Viable Greater Manchester: our new policy collection

Now with summary diagram showing how the policies would work to support each other.

Viable Greater Manchester

Policies for a Socially Just & Ecologically Safe City Region, 2021

Front cover: Viable Greater Manchester, click to download

This is a contribution from Steady State Manchester to the debate about policies for the city region.  In it we suggest some key ways to respond here to,

  • environmental challenges including climate change, resource depletion and damage to the environment,
  • deep-seated social problems including poverty, social deprivation and fragmentation,
  • economic problems including debt, unemployment, austerity and instability.

We published the first edition of this paper1 in 2017 and have updated it for 2021, taking account of

  • New challenges – including the evolution of the global “pancrisis”, of climate change, biodiversity loss, ecological overshoot and (as a consequence the Covid pandemic) continued economic, political and social dysfunction.
    • Changes in our region, including the adoption or progression of some of the things we previously called for (a carbon budget, co-operative development, bus regulation), but also despite ambitions for a green city region with social justice, a continuation of the old economic model that prioritises speculative building, inward capital investment and expansion of the freight and aviation sectors.

Such issues need to be tackled nationally and globally as well as here in our region where we can “take back control” and devise our own solutions.

It’s a huge task and we don’t have all the answers. We’ve borrowed and built on ideas from Manchester and all over the world. We do know that we can’t carry on with business as usual. Economic growth, as conventionally understood, is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) plans contain some good ideas but will not create the fundamental shifts we need to reduce our massive carbon footprint. Nor will they put local people in control and reduce inequalities.

These practical proposals for Greater Manchester are relevant to the work of the GM Mayor, the GM Combined Authority and the local authorities, but perhaps more so to everyone who lives or works in Greater Manchester. They cover money, work, enterprise, housing, caring for each other, democracy, inequalities and the strengths of communities as well as energy and the environment. We set out specific policy proposals and also refer to other documents we have produced setting out detailed policies, or in some cases those of other organisations. In every case we explain our thinking. We don’t always spell out the detail of policies: those who will have to implement them will want to do that, adapting them to specific contexts and needs. Our role is to point the general direction, especially where a change of direction is needed. We do, however try to provide enough clues and background, as well as sources to aid that process. We do not intend to present an exhaustive list of desirable policies, but a representative set for a Viable Greater Manchester.

Download the full 38 page report by clicking here.

1 As Policies for the City Region.

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Degrowth in Manchester – a new resource

We are really pleased to endorse this initiative from Neriya and Maddy, two second year students at the University of Manchester.  In this guest post they explain their ‘zine idea, which you can download or read online, from the links below.

Since our teens, we have both been involved in various climate activist groups. However it wasn’t until university, studying geography and Politics ,Philosophy and Economics, where we were introduced to the concept of degrowth. We both were drawn to degrowth as it facilitated our critiques of an economic system based on constant growth, and a framework through which to address both the pressing social and ecological issues we face.

Initial ideas for the degrowth zine came from our involvement with the four month programme Resist! led by the International Falcon Movement, Socialist Education International. This international programme is all about climate change and intersectionality, where training each month is accompanied by funding from the European Youth Foundation to create a community based project. The first month was specifically about anti-capitalism and the climate crisis, so we agreed it was a great time to create a zine about degrowth, and what a degrowth system means in Manchester, the city where we have been studying for three years.

We worked with a Manchester based artist, Josie Tothill, who created amazing art inspired by parts of the city. This included using old maps and well as incorporating art about modernity. This combination of Manchester’s history and the future is how we conceive degrowth to be and the incorporation of art within our work was something new but incredibly exciting for us. We wanted to make the zine as accessible as possible for different demographics. In part, the project was aimed at the university community, a demographic which has become increasingly frustrated with the marketisation of education and academia. Also, this zine is aimed towards the general public who are looking for solutions to address the flaws in the economic system as well as governmental failures regarding the climate crisis. We tried to tackle the many misconceptions surrounding degrowth in the zine as well as providing small practical things that people can get involved with or read about to learn more. We hope that by creating this zine, people will not only learn about degrowth as a concept, but also show how acts or organisations of degrowing the economy are already occurring in Manchester and hopefully it will encourage more people to join.

