And then there were 9: Places for Everyone comments

And then there were 9: Places for Everyone – the new GM Spatial Framework.

Post updated 20 Sept, 2021 (minor updates and correction to carbon figures).

Download this post  as a pdf file.

Background

The final version of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is now out for consultation.  Following the withdrawal of Stockport council, it is now a joint plan of the remaining 9 Greater Manchester councils, called Places for Everyone (known as P4E) – link to the plan here.
It is hardly changed from the 2020 draft, which itself was not so very different from the previous plan.  This time, the plan is at “Publication Stage” and the consultation is formal and limited to what is prescribed by national planning legislation and guidance.  This is how GMCA explains it:

“The final stage of consultation will run from August 9, 2021 for 8 weeks, ending on October 3, 2021. However, the plan and evidence base has been available on these pages to view since July 12, 2021, this has meant that people have had time to view and familiarise themselves with the content before submitting responses. [SSM comment – in theory: the plan itself runs to 465 pages and there is a library of supporting documents, some of them also very long, where critical detail can be found. For citizens and community groups who wish to comment this is hugely time-consuming.]
“We are now at the ‘Publication Stage’ of this plan. It is the final stage of consultation before the plan goes to the Secretary of State who will then appoint an independent inspector or inspectors to examine the plan.
“The Publication Plan is the plan that the nine local authorities consider to be the plan they intend to submit to the Secretary of State for examination. This is a formal stage of consultation and at this stage of consultation we are asking you whether you think the Places for Everyone plan meets the ‘tests of soundness’.
“The term ‘sound’ is used to describe a Local Plan that has been prepared in accordance with what Government expects of local planning authorities.”

Those tests of soundness are that the plan has been

a) Positively prepared – providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;

b) Justified – an appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence;

c) Effective – deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic matters that have been dealt with rather than deferred, as evidenced by the statement of common ground; and

d) Consistent with national policy – enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in this Framework and other statements of national planning policy, where relevant.
Source:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1005759/NPPF_July_2021.pdf page 12

However, that leaves plenty of scope for comments.  It is important that in commenting, the guidelines from GMCA are followed – click here to see these consultation arrangements.

The deadline for consultation responses is October 3, 2021.

SSM are putting together our submission which we’ll make available as soon as it is in reasonable shape.  We are concentrating on the consequences for carbon emissions (subject of a Freedom of Information request and our independent calculations) and nature,  the assumptions about economic and household growth, the adequacy of the Integrated Assessment, and the characteristics of the city region that will emerge from these plans.
Our preliminary comments follow.

Loss of Green Space

It is important to be clear about the amount of green space to be lost according to the plan. This information is not presented transparently in the P4E report which presents a figure for net green belt loss. This figure is the total green belt loss minus the re-designations of currently unprotected green space as green belt. While the improved protection for those spaces is welcome, the net figure is misleading since it reduces the total by those spaces that are already green space. So the gross green belt loss is the relevant figure. This is either 2336.9 hectares (the sum of the green belt “allocations”, i.e. withdrawals from the allocations spreadsheet in the supporting documents) or 2429.4 hectares (the sum of the net green belt loss and the green belt additions, from the main P4E paper).

This is not the whole picture, however. P4E identifies non green belt earmarked for building under three categories, housing, industry and warehouses, and offices. The main Places for Everyone report and the supplementary papers give most of the relevant figures, although it takes an effort to put them together, given that they are scattered across several documents. Most of the sites are identified in terms of area, either hectares or square metres, and the former unit is used below. However, non-green belt housing sites did not have areas identified: instead it was the number of housing units. Therefore a series of Freedom of Information Act requests were made to GMCA and the 10 councils for the relevant information in December 20201. Note that the plan at that time included Stockport which has since withdrawn. Figures below have been amended to reflect that. Bury council stated that they did not have the information. We asked for an internal review since this was considered implausible but have had no response other than an acknowledgement in early 2021. Therefore Bury’s area of non-green belt housing sites has been estimated from their figure for housing units, using the mean density of the two peripheral neighbouring councils, Bolton and Rochdale (considered more similar to Bury than Manchester and Salford).

Non-green belt sites are classified as greenfield, brownfield, or mixed. I have not included brownfields and mixed sites. The brownfields classification probably includes some sites that were formerly industrial but then returned to nature but there is no way to quantify that proportion. Moreover, if greenfields are to be protected and some development is to take place, then it will be necessary to prioritise brownfields. The resultant figures are as follows:

Category

hectares

sq miles

Net Green Belt release

1,754

6.8

Green Belt additions

675

2.6

Gross Green Belt loss2

2,337

9.0

(Gross Green Belt loss3

2,429

)

Greenfield non GB sites for housing

1,089.7

4.2

Greenfield non GB sites for industry & warehouses

60.6

0.2

Greenfield non GB sites for offices

24.4

0.1

Total non GB Green Space loss

1,174.8

4.5

Total Green land loss Ha

3,511.7

13.6

sq root (side of equivalent square for visualisation purposes

3.68

miles

5.89

km

To visualise the area of land that would be lost, the equivalent area can be superimposed on a map showing the boroughs of Manchester, Salford and Trafford.

map showing area of green space loss

That is useful background and we’ll come back to the area figures when we look at the consequences for the carbon emissions. However, since the consultation response will need to focus on the soundness of the plan, it is important to review the Integrated Assessment on which the plan rests.

