system is the antithesis of the Viable Economy and Society. Resting on continued material and economic expansion, it fails to provide adequately for huge swathes of national and global populations, generating inequality and poverty on the many at the same time as it lavishes riches on others. Its constant expansion has reached the limits that the planet’s multiple and interlocked systems can bear, a situation of ecological overshoot, foreshadowing societal collapse.

That we need degrowth can surely be denied no longer, but how do we get it? How can we, those who understand the predicament and the need, and who struggle for something better, how can we get rapid transformation to a just and ecologically continent economy and society?

The business as usual people have a variety of improbable technological fixes, the green growthers have the Green New Deal, with all its problems but degrowthers have, somewhat unjustly, been criticised for not having a strategy. This book is an attempt to fill that perceived gap.

It is the product of an impressive collaboration between activists and scholars from Europe, both Americas, Africa and Asia, although with a majority from continental Europe. It came out of the work of Degrowth Vienna; their regional conference in 2020 focussed specifically on strategies. However, rather than a collection of conference papers, all 44 authors have written pieces specifically for the book. In doing so they all used the framework for exploring strategic change from the work of Eric Olin Wright.

Wright distinguishes between symbiotic, interstitial and ruptural strategies. Symbiotic strategies correspond to reformist approaches that try to change existing institutions and gaining the power to do so. Interstitial strategies try to invent and promote new arrangements in the spaces vacated or less dominated by the existing power nexus. Ruptural strategies seek to break with the existing institutions and social structures. They map loosely onto social democratic, anarchist and revolutionary approaches, but can’t be reduced to them. In an early and stand out chapter, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya relates these three to five of Wright’s later notions, resisting, escaping, taming, dismantling and smashing. She adds two additional ones, building alternatives and halting, and puts them all into a matrix, a “strategic canvas” for degrowth. This could look a bit rigid but as she explains, and several other authors demonstrate, the distinct modes interact, one, such as “building alternatives” can, under the right conditions increase capacity for “resisting” and “taming” and even lead to ruptural change.

Unfortunately, with the same framework used throughout the book, it can at times become rather over-formulaic, as at times the reader might have the suspicion of ‘writing by box ticking’, as authors put their examples into the pigeon-holes of Wright’s more basic three-fold conceptualisation. However, Chapters by Brand on emancipatory strategy, Koch on the State and Civil Society and Paulson on Strategic Entanglements I found thought-provoking.

The book covers a great deal of ground, especially in part two “Strategies in Practice”, with chapters on food, housing, technology, energy, mobility and transport, care, paid work, money and finance, and trade and decolonisation. I particularly liked chapters by Heindl on housing, Kreinen and Latif on paid work (with a case example on Gatwick airport), Aigner, Buczko, Cahen-Fourot and Schneider on money and finance, and Oyo on litigation in decolonial resistance.

Such a large piece of work (406 pages of quite small type), is bound to be somewhat uneven, and what seems plodding to one reader will enlighten another (and vice versa). I commend the team on a real achievement, one that anyone committed to a post-growth, degrowth, or steady state future will find useful, and which is likely to be a reference point for some years to come as we continue to struggle for a Viable Future for all.

Mark H Burton

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