Neriya and Maddy

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Jason Hickel introduces Degrowth – book review

Also republished by MR online, 18.03.2021

Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save The World.

By Jason Hickel, London: Penguin-Random House, 2020. ISBN 978-1-786-09121-5

Mark H Burton, Steady State Manchester.

Degrowth has arrived. It makes appearances in mainstream newspapers, radio discussions and even the blog pieces of mainstream economists. In the last year several books have appeared, one of them published in the UK, by Penguin no less. This is from the LSE-based economic anthropologist, Jason Hickel, formerly known most for his work on global inequalities.

Hickel’s book is accessible and engagingly well written, with a good mix of anecdote, facts and argument. The key issues are identified: ecological overshoot leading to crises in the climate system, biodiversity loss and the overstepping of planetary boundaries, taking humanity into the dangerous territory of potential collapse of the systems that we rely upon to sustain life. Hickel is very clear that the overshoot is the result of the capitalist mode of production, itself drawing on the history of colonisation, of nature, peoples and lands. He identifies the contradiction between use and exchange value and the connection between relentless capital accumulation as an end and the growth problem. He notes that this endless expansion of capital is the distinctive characteristic of capitalism. Perhaps surprisingly, he does not identify its motor, the expropriation of surplus value from the labour power of workers.

The book has excellent sections explaining why economic growth cannot, other than temporarily, be decoupled from the growth in material and energy flows. Economic growth is the monetised realisation of capital’s expansion and the the expansion of material flows is what is causing the devastation of ecosystems, both through ever expanding extraction and as a result of the polluting products of industrial production. As Jason Hickel makes clear, switching to renewable energy requires capping, and probably reducing, the scale of energy use, while the re-circulation of materials within the economy only make sense in the context of a provisioning system founded on the principle of sufficiency.

Hickel makes it clear that never-ending economic growth is not a path to prosperity and well-being for all, rehearsing the evidence from comparative and longitudinal studies that have interrogated the association between the scale of the economy and various measures of health, prosperity and well-being. Students of capitalism as a malign system, where impoverishment is the partner of enrichment, will hardly be surprised.

He similarly rules out the technological fix, showing how improved or new technology will not reverse the growth of the overshoot since it doesn’t reverse the accumulation machine. Work has been done on alternative economic indicators and Hickel salutes this work with the caution that although they give us more appropriate measurement of how an economy is doing in relation to planetary and human welfare, they do not, of themselves change the underlying process of expansion.

The book presents an alternative shopping list of policy interventions. I found myself wondering if these really added up to the kind of radical programme that’s needed, although there is nothing wrong with them in themselves. They are listed as, 1) an end to planned product obsolescence, 2) cutting advertising, 3) a shift from ownership to usership (sharing equipment and resources and shifting from individual solutions like cars to collective ones like cycle lanes and buses), 4) ending food waste and 5) scaling down ecologically destructive industries. Elsewhere he adds ideas such as a caps on energy and material use (a proposal that ‘green growthers’ have never responded to), a job guarantee (State as employer of last resort), reduced working hours, debt jubilee (cancellation) internationally and at the individual as well as household level, and monetary reform, of which more later.

This list could be compared with that in the well researched tome by Steffen Lange, who brought together proposals based on an interrogation of the three major macroeconomic theoretical approaches, and with the list that we have suggested, building on work by Giorgos Kallis and colleagues. There are significant overlaps but also additional areas that do not feature in Hickel’s list such as tax reform, changes to the ways buildings are owned and used, a shift to collective ownership or enterprises or a more comprehensive curb on the whole sales and marketing function. In all cases, it should be noted, and in Hickel’s case this is despite a testimonial foreword from two prominent Extinction Rebellion members, they do not amount to a degrowth programme for emissions reduction. That is work that is still to be done, although there are studies to support it such as the work of the MEDEAS group.