Comments on the Integrated Assessment for Places for Everyone.

The Integrated Assessment (IA) underpins the Places for Everyone Plan (P4E). It includes the Sustainability Appraisal, Strategic Environmental Assessment, Equality Impact Assessment and Health Impact Assessment.  The Integrated Assessment of 2020 was updated with a scoping paper for 2021.  It seems that there are no major changes.

Following the IA Scoping Report baseline evidence update in 2020, no
changes to the IA objectives or criteria are recommended. It is noted that
the declaration of climate emergencies by GMCA and the 10 local
authorities, is the most significant shift since the previous update to the
Scoping Report. The IA objectives and criteria particularly related to
climate emergency have been carefully considered to establish whether
there has been a material change requiring an amendment. As a result of
the update, it is concluded that no additions or changes are required at this
stage, but any emerging evidence will be considered as part of the
updated IA assessment.
Scoping Report, page 15.

We make the following comments on flaws that we have identified in the IA.

The IA assesses a number of desirable outcomes (IA objectives) against the P4E Objectives. Table 10: IA Compatibility Analysis of the 2020 draft GMSF objectives is reproduced here with labels for objectives (abbreviated where necessary)

GMSF Objective

IA Objective

Meet our housing need.

Neighbourhoods of choice

Thriving and productive economy

Maximise potential of assets

Reduce inequalities / improve prosperity

Promote sustainable movement.

Resilient and carbon neutral city-region

Natural env. / green spaces

Ensure access phys & soc infrastructure

Promote community health and wellbeing

1 Housing

++

++

O

+

+

?

?

+

+

+

2 Employment

O

?

++

++

+

?

O

O

+

O

3 Transport and Utilities

O

+

O

+

+

++

+

?

+

O

4 Deprivation

+

O

+

?

++

?

O

O

+

+

5 Equality

+

+

+

O

++

?

?

+

+

+

6 Health

?

+

O

O

+

?

+

+

+

++

7 Social Infrastructure

?

?

O

?

O

O

O

+

++

+

8 Education and Skills

O

O

?

?

+

O

O

O

+

O

9 Sustainable Transport

O

++

O

+

+

++

+

?

+

+

10 Air Quality

?

+

O

O

O

+

+

?

?

+

11 Biodiversity/ Geodiversity

O

?

O

O

O

O

O

++

O

O

12 Climate Resilience

O

?

O

?

O

O

+

++

O

O

13 Flood Risk

O

+

O

O

O

O

O

++

O

O

14 Water Resources

O

O

O

O

O

O

O

O

?

O

15 Greenhouse Gases

?

+

O

?

O

+

++

?

?

O

16 Landscape and Heritage

O

+

O

+

O

O

O

++

O

O

17 Land Resources

?

+

?

O

?

O

O

+

O

O

18 Resource Consumption

O

O

O

O

O

O

+

O

O

O

We consider that ratings of P4E Objectives against the IA Objectives are inappropriate. The lack of any negative ratings in the summary table (i.e. that there is some incompatibility between P4E and IA objectives) suggests a bias towards optimism or even the suppression of inconvenient evidence. This point can be made with respect to many of the objectives but the following two will be used illustratively.

1, Biodiversity / Geodiversity Full definition (our emphasis): “Conserve and enhance biodiversity, green infrastructure and geodiversity assets.”

Criteria:

    1. Provide opportunities to enhance new and existing wildlife and geological sites?

    2. Avoid damage to, or destruction of, designated wildlife sites, habitats and species and protected and unique geological features?

    3. Support and enhance existing multifunctional green infrastructure and / or contribute towards the creation of new multifunctional green infrastructure?

    4. Ensure access to green infrastructure providing opportunities for recreation, amenity and tranquillity?”

P4E objectives 1, 3 and 5 (housing, thriving economy, increased prosperity), as the plan proposes to meet them, are relevant to this objective in that the projected loss of green space proposed in the plan (3,511.7 hectares or 13.6 sq miles, for all green space and 2,336.9 ha or 9.0 sq miles for green belt allocations, is potentially highly incompatible with this IA objective.

Likewise, P4E objective 4, (maximise use of assets) is likely to be relevant in that it entails impacts on natural assets and wildlife.

15, Greenhouse Gases Full definition: “Increase energy efficiency, encourage low-carbon generation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Criteria:

    1. Encourage reduction in energy use and increased energy efficiency?

    2. Encourage the development of low carbon and renewable energy facilities, including as part of conventional developments?

    3. Promote a proactive reduction in direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions emitted across GM?”

P4E objectives 3 and 5 (thriving economy and increased prosperity), as the plan proposes to meet them, are relevant to this objective in that the projected levels of economic growth, with the consequent material and energy usage (in construction, embodied and operational), together with loss of green spaces are potentially highly incompatible with this IA objective.

