Why is the GM Spatial Framework delayed?

aerial view Stakehill area, Middleton

Stakehill area, Middleton. Image capture from googlemaps

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has announced that the launch of a redrafted Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has again been delayed.  Here’s why.

1) GMCA now thinks 175,000 houses could be built on available land.  Most of this is  “brownfields” sites but some is on Green Belt [see note 1 below].
2) The Office for National Statistics, ONS, now says Greater Manchester will need 140,000 new homes by 2035.
3) Even in the original GMSF, it was tstated that 72% of new homes would be on brownfields. That gave a figure of 163,584.  That’s still bigger than the ONS projection of  140,000. 
This means that on these projections (not forecasts), GMCA could meet housebuilding needs without taking any Greenbelt.  GMCA has since improved its identification of brownfield sites.
4) That means that If ONS are right, there will be no need to build housing on the Green Belt.
5) But government is going to publish a new methodology for calculating house building targets: we don’t know what inflated numbers will be in that [see note 2].
6) So GMCA are both surprised and puzzled, having already quietly reduced their house building assumption from 227,200, the figure published in the GMSF, to 200,000.  That’s why they’ve bounced it back to central government, asking for clarification.  That’s why there is a delay, although there also reports of disagreements between the Mayor (who wants to avoid green belt build as much as possible) and some local council leaders, who want to build more.
Also bear in mind that,
7) Brownfield sites include a variety of spaces.  Some have been unoccupied for so long that nature has re-possessed them; they have become nature reserves, amenity spaces, greenfields in the urban area. Plans to build on these (Pomona Island, Rye Bank Fields, Nutsford Vale, for example) have already produced resistance.  Our view is that when global ecological, climate, economic and social systems collapse, we will need green space close at hand to feed ourselves (see point 9, below).  Rather than increasing the amount of built environment we need to look for a completely different model: one where we retrofit a green, convivial, and economically viable (in our terms, not those of corporate interests) economy into the existing space of the city region.  However, former industrial sites will need careful evaluation, just as they would for housing, schools, and so on, given the history of industrial uses and contamination risks.
8) The GMSF utilised a work of fiction called the Accelerated Growth Strategy, produced, without any transparency as to methodology, by a company called Oxford Economics. This had staggeringly high, and unprecedented figures for economic growth (which we and others refuted at the time), from which needs for housing and industrial (warehouse sheds mainly) builds were derived (we don’t know how).
9) Meanwhile, the IMF is saying there is very likely to be another global recession, the IPCC says that climate catastrophe is on its way (and nothing much is being done to avert it), and Brexit has also reduced “growth” projections (which is why the ONS figures have reduced).  So these grand plans really do need a more humble rethink.

1. The 175,000 figure for available land comes from the “submitted sites” here: https://mappinggm.org.uk/call-for-sites/… and it DOES include a number of greenbelt sites. The quality of the data on this map (and spreadsheet https://mappinggm.org.uk/…/170920-Call-for-sites-All… ) is not high . You have to trawl through a lot of free text comments to see references to Green Belt / Green Fields, so it needs a lot of work, and local knowledge, to make sense of it.

2. Since the government is promoting the myth that the housing crisis is due to a lack of supply (it helps them avoid tackling root causes like benefits-austerity and sky high house prices), and they like a stick to beat local government, we can certainly expect continued pressure to build more.

Posted in Greater Manchester City Region, news | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

For a stability and wellbeing pact, not more growth

This letter appeared in the Guardian and in a number of other European newspapers today.  It is signed by people well known in the degrowth/post-growth and steady state community but also by a number of other prominent critical thinkers who have not been associated with the movement.  It is an initiative from the international degrowth network on the occasion of the Brussels degrowth conference: video links to sessions here.

Even when/if the UK leaves the EU, maybe this initiative, which has been widely circulated, could help facilitate a wider de-emphasising of GDP growth in favour of the things that people and their societies actually do need.

The EU needs a stability and wellbeing pact, not more growth

238 academics call on the European Union and its member states to plan for a post-growth future in which human and ecological wellbeing is prioritised over GDP

This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe.

Read the  letter here, and do share it:
Guardian https://amp.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/16/the-eu-needs-a-stability-and-wellbeing-pact-not-more-growth

In French  Liberation https://www.liberation.fr/debats/2018/09/16/europe-ne-plus-dependre-de-la-croissance_1679117
In Spanish El Diario https://www.eldiario.es/ultima-llamada/Europa-llegado-terminar-dependencia-crecimiento_6_814428550.html
Other links to publication in most European countries / languages: https://degrowth.org/2018/09/06/post-growth-open-letter/

You can add your support here: https://t.co/GhalzDvHg0

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Steady State Manchester at the Malmö Degrowth Conference


Three members of the Steady State Manchester collective were lucky enough to attend the 6th International Degrowth conference in Malmö, Sweden, at the end of August (2018), travelling there by trains and boats.  Between us we presented four papers.  The conference was a warm and vibrant space for those working in many ways on alternative economic and social approaches to come together and share ideas, practices and experiences. Far more than an academic conference, this was both a cultural event, taking place in Sweden’s oldest public park, the Folkets (or People’s) Park, and an intervention.  THe immediate context was Sweden’s general election, and the week of events ended with a march and public debate with Swedish politicians: some of whom from the Left and Green parties also joined local activists to participate in discussions at the conference itself.  Maybe we’ll have something similar in Manchester in the future.

We aim to post more information about some of the most interesting debates and presentations at the conference, but for now, here are links to our papers (below), link to other contributions (below),  videos of the plenary and keynote sessions, and a gallery of photos, two of which appear here.

SSM contributions to the Malmö conference:

Carolyn M Kagan:
Women work at the heart of community solidarity: the
intersection of debates about informal networking and universal
basic income.    SLIDES   TEXT
James Scott Vandeventer:
Articulating degrowth as a normative position for alternative organisation.   SLIDES
Mark H Burton:
Degrowth and the British Labour Party.    SLIDES    TEXT
A better collapse?    SLIDES

And you can find the rest of the conference contributions HERE with abstracts and, for some contributions, slides / text or supporting papers.


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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)


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. ….


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 , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.


  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 , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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
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




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


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