Inevitably, I had some dissatisfactions, and in the spirit of comradely criticism, I’ll outline them.

One omission is a thorough consideration of “the agency problem” Like many of us who promote alternative approaches to economy and society, Hickel is good at identifying the problem and contributes helpful ideas on policy. But how is the change to happen? What, in effect is the political economy, and the politics, of a turn to degrowth? Apart from the vindication of a deepened democracy, which should not be controversial, the book is silent on this, with the author, reasonably enough, pointing out that he is not a political strategist. Yet some idea of the political and social movement priorities, together with the system’s leverage points, is very much needed if we are to go beyond making a contrast between the bad and the good. Are we doomed to recapitulate the history of the socialist movement where for decades utopian ideas were proposed with little articulation of how they might come about? That was something explored with precision by Engels in “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific”, an analysis that is relevant to the degrowth and sustainability conundrum of today.

By making a strong link between the incessant expansion of material and energy flows and the systemic need for increments in accumulation, Hickel points the finger clearly at capitalism. In identifying capitalism as not merely the free market and private enterprise, but that self-expanding system where exchange value rather than use value is prioritised, his formulation is much more adequate than much of the discussion. However, as I have already noted, he omits the ‘law of value’, surplus labour as the source of value under capitalism. Perhaps this is why, in my view, Hickel presents a rather simplistic analysis of the role of money in creating growth imperatives. If we understand the distinctions between value and money on the one hand, and between exchange value and use value, on the other, then it is clear that the creation of money by banks is not the fundamental issue in the expansion of the material basis of the economy. But the book uncritically repeats the proposals of abolishing compound interest and “debt-based currency”. These ideas are the subject of debate within the ecological economics research community and it is by no means clear that they have much relevance to escaping the growth treadmill, although other reforms, such as nationalising the big banks and making the control of credit and interest follow ecological priorities, could be helpful.

In a final section of the book, Hickel reflects on what living ecologically means. He draws upon alternative world views from traditional and indigenous peoples. As he acknowledges, some of the more animist thinking might seem very strange but he argues that it articulates an understanding of the intimate connection between humans and the rest of the living world. He argues that the break in the dominant Western world view came with Descartes and his dualistic philosophy, which as the liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel argues, was intimately linked with the imperialistic expansion of Western Europe and its eclipse of “the other”. Just as native populations (and often women) were defined as less than fully human, so the privileged humans were put on a pedestal, above and separate from nature, characterised by the autonomous mind, separate from the physical body. To me, though, while we should acknowledge the huge resource of indigenous knowledge of ecosystems and how to live with them, some of the passages about traditional spiritual beliefs come over as somewhat credulous. What is needed is an approach that transcends both Western modernism and traditional world views, by adopting a deep ecological understanding of interdependency and the ethical responsibility of humans as ecosystem stewards, using scientific knowledge and dialectical understanding in that work, while also drawing on the insights of the traditional stewards of the land, especially traditional peoples. That perspective, which Dussel terms “transmodern” is essentially the perspective of a subterranean current in socialist thought, from Winstanley via Engels (whose thinking prefigured systems ecology) and Morris, to recent thinkers such as Rachel Carson and Raymond WIlliams, as explored in John Bellamy Foster’s major work, “The Return of Nature”. I think that is probably the perspective that Jason Hickel also takes, but from the book, it is not very clear.

I strongly recommend More is Less as a thought provoking introduction to degrowth thinking. Its main points are consistent with our Viable Economy and Society framework. It would be too much to expect that it were a finished statement of a philosophy and movement that is still evolving, but it certainly makes a strong contribution to it.

To buy More is Less in the UK, why not support a workers co-op, such as News From Nowhere?

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Andy Burnham urged to act against government’s proposed planning system changes

from the Meteor

There must be a better way.

Open letter calls on Andy Burnham, and the leaders of the conurbation’s ten boroughs, to “intervene” in the government’s plans to change the UK planning system, which the campaigners call an “emergency for communities and local authorities across England.”