Likewise, P4E objectives 1 and 4, (Housing and “maximise use of assets, insofar as the latter entails airport expansion) are clearly relevant and again potentially threaten the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and staying within Greater Manchester’s Carbon Budget).

We estimate (see section below on carbon emissions) that the total cumulative emissions from the green space encroachments alone in P4E will be in the region of 25 Mtonnes of CO2e over the plan period. This would reduce the GM carbon budget 2018-2038 from 67Mtonnes to 42 Mtonnes, a very significant 38% reduction. This does not count the emissions from construction, nor embodied carbon nor operational emissions from the new hard infrastructure.

With regard to the inadequate assessment of impacts on these environmental processes and resources, it is worth noting the government regulations on strategic environmental assessment (which form part of the integrated assessment). The assessment needs to assess the following.

f) The likely significant effects on the environment, including on issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage including architectural and archaeological heritage, landscapes and the interrelationship between the above factors. These effects should include secondary, cumulative, synergistic, short, medium and long-term permanent and temporary, positive and negative effects4.

We submit that the Integrated Assessment fails in meeting this requirement, since it does not take into account the systemic interrelations among these factors, including the cumulative impacts. Instead, a simplistic checklist approach has been taken, which is insufficient for proper understanding of impacts and how they combine.

We propose that the relevant (Strategic Environmental Assessment) sections of the Integrated Assessment be conducted again, to the required standard (or above).

The Health component of the IA is supposed to take a number of determinants of health into account. In particular we highlight “Climate change, Biodiversity, Natural Environment: Natural habitat; Air; Water; land”. These are listed but again the P4E objectives that are identified as covering them (10, 11, 12, 14) are limited to those that deal with these elements directly. However, as indicated above, P4E objectives 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 will all impact on these determinants of health. The Department of Health HIA screening questions, quoted on page 17 (logical page number 23) of the IA report are (we have numbered them),

  1. Will the proposal have a direct impact on health, mental health and wellbeing?

  2. Will the policy have an impact on social, economic and environmental living conditions that would indirectly affect health?

  3. Will the proposal affect an individual’s ability to improve their own health and wellbeing?

  4. Will there be a change in demand for, or access to, health and social care services?

  5. Will the proposal have an impact on global health?

We submit that the proposals in the plan under objectives 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 will either directly or indirectly have impacts under all the above questions. This is because reducing access to green space, reducing the carbon sequestration resource and natural capital resource, and emitting significant constructional and operational emissions, will affect people’s opportunities for recreation and connection with the natural world, will reduce the scope for mitigating both greenhouse gas emissions and their impact, for populations locally and globally, and will with some likelihood indirectly lead to an increase in demand for health and social care services.

We therefore submit that the Health Impact Assessment component of the IA has not been carried out adequately.

We recommend that it be carried out again, to at least an adequate standard, utilising expert advice from the experts on the relationships between public health, the natural environment and climate change.

Carbon

This section expands on the comment on the Integrated Assessment, that the carbon consequences of the plan have not been properly assessed. If we are to evaluate a spatial plan then we need to understand the likely carbon impacts of development on what are now green spaces.

Freedom of information request and GMCA’s refusal.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was made as follows on 17 August, 2021.5

1) Assessments and/or calculations of the projected carbon emission impacts of the Places for Everyone 2021 plan. This should cover,
a) Gains and losses of carbon sequestration due to proposed land use changes in the plan.
b) Embodied carbon estimates due to the proposed building programme in the plan.
c) Carbon impact of projected aggregate GVA growth that the plan assumes.
d) Carbon emission estimates from changes to journeys made by GM’s population and to transport infrastructure.
e) Carbon emissions estimated due to the proposed near doubling of flights from Manchester Airport.
2) Estimates made of the carbon emissions consequences (as defined in a, b and d above) for each of the 38 Green Belt Allocations identified in Places for Everyone.
3) In the event of the above information not existing, please supply details (including minutes, correspondence, reports) of the process by which it was decided not to make these assessments and how these relate to both the GM and UK government Climate Budgets.

GMCA responded to our request on 14 September with a refusal. They say that the information requested is in the P4E main document and supporting documents, referring us to several documents. Having checked those documents we can confirm that the information requested is not there. Most significantly, there are no calculations of the carbon consequences of the developments proposed and the green space lost.

Accordingly, we have made our own calculations to arrive at estimates of the likely scale of the carbon emission consequences.

Carbon metrics

The areas for consideration in understanding the carbon consequences of development break down into the following components.

1) The changes to carbon fluxes (that is carbon emissions versus capture, or sequestration) from the land.

2) The carbon emissions from the new development, a) the emissions from constructing the new development: average figures are around 0.34, 0.50, 0.67, 1.18 tonnes for 1, 2, 3, and 4 or more bed housing6, and b) ongoing emissions from the buildings, roads, etc.: this would seem to be in the region of 0.53 ktonnes p.a. for the year 2017-87, c) the loss of locked up carbon in the soil and the biomass.

3) Carbon consequences of new economic activity as a result of the development. These are the knock-on, or multiplier effects of the development i.e. the carbon impacts of economic growth, not including the above two elements.