Campaigners have written to Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, and the leaders of the city region’s ten local authorities calling on them to “intervene” in the UK government’s proposed overhaul of the English planning system. The open letter says the planning proposals are tantamount to telling developers to “get on with it – do what you like.”

The open letter coordinated by the Manchester Local Plan Coalition, and signed by a diverse range of campaigning organisations, expresses concern about the loss of local democratic control which they say the government’s controversial new planning laws will cause.
……………………. Click to read the full article on The Meteor.

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The Post Growth Challenge

The Post Growth Challenge

Extended deadline midnight, GMT, Wednesday 31 March, 2021.

An initiative in collaboration with the Manchester Meteor and the Systems Change Alliance.

What?

A cooperative challenge to find a better way to present the post-growth alternative.

Why?

Over the last two years, various Green New Deals have become very popular. This demonstrates that a set of policy ideas can be effectively communicated by combining them into one positive package.

In contrast, the ideas and proposals of the degrowth, post-growth and steady state economy movements can appear complex, vague, negative and unattractive. Can we overcome that disadvantage by trying to do what the Green Dealers have done and present a Post-Growth Deal? There’s one way to find out – let’s try it!

How?

We invite you to present your Post Growth Policy package.

It needs to be presented in straightforward, concise, easy to understand, and attractive terms, without denying the real difficulties involved in reducing the material and energy throughput of our economies.

This could be done as,

  • A short policy briefing – of up to 600 words (you can use appendices to go into deeper detail).

Or…

  • You could present it in graphic terms, as an ‘infographic’, a cartoon or a comic strip, for example.

Or…

  • You could make a short video (max 5 minutes) to get your ideas over.

Or..

  • Maybe you’ve an even better idea for how to present it– the choice is yours.

Who?

Anyone who is interested in creating an economy that can sustainably support life on Earth.

We anticipate two classes of entry.

A)   Those focussing on a post-growth future in the specific context of Greater Manchester.

And

B)    Those with proposals for national or inter-state (European Union, ALBA, Mercosur, UN, etc. etc.) implementation.

When?

Send us your entries by midnight, GMT, Wednesday 31 March, 2021. – Extended deadline

How and where?

Entries should be sent to steadystatemanchester[AT]gmail.com

Articles, briefings, stories, or infographics should be sent in the form of an email attachment. They can be wordprocessor documents ( .odt, .doc, .docx), pdf files, or image files (.jpg, .png, ..gif, .svg). Please keep attachments to less than 2 megabytes in size. For anything larger, compress it or send as a file link (e.g. using dropbox, box, spideroak, google).

Videos should be uploaded to a video hosting platform and a link sent to the above email address.

We will acknowledge entries.

Prizes!

“Everybody has won and all must have prizes.”

All participants will receive a printed copy of our pamphlet, “The Viable Economy … and Society”. The entry that we like best in each class will be presented with a tee-shirt with the Steady State Manchester logo1. Wear it at events, or wear it in bed: we don’t mind!

Most important, though will be that we will publicise the best entries, through our various local and international networks.

In addition we might invite the creator of our favourite Greater Manchester entry to jointly nominate a local post-growth organisation for a small grant.

Rights

All entries will be made under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This allows anyone to share the work in its original form, so long as they give proper attribution to the creator.

1  So long as we have your size available.

 

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Systems Change Alliance interview us Wed 16 Dec, 11..00 a.m.

Interview with Mark Burton and Carolyn Kagan – Steady State Manchester

This interview went out live on Wednesday Dec 16 2020.  Watch it below from the System Change Alliance YouTube channel.

Mark and Carolyn talk with Alexander McDonell about their work with Steady State Manchester, how to achieve a steady state society and the Viable Economy.

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There must be some way out of here: policies, politics and possibilities in the pancrisis.

There must be some way out of here: policies, politics and possibilities in the pancrisis.

by Mark H Burton

This article was commissioned by the online journal 15/15\15 Revista para una nueva civilización.  The article appears there in Spanish translation / traducción castellana. Also available at Resilience.org.

In July the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to be waning in Britain. A cross party group of Members of Parliament, led by the sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the term used for the finance minister, often abbreviated to just “Chancellor”) to propose a “post-growth recovery”. The letter made a number of suggestions that are standard ecological economic policy proposals, common in the post-growth, degrowth and steady state networks. In summary, the MPs argued that a green recovery needed to prioritise well-being above economic growth. They congratulated the Chancellor on the enormous expenditure already made to support individuals and businesses when the economy was mostly closed down in the second quarter of 2020, arguing that it shows it is possible to prioritise well-being above economic performance. They also note the phenomenon of “secular stagnation”, that the trend in the rate of GDP growth across advanced economies has been declining since well before before the great financial crash of 2008. They argue for a reorientation away from the pursuit of growth towards what they call the well-being economy.

The parliamentary group that wrote the letter is the All Party Group on the Limits to Growth. It is supported by the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), based at the University of Sussex. Leading advocate of “prosperity without growth”, Tim Jackson is the director of CUSP and advisor to this parliamentary group. The group’s approach is clear on the impossibility of continued growth, drawing, for example, on Jackson’s review of the Meadows et al. Limits to Growth work from the 1970s, which accurately modelled the likely trajectory of the world system under business as usual, emphasising the resource and energy shocks from the rising costs of extraction. As a cross-party group the group has to present its arguments in a way that appeals to those, still working within the ideology and assumptions of the dominant paradigm, who might be open to exploring their limits and alternatives. However, it is still legitimate to ask whether the package of proposals made by the group is adequate to the combined economic, social resource and ecological crises that beset us all. Having done that, I will take a wider perspective on the main policy responses, not just to Covid-19 but to the global conjuncture of multiple crises. One way to do that is to critically examine each of the proposals made in the group’s letter to the Chancellor.

  • the adoption of new measures of societal wellbeing to replace the inappropriate reliance on the GDP as a measure of social progress;

Alternative measures could be useful in identifying areas for policy emphasis and needed reform and intervention. However, there are already a variety of measures of societal and community well-being available to government. Fundamentally, it is not the measurement of economic and social outcomes that drives the incessant material expansion of production and consumption. GDP is a social construction, an artificial abstraction that has a material force in defining expansion as a priority. Yet, in itself, it is not what drives its own expansion: to understand what does we have to look elsewhere.

  • a commitment to join the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership;

This could have some limited benefits by making an ideological and policy statement of intention and through sharing good practice with other States that are trying to re-orientate their economies towards a well-being agenda. Again, though, it does not address the nub of the problem.

  • the full integration of wellbeing measures into central and local government decision-making processes, and in particular into the Treasury Green Book; and
  • the development of a Wellbeing Budget which aligns Government spending with the needs of a sustainable and inclusive Wellbeing Economy;

This would be helpful in guiding government spending and policy in a variety of spheres toward the pursuit of community well-being. However, It is questionable as to how transformational this would actually be. Again, as I will argue, this is not where the key determinants of the destruction of communities and ecosystems lies. The proposal is a way of mitigating some of that damage but not a means to ending it.

  • the establishment of a formal inquiry into ways in which it may be possible to reduce the ‘growth dependency’ of the UK economy;

This could be interesting insofar as it would bring the many analyses and arguments about the nature of growth and its pursuit more into public discourse. However, its impact would very much depend on the membership of the inquiry team, the evidence it reviewed and the way in which it was then received and acted on by government. The last Labour government commissioned a report from its Sustainable Development Commission into “Prosperity Without Growth”. The report was written by the ecological economist Tim Jackson. It later grew into his influential book of the same title, now in its improved second edition. In the prologue (pp. xxvi-xxix) to that edition, Jackson describes the way the report was received, just at the time the government was hosting a G20 event concerned with the restoration and promotion of GDP growth. The Prime Minister himself was incandescent with anger, the report was sidelined and the Commission that produced it was abolished by the next, Conservative, government in 2010. It was bad timing but it seems unlikely that a government that was explicitly trying to “kick-start growth” would have paid heed to this report. Why should we expect a new inquiry and report to enjoy a different fate?