These notes deal with the first of these components, showing how estimates can be arrived at for the proposals to build on green spaces in Places for Everyone, the 2021 version of Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) strategic and spatial plan. The estimates that we have arrived at are provisional. There are a number of uncertainties and it was not possible to make a detailed assessment for each green space since we do not know the ecological breakdowns and as a small NGO we do not have the capacity to do such detailed work. However, our work can be treated as a “proof of concept”, that it is possible to make ballpark estimates of changes to carbon sequestration and emissions resulting from urbanisation, and moreover we note that any attempt to do this appears to be missing from the inadequate Integrated Assessment. The calculations that follow make use of the figures cited above on the loss of green space entailed by P4E.

Finding the relevant carbon flux figures.

The next step was to find figures for average emissions or capture from representative land types. There are a lot of uncertainties here. Reviews by Isabel Alonso and colleagues at Natural England do provide some estimates8. The review first appeared in 2012 and was updated this year. Not all the estimates from the early report appeared in the second report. I have used the later estimates where they are available.

The figures from the above reports are for annual carbon fluxes. However, what about the missed opportunity to improve carbon sequestration by the green land lost to development? To estimate this we used a figure quoted (but without a primary reference source) by the website Farm Carbon Toolkit9.

Work completed by the FCT has demonstrated that every hectare of land that raises its soil organic matter levels by just 0.1% (e.g. 4.2% to 4.3%) can sequester approximately 8.9 tonnes of CO2 per year at 1.4 g/cm3 bulk density). This is an extraordinary figure; in practice that is not only possible but being exceeded by farmers and growers building healthy soils.”10

Since not all the Greater Manchester green space would be suitable for such improvement, applying the above 8.9 tonnes figure to just 30% of the land would seem a reasonable procedure.

Applying emissions/sequestration rates (flux) to the green spaces to be developed under Places for Everyone.

Table 2 of the Greater Manchester Natural Capital investment Plan Baseline Review11 gives areas for Greater Manchester’s Green Spaces as follows.

Greater Manchester’s Natural Capital assets (Broad UK habitats)

Area (ha)

Arable

9,264

Broadleaf woodland

11,118

Built-up areas and gardens

58,537

Coniferous Woodland

190

Freshwater

1,450

Improved grassland

29,871

Mountain, heath, bog

8,423 ( > 4,000 ha of which bog)

Semi-natural grassland

8,761

Total

127,613

The flux figures from the Natural England reports were then applied to these categories, where relevant. Built up areas and gardens and freshwater were excluded. As we do not have a category breakdown for the sites12, the flux figures were applied first to the areas in the above table and then a simple ratio applied for the area of the green space to be lost. This will not be accurate, for example, there will be little development in the mountain heathland area but proportionately more in the grassland areas) but should serve to provide an order of magnitude estimate. The result is in the following table.

Natural Capital assets in GM (Broad UK habitats)

Area (ha)

Estimated kg sequestered annually

Notes

Arable

9,264

-2,686,560

Broadleaf woodland

11,118

119,518,500

This is average for woodland 30 and 100 years old (combined range 2-25.5 tonnes)

Built-up areas and gardens

58,537

not included as not subject to change

Coniferous Woodland

190

4,180

not given in 2021 report: used 2021 figure

Freshwater

1,450

Have taken average for lakes and ponds: carbon burial rate.

Improved grassland

29,871

10,754

Mountain, heath, bog 13

8,423 ( > 4,000 ha of which bog)

-1,684,600

Note that peatland is a large carbon store, but currently emitting CO2e. Not possible to give an overall figure due to diversity of peatlands nationally and in GM. Note, however, that Restoring Bogland from Drained to a Near Natural state Saves 3.46 tonnes / ha / yr

Semi-natural grassland

8761

0

Negligible carbon flux as in approximate equilibrium

Total

127613

115,162,274

Applied to the Places for Everyone Area

3511.7

3,169,076

3,092.3 ktonnes per annum

Applied to the Green Belt allocations only

2336.9

2,108,897

That is 25.35 ktonnes over the 16 year plan period) assuming that development proceeds at an even pace (16/2 x the annual figure).

This estimate makes no allowance for the opportunity cost of not making improvements to carbon sequestration in lost areas, e.g. by tree planting, wetland restoration, or improved agricultural practices. If 30% of this land raised its soil carbon content by 0.01% per year of the 16 years of the strategic period, then,
Additional sequestration per ha per year = 0.0089 ktonnes.
Additional sequestration for 30% green space loss per year = 9.4 ktonnes.
Additional sequestration foregone over the plan period = 150 ktonnes

Total estimated carbon sequestration cost of Places for Everyone = 175.37 ktonnes.

There would also be a further direct carbon loss due to development from released soil carbon and growing biomass. Using a total figure from Gregg et al. For the UK as a whole, I estimate that this would add a further 0.534 tonnes of emitted carbon per hectare, or 1.83 ktonnes for all the green space. This is small in comparison to the sequestration losses.

What is concerning is that no attempt appears to have been made to assess this in the IA.