  • a commitment to explore ways and means to extend the Government’s ability to finance social investment through deficit spending or direct money creation;

This is very much a post-Keynesian idea, that the government has great scope for either borrowing or printing money in order to finance needed areas of expenditure. Debate rages on which mechanism to utilise (to simplify, the choice is between borrowing via the printing of bonds, the creation of money, either by the Treasury or by the Central Bank, or by raising the money through taxation). There are two problems with this. Firstly, a massive expansion of expenditure, even on the green economy, puts money into the pockets of citizens. What they then spend it on is not under the government’s control and in an political-economic system that remains substantially the same, this is likely to include high energy goods. In Keynesian terms, the multiplier isn’t selective: it doesn’t care about the climate. Only if these measures are accompanied by things like diminishing energy and materials caps, and progressive, but carbon and materials-orientated taxation, is there any hope of avoiding this problem. Secondly, while the government has a potentially large “fiscal space”, or flexibility to spend without having to immediately recoup the money, ultimately it does have to do so. To argue otherwise is to confuse money with value. And that requirement to realise greater exchange value from the economy is a potent driver of material expansion – which is broadly speaking what GDP growth is. Actually, much of that value capture has an international dimension whereby the labour of people in the fields and factories of the global South is paid at local prices but the products are sold at profit in the global North, at the prices operative there: a massive global capture of value and a driver of continued labour and ecological exploitation worldwide.

  • the urgent development of a precautionary ‘post growth’ strategy for the UK.

This proposal gets closer to the heart of the problem. Enshrining the precautionary principle in government strategy cannot come soon enough given the multiple threats to human and ecological well-being. It could potentially go beyond mere recommendations to change the way things are measured, or to increase spending in certain areas. Instead, it could offer a strategic framework for re-orientating towards a viable economy and society. However, that would assume the neutralisation of the interest groups that rely on continued material (and financial) economic expansion. It calls into question the essence of capitalism. So again, while hopeful that this could help shift the dominant paradigm, I am intellectually pessimistic.

There must be some way out of here.

The above example of a well-meaning political intervention is, in effect, a microcosm of the present conjuncture. A global pandemic, itself the result of the ever expanding capitalist mode of accumulation, requires a prioritisation of health and well-being. This leads to a massive reduction in economic activity, crudely manifest as work and spending, threatening the livelihoods and well-being of swathes of the population. Mismanagement by governments that have disinvested from public health and welfare, prioritising private capital accumulation, jettisoning the precautionary principle, has exacerbated this crisis. This crisis in the health-economy-wellbeing nexus is situated within a series of wider and deeper crises of planetary and ecological systems, in effect a veritable “pancrisis”, including, 1. carbon pollution – global warming; 2. ecosystem encroachment and edge-convolution1 – biodiversity reduction; 3. resource exhaustion and peak extraction leading to profitability reduction and extraction frontier expansion; 4. and internal contradictions of capitalism – secular stagnation and financial crises. These wider crises have no satisfactory exit within the terms of reference of the current capitalist world system.

There are three main responses to this conjuncture, at least the variety of responses being implemented and imposed can be analysed in terms of these three “ideal types”: inevitably a variety of hybrid forms are apparent in reality.

The first type is an intensification of what has been called the neoliberal capitalist model – a continuation of business as usual. So when the right wing British government is faced with the need to test for the virus and to trace the contacts of those infected, it gives enormous contracts to the large outsourcing firms such as Serco rather than to the public health teams based in local government that know their communities and understand epidemiology. Faced with a housing crisis, the result of land speculation, the inward investment by footloose capital in the housing stock, and previous waves of privatisation of public housing, it proposes to further reduce the already weak democratic scrutiny of planning decisions, which will mean further cycles of speculative development and capital concentration in land and housing. Internationally this kind of thinking is manifest in the application of market models to carbon reduction and to forests, which in both cases will have the opposite effect, allowing polluters to continue polluting and converting wild and commons ecosystems to commodities). At its most extreme, this orientation can be seen in the current far right Brazilian government responding to the collapse in global commodity prices by facilitating the further conversion of wild landscape to farmland, with disastrous consequences for the global climate, biodiversity and the people who live in and rely on the forests.