We acknowledge that a fair comparator for P4E is not zero development. It is up to the GMCA to suggest what a plausible null case for comparison would be. It is salient to point out that should the Green Belt allocations not be utilised,  some 65% of this lost sequestration could be avoided. .

As Paragraph 1a of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 makes clear,

Development plan documents must (taken as a whole) include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”14

We submit that P4E falls far short of this requirement.

We propose that the plan be rewritten to a) estimate its carbon consequences and b) to build in proportionate and adequate mitigation and preventative measures, together with proposals for radically increasing the carbon sequestration from the City Region’s green spaces.

Growth assumptions

P4E makes very high assumptions about the overall growth of the Greater Manchester Economy.

This plan supports high levels of economic growth across Greater Manchester and seeks to put in place the measures that will enable such growth to continue in the even longer-term.

However, delivering these high levels of growth will become increasingly challenging. Beyond the slowdown in productivity growth seen across the UK economy, and increasing international competition for trade and capital, Greater Manchester also faces the challenges of accommodating rapid technological change, and political risks and economic shocks such as Brexit and Covid-19. Greater Manchester will therefore need to continue to invest in the sites that will make it an even more attractive place for businesses to invest, bringing high-value, well paid jobs, to the city region, and supporting the continued progress towards a low-carbon economy15.

GMSF Growth Option 2: “Meeting assessed needs” was the preferred one which informed the two previous versions of GMSF. However, “the assumed path of GVA for GM under the Accelerated Growth Scenario (AGS-2019) used to inform the GMSF Growth Option 2: “Meeting assessed needs” was, over this period around 2.4% pa.”16 i.e., despite the GMCA choosing option 2, it used option 3 (Accelerated growth) to inform it.

The Nicol report, commissioned by GMCA, suggests:-

1) Likely 2-3%17 smaller UK economy as a result of EU exit and Covid19. This works out at about -0.1% to -0.2% p.a. (note that this is cumulative). The AGS scenario had a “deliberately ambitious” 2.4% pa. There is evidence that GM is slightly worse affected than the UK economy as a whole.

2) Increased need for warehousing and logistics as a result of a 5% (residual) shift to internet shopping and need for higher stock inventories due to EU exit. However, SSM argue that the total volume of sales is not likely to be higher, and given economic scarring could be lower. The increase in Internet retail will be subject to a ceiling (it cannot increase for ever). Moreover, the biggest increase is likely to have happened already: this appears to have been absorbed by current infrastructure. (the Savills report cited by Nicol consulting) indicates that there is still a 5% level of spare capacity). “The effect of Covid-19 and the lockdowns has been to “supercharge” what was already an established trend”. So it seems unlikely that this will in the medium to longer term alter the level of requirement for this kind of industrial space.

3) There are some indications that demand for office space will decrease as a longer-term impact of working from home arrangements. Firms and other organisations have discovered that they can reduce accommodation costs by maintaining in part these arrangements.

4) There is uncertainty about the future pattern of housing need as a result of Covid-19 and EU exit. Household formation rates could reduce in the near term but affordability could increase due to reduced competition.

As of March 2021, our conclusion remains broadly similar to that set out in August 2020. This was that given the significant degree of uncertainty that exists about future events and their implications for GM, there is not sufficient certainty/evidence currently available to inform a robust “reasonable alternative” growth option for purposes of the PfE 2021 Plan.”18

However, SSM argue that there is certainly no cause to argue for greater levels of growth. The consensus view of the UK’s annual growth rate in 2024 (after the misleading annual gains in earlier years, which are an artefact of recovery from the very depressed levels during the Covid lockdowns) is that growth will be well below 2%19. The annual rate for the North West in that year could be 0.2% below the UK rate20. The question is what will be the reduction on the forecasts and scenarios that informed GMSF and continue to inform P4E?

It is worth noting that in the last 13 years there have been three major economic disruptions. The Great Financial Crash, the Global Covid pandemic, and Brexit. It seems, a priori, unlikely that there will not be further major economic shocks21 over the 17 years of the P4E plan. Therefore the economic scenarios used in P4E would likely be over-”optimistic”.

We submit that the plan has consistently over-estimated future growth rates. It has failed to make sufficient adjustment for the reduced GVA growth rate following recent and future systemic shocks.

We propose that the plan be amended to reduce the growth assumptions to no more than 1.5% p.a. overall. This should be supplemented by an assessment of the impact of moving to a steady state economy, the adoption of which is indicated by the climate crisis22.

Housing

Population

Population increase, 2021-2037 for the nine districts is now projected to be:

2021 (ONS mid year estimate): 2,554,000

2037 (P4E): 2,712,194

Change: 158,194 (6.19%)

Interestingly, the equivalent figures for the GM Area, i.e. including Stockport are
2021: 2,848,286

2037: 3,038,286

Change: 190,000 (6.67%)

In other words, taking Stockport out has decreased the projected population growth rate significantly: Stockport will now have to accommodate that change within its own boundaries, reducing pressure on the other districts, principally Manchester and Salford.

Households and housing

P4E projects building 164,880 homes over the 16 year period 2021-2037. That is 10,305 per year. Note that this figure is the result of using the standard government Housing Need Methodology.

This gives a ratio of 1.04 people per home. That’s an extraordinary ratio, although it assumes that the inhabitants of the new homes are those counted in the population growth figures. Instead, we should take account of the rehousing of people presently in the population and also assume that some of the population growth would be accommodated in the existing housing stock. To estimate that we can compare the two overall ratios of people per homes at the start and end of the plan.

2021: People: 2,554,000 Homes: 1,064,167 Occupancy: 2.4

2027: People: 2,712,194 Homes: 1,229,047 Occupancy: 2.21

But we should assume that some of the population growth would be assimilated by the existing housing stock.

If we did take the new average occupancy figure of 2.21, then the new population could be accommodated by 71,687 homes. Even if we took a mid point figure, between 2.21, the projected overall occupancy level (from P4E figures) and the apparent occupancy P4E assumes for new stock, 1.04, i.e. 1.625, then there would be a need for 97,350 new homes.

Yet the housing land supply in P4E is estimated at 170,385 before Green Belt allocations. That gives an excess of 73,035 housing units. Indeed, the sites identified as brownfield alone provide for an estimated 135,140 homes. Indeed, as Friends of Carrington Moss have noted,

even without the (20,000) green belt allocations, there is more than sufficient land supply (170,000) for every single expected additional member of our population (the increase of 158,200) to have their own home!”23

Even if some of those sites turned out to be unfeasible, it seems unlikely that the additional population couldn’t be accommodated there, particularly as some of the increasing densification of housing (e.g. building several houses on an existing housing plot, or extending existing houses to accommodate additional family members, or to add flats) is not accounted for in the P4E projections.  Nor, apparently has an estimate been made of the impact of the  conversion of office accommodation to residential use.  While in some cases this has been undesirable, given the poor resulting quality, that need not be so.

We consider this grounds for GMCA to argue that it should not follow the standard Housing Need Methodology but instead apply one of its own, more appropriate to the characteristics of the GM population.

P4E identifies one location as a potential Green Belt withdrawal, the High Crompton Broad Location in Oldham [our earlier version mis-identified this as in Rochdale]. That land is not to be considered as a Green Belt allocation at this stage, awaiting demonstration that it is required. The same arrangement could be applied to most, if not all the allocations, rather than at this premature stage, assigning all of them.

We submit that the housing need projections are manifestly implausible. We acknowledge that this is a result of using the government’s recommended methodology. However, when it was seen how absurd the figures were, GMCA should have made the case that an alternative method should be used (indeed they did do something like this in the earlier stages of the GMSF process).

We propose a recalculation of housing need based on plausible occupancy and population growth figures. However, there could be an uplift for the accommodation of climate refugees24 (internal and international) over the plan period.

We also propose that any Green Belt allocations be given the same status as the High Crompton location.  That will reduce the likelihood of developers opting for a greenfields first strategy and also reduce the risk of speculation and land banking.

2from allocations spreadsheet (supporting document): this figure used in calculations

3from additions plus net release (main paper)

6Floor space https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725085/Floor_Space_in_English_Homes_main_report.pdf
Embodied emissions https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306261919317945 Note: the figures for embodied emissions are based on international data, post pre 2005 for Europe and pre 2007 for USA (after which higher standards were introduced) so the estimates will be somewhat high. It is likely that embodied per m2 emissions will decrease over the plan period.

7Our calculations using figure from Clilverd, H, et al. ‘Mapping Carbon Emissions & Removals for the Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry Sector: Report Based on the 1990-2018 Inventory.’ Penicuik, Midlothian: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology for BEIS, May 2020 , Table 1 (UK as a whole, proportionately reduced for the calculation for England’s proportionate area). Clilverd cites for UK as a whole, emissions from conversion of land to settlements: 6,061.81 soil carbon + 425.30 deforestation loss and 67.75 non-forest biomass. Calculation also used UK government Land Use Statistics England 2018 and 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/land-use-change-statistics-2017-to-2018

8Alonso, I., K. Weston, R. Gregg, and M. Morecroft. ‘Carbon Storage by Habitat: Review of the Evidence of the Impacts of Management Decisions and Condition of Carbon Stores and Sources’. Natural England Research Report. Natural England, 29 May 2012. http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/1438141
Gregg, R., J.L. Elias, I. Alonso, I.E. Crosher, P. Muto, and M.D. Morecroft. ‘Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitat: A Review of the Evidence’. Natural England Research Report NERR094. Second. Natural England, York, 2021. https://tinyurl.com/4etay7f5

11GMCA. ‘Natural Capital Investment Plan Baseline Review’. GMCA, December 2018. https://naturegreatermanchester.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/GM-NCIP-Baseline-review-261018-Final.pdf

12These could be laboriously derived in outline for the Green Belt sites by interrogating the site allocation papers but would not be available for the other green space.

13Note that at present peatland is a net emitter of carbon. However, measures to restore it would radically reduce, and even reverse those emissions. Furthermore, peatland is a carbon store, the disturbance of which (e.g. by building on sites such as Carrington Moss) will release soil carbon.

15Employment topic paper, paras 8.7, 8.8.