The second type involves a return to the Keynesian and social democratic approach of mitigating the tendencies of capitalism without fundamentally challenging it. The various Green New Deal proposals exemplify this, using government investment to stimulate desired sectors and thereby to restore the process of value creation and hence the revenues of households, firms and government. Similar are neo-Keynesian demands to respond to the Covid crisis, by using the powers of government to borrow and defer repayment indefinitely, or to create money by fiat, and so re-stimulate economic activity. These interventions could be successful, in their own terms, in the short term. But they are doomed to long term failure in a capitalist system that has run out of road for its continual expansion into new markets, new sources of resources, and new reserves of hitherto unexploited labour, while it faces contradictions manifest in the long term decline in profitability, over-production and under-consumption, and the shocks to its supply chains from inexorably rising extraction costs and an inevitable series of ecological and geopolitical shocks. What is more, this model, by failing to problematise the crisis of ever increasing extraction-production-consumption-pollution, instead has no answer to the likelihood that its policy prescriptions will intensify that process rather than mitigate it.

That leaves the third option, that of equitable frugality, variously understood under headings such as the Simpler Way, Degrowth or Post-Development. This is the least popular solution type but the only one that is proportionate to both the scale and nature of the problem. It tends to be ambiguous, or rather divided, in terms of the orientation of its proponents to the dominant capitalist system, with some voices continuing to think that a benign capitalism is possible (usually confusing the existence of private enterprise in a market for exchange with capitalism as a system of endless and expansive capital accumulation resting on expropriation and exploitation). More pragmatically it suffers from its relative under-development, most obviously in not having an understandable policy package to offer to the political debate. However, there are straws in the wind, with these ideas, once entirely marginal, beginning to enter into mainstream discourse and even appearing, still in hybrid form, in policy prescription and even in some government initiatives. It remains doubtful that they will achieve anything like the scale of popular, let alone elite, acceptance in time to avert the nightmare scenario of simultaneous collapse in multiple ecological, planetary and human provisioning systems. Yet we have to continue to act as if this is a possibility, continuing to work, however hard it may be, for a complete change in political, economic priorities, and more than that, a change of system towards one of necessary but frugal production for human need and no more, coupled with the re-affirmation of the joys of a simpler, slower and cooperative way of living as communities.

Returning to the All Party Group on the Limits to Growth, and practical politics, the task is to promote enactable short-range policies that take us towards a post-growth future. These need to be transformational in effect, setting in motion a set of changes, institutional, ideological and material. It is difficult to identify the best options to start such a sequence in motion, since there are many dimensions of uncertainty, and only a fool can predict the future. However, concepts such as ripple-effects, slow-fuse change, stake-holder analysis, non-reformist reforms, transitional demands, and leverage points, can all help to clarify the terrain for action. The reader can consult a list of potential policy innovations, stratified by governmental level. An example of how to think about the immediate Covid-19 crisis transformationally can be found in this piece by the author.

1Edge-convolution is used here as concise way of referring to the increase in the ecological edge between wild ecosystems and human-dominated ones, which, together with industrial agriculture is the source of new zoonoses (pathogens of animal origin). See Wallace, R. (2020). Dead epidemiologists: On the origins of covid-19. Monthly Review Press. 

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Is this the best we can do to Plan for the Future?

Is this the best we can do to Plan for the Future?

The cover of the Wite Paper complete with dystopian housing development.

The cover of the White Paper complete with dystopian housing development.

by Carolyn Kagan

updated 28 October with a link to our consultation response

The UK Government has issued a White Paper intended to reform the planning system in England – Panning for the Future, 20201. This white paper is out for consultation (due October 29th 2020).  Here we identify the main flaws in it: at the end you will find links to make your own consultation response.  Our own full response can be downloaded from this link.