17OBR: 3%, BoE 2%

18Covid-19, EU-Exit and the Greater Manchester Economy – Implications for the Greater Manchester Places for Everyone Plan. Nicol Economics, March 2021 Paragraph 1.89, page 32. https://greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/GMCAFiles/PFE/Supporting%20documents/05%20Places%20for%20Jobs/05.01.03%20COVID-19%20and%20PfE%20Growth%20Options.pdf

21Due to cyclical crisis tendencies of the global economic system, future pandemics, climate change, wars and conflict, resource supply shocks, major pollution incidents and “unknown unknowns”.

22Hickel, Jason, Paul Brockway, Giorgos Kallis, Lorenz Keyßer, Manfred Lenzen, Aljoša Slameršak, Julia Steinberger, and Diana Ürge-Vorsatz. ‘Urgent Need for Post-Growth Climate Mitigation Scenarios’. Nature Energy, 4 August 2021. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-021-00884-9.
Keyßer, Lorenz T., and Manfred Lenzen. ‘1.5 °C Degrowth Scenarios Suggest the Need for New Mitigation Pathways’. Nature Communications 12, no. 1 (December 2021): 2676. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22884-9.
Nieto, Jaime, Óscar Carpintero, Luis J. Miguel, and Ignacio de Blas. ‘Macroeconomic Modelling under Energy Constraints: Global Low Carbon Transition Scenarios’. Energy Policy 137 (1 February 2020): 111090. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2019.111090.
Bordera, F Valladares, A Turiel, F Puig Vilar, F Prieto, and T Hewlett. ‘Leaked Report of the IPCC Reveals That the Growth Model of Capitalism Is Unsustainable.’ Monthly Review, 23 August 2021. https://mronline.org/2021/08/23/leaked-report-of-the-ipcc-reveals-that-the-growth-model-of-capitalism-is-unsustainable/.

24The plan and associated documents appear to make no mention of this likely area of need.

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Organizing degrowth – A talk at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting

Steady State Manchester collective member James Scott Vandeventer was recently invited to speak on a panel at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting. The following piece is adapted from this talk, which was based on his paper ‘Organizing degrowth: The ontological politics of enacting degrowth in OMS’ (Available to download without paywall here) and contains several points that may be of interest to our readership.

In a recent paper written with Dr Javier Lloveras, we seek to understand how degrowth is crossing boundaries and being engaged with as an object of research in the study of organizations and management.

Drawing on Science and Technology Studies, we explore the research practices whereby scholars are using degrowth in their research. This required thinking about and discussing degrowth in relatively new ways. I use some of that discourse here, in hopes that it will help show how we might reflexively reconsider, and talk about, our own ways of engaging with degrowth.

Our findings identified at least three distinct ways in which degrowth, as a research object, is brought into being and sustained at present. These practices of enacting degrowth include: stabilizations that temporarily fix its meaning, reconfigurations toward different audiences, and projections that relationally link degrowth with established organizational concepts. In other words, degrowth is being stabilized as an object to which scholars can ascribe a fixed meaning; reconfigured in order to engage with particular groups (i.e. in specific disciplines or fields of research); and projected to make connections with other ideas. We offer multiple examples of these practices in the paper.

These findings have significant implications. One is that understanding degrowth as a flexible object means it is prone to different varieties. Ultimately, the longevity and validity of these versions depend on their uptake by others – whether in citations, paper downloads, conference presentations, and so on. This asks us to give due consideration to the performative effects of enacting degrowth and recognition of the ontological politics involved. To paraphrase Annemarie Mol, whose work we draw on extensively, ontological politics involves acknowledging that the conditions of possibility for degrowth are not given, but rather its possibilities are being made and remade in specific, contextual practices.

A second implication involves recognizing that degrowth’s malleability brings risks as its spread accelerates. In some cases, degrowth’s most radical edges are smoothed over to fit with existing knowledge. There is a strategic dilemma here: should ‘thinner’ versions of degrowth reach further into business contexts and research debates, or should degrowth’s critical potential be maintained? We don’t offer a priori answers, but encourage a more strategic approach to navigating this dilemma and ensuring degrowth remains politically actionable. This might involve slowing down degrowth, and being more reflexive about how we are using this object.

Finally, it is becoming clear that degrowth is being enrolled in the reproduction of academia, with perverse publishing dynamics and research productivity incentives that demand additional publications, citations, collaborations, research grants, and so on. Thus, degrowth’s future is tied to institutional pressures, such as the casualization and intensification of academic labour, and to existing institutional rules, whether ‘targeting’ highly ranked outlets or abiding the ‘publish or perish’ culture.

By recognizing these exploitative trends, which are characteristic of neoliberal capitalism, it is clear that organizing degrowth must be part of a broader call for political action to engage with, and transform, the sites where such organizing occurs, including business schools.

To conclude, we hope to have stimulated some thinking about how – and why – the degrowth object is circulating faster and further. Hopefully, this provides a language and, perhaps, a more reflexive gaze for examining the translation of degrowth and similar objects into new arenas, for discussing the contextual practices involved in performing degrowth, and for thinking about implications of these enactments.