Putting aside the rather bizarre metaphors used in the Prime Minister’s preface, the politicians’ introductory rhetoric contains things we can agree with. We can agree to the pursuit of a society with powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose; communities that are connected to a planning process that is supposed to serve them, with residents engaged over what happens in their areas; the enhancement of local democracy and accountability; and to a system wherein smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players. Whilst the White Paper dodged clarifying the social purpose of planning, the TCPA summed this up as follows:

The new purpose of planning should be “to positively promote the long-term sustainable development of the nation and the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals. Within this, ‘sustainable development’ should mean: a) managing the use, development and protection of land, the built environment and natural resources in a way which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs; and b) promoting social justice and reducing inequality.2   

This, we can agree to.

We can agree to the building of environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers.

However, we do not think the proposals will achieve any of these things – primarily because the wrong answers are being proposed to the wrong questions3. Whilst we agree the planning system needs reform, we cannot agree with the direction of reform proposed, which will reduce democratic accountability, nor will it contribute to climate targets and guarantee energy efficient homes for all, for life.

Of course not enough houses are being built at prices people can afford to buy or rent in the places they want to live: however, this is not due to the planning system. The TCPA report4, a year on from the Raynsford5 review, published in 2019 said:

We have been adding substantially to the stock of unbuilt permissions each year for the last five years. In the year ending June 2019 councils approved around 135,000 more units than were completed by new build and conversion. The Letwin Review6 estimated that there were approximately 107 undelivered sites of above 1,500 units in England with permission for approximately 393,000 homes. The approval of 375,200 units of housing in the year to June 2019 shows that planning is plainly not the ‘problem’ in terms of numbers of consents. The practical delivery of these consents is not within the gift of local authorities. Rather, it relies on what the government has itself has described as a ‘broken’ housing delivery market. Ten years of continuous planning reforms have not achieved the desired ‘step-change’ in the delivery of new homes, while the quality, safety, location and affordability of these units remain a real concern.

The wrong questions being asked in the White paper, which is predicated on the premise that it is the planning system that has led to the housing shortage. Instead, it is land value variations and capture7 that should be addressed, not the planning system if the range of affordable homes are to be built equitably across the country. Furthermore, it is more democratic involvement in the system, not less or restricted, as proposed, that will lead to good and better, places for people to flourish. (Indeed the Letwin Review proposed a stronger role for the public sector, not a weaker one as in the White paper).

The White paper is a shoddy piece of work, failing to provide evidence for the assertions and solutions within, and failing to take notice of the two previous reviews cited above (Raynsford, 2018,19; and Letwin, 2018). These both considered extensive and detailed evidence and made recommendations which, whilst they may not go the whole way to address spatial planning that can embrace the integration of social, economic and environmental place-making that we have promoted8 in the past would at least take us in a direction that encourages more local, democratic involvement in the creation of flourishing and sustainable places. Instead we have what many have called a ‘developers’ charter’9 and a weakening of local democratic involvement that will kill off affordable housing10 – in other words an ideological tract, not a blue print for sustainable, future place-making.

You have until 23.45, Thursday 29th October 2020 to make your response to the White Paper. We suggest that the Friends of the Earth template response is a good place to start, supplemented by the TCPA and CSE response, but do personalise it and submit it as your own response. Use this link to make your response. Our own response is available by clicking HERE.

3 Independent Group, 2020 The wrong answers to the wrong questions. https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=f53db0a4-b78d-4898-80e4-647080dad84b

4 TCPA. (2020). Planning 2020 ’One Year On’—20th century Slums? Raynsford review of Planning in england. TCPA. https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7260c5e9-ad84-48a2-92a5-922fa48ba6f7

5 TCPA. (2018). Planning 2020 – Final Report of the Raynsford Review of Planning in England. TCPA. https://www.tcpa.org.uk/raynsford-review

6 Independent Review of Build Out. Final Report. Cm 9720. Letwin Review. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Oct. 2018. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/752124/Letwin_review_web_version.p

7 UK Government HCLG Select Committee. (2018). Land Value  Capture. HC 766.  Tenth Report of Session 2017-19. Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. House ofCommons,. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/766/766.pdf

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