While we showed how scholars make objects like degrowth more, or less, real through research, this is perhaps even more evident in teaching and our engagements with students. This question, how degrowth is being enacted in business school classrooms, is the focus of a project I am leading that is funded by the UK & Ireland Chapter of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education. In that project, I am looking at the ways that degrowth is transforming, and being transformed by, the content and pedagogies of business school teaching.

This continues my efforts to encourage more reflexive stances toward degrowth scholarship, teaching, and activism. But there is much more work to be done. I invite you to join me in regularly pausing to look inward at our own practices of enacting degrowth, and their consequences.

Posted in analysis, degrowth, education, event reports, further reading, news, theory | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Places for Everyone? The new GM Spatial Framework

The final consultation draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is now out. It is now called “Places for Everyone” (P4E below). Consultation closes on 23 October.

The image GMCA have used to illustrate P4E’s vision!

P4E is little changed from the previous versions that appeared in 2018 and 2020. However, Stockport council voted not to be part of the plan, so P4E just covers the other nine councils of Greater Manchester.

P4E is the Strategic Plan for those local authorities, taking on the strategic element of their “Local Plans” (a misnomer from the National Planning Framework which governs the approach).

We are currently working through the plan and have already spotted a number of serious problems with it. Broadly, we think the plan bakes in an unsustainable economic model for the city region, fails to take serious account of the climate emergency, and makes questionable assumptions about the need for additional land for housing and commercial activity. By early September we will publish a response guide for environmentalists and social justice campaigners to help inform their own responses.

The consultation at this stage is a formal one. Greater Manchester Combined Authority say:

The Publication Plan is the plan that the nine local authorities consider to be the plan they intend to submit to the Secretary of State for examination. This is a formal stage of consultation and at this stage of consultation we are asking you whether you think the Places for Everyone plan meets the ‘tests of soundness’. 
The term ‘sound’ is used to describe a Local Plan that has been prepared in accordance with what Government expects of local planning authorities.

The tests of soundness can be found in the National Planning Framework publication, page 12. They do provide significant scope for questioning the assumptions and methodology of the plan. So watch this space for more information.

Meanwhile you can access the plan, the consultation, and the enormous library of background papers, HERE.

Posted in Greater Manchester City Region, Planning | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fighting Fire with Fire?

Book review

Peter Somerville

Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton (2021) Planet on Fire: A manifesto for the age of environmental breakdown. London: Verso. 280pp. £12.99 (hb).

Jonathan Neale (2021) Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and global climate jobs. London: Resistance Books. 348pp. Available as free e-book at: https://theecologist.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/Fight_the_Fire_0.pdf.

These are two very different books but with much in common. Both are concerned with how to respond to the climate and ecological emergency. Jonathan Neale’s (JN) focus is on the global level, while that of Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton (L&L-L) is primarily on the UK. Both argue strongly for a social democratic approach, by which I mean an emphasis primarily on public provision and governmental regulation to address the crisis. Both use the term ‘we’ repeatedly throughout, but never make clear who the ‘we’ are. Related to this, I think, is a lack of reflection on their own position and the possible problems with that position. Nevertheless, these are each, in their own way, superb books, with numerous interesting ideas and much food for thought – well worth reading. The strength of JN lies mainly in the priority he gives to mitigating climate change, particularly in calculating a technically detailed path to a safer world, and the strength of L&L-L is in their vision of a political way forward to prevent environmental breakdown. Both accounts, however, are limited in that they do not engage directly with the politics of the day (though there is some stirring rhetoric in JN’s final chapter) – that is, with the messy business of political parties and actual governments, most of whom do not share their social democratic inclinations.

JN’s book is the more ambitious of the two, as he sets out a programme for a global green new deal. As the title of his book suggests, the emphasis is on providing what he calls ‘climate jobs’. These are defined as ‘jobs that directly reduce the emissions that heat the world’ (p9) or ‘jobs which work directly to halt climate breakdown’ (p14). The problem here, however, is that very few jobs actually do this: examples would include restoring peat bogs and other forms of carbon dioxide removal, and enforcing regulations to phase out fossil fuel extraction and burning. Contrary to what JN appears to think, jobs in renewables do not in themselves reduce emissions. Even the term ‘green jobs’ is too broad as it ‘can be anything useful or ecofriendly’ (p9). ‘Low carbon’ might be a better term: arguably, all jobs should be low carbon, but not all jobs have to be useful.

JN calculates the amount of renewable electricity required to power a world without fossil fuels – mainly for energy, vehicles, heating and industry. But then he declares that ‘the market cannot deliver renewable electricity on this scale’ (p44) and ‘We will need public ownership of the grid and the main electricity providers if this is going to work.’ (p44). This is a good example of his style of argument – a reasonable and usually convincing calculation followed by an unsubstantiated assertion. In particular, with regard to electricity grids, he says: ‘there is no way to make a profit from these grids’ (p54), even though privately owned grids such as the UK national grid have been making profits for years. The basic point is that such grids provide a service for which users can be charged. There is an issue to the extent that such grids are monopolies, so the price of electricity has to be capped by law to prevent excess profit, but the case for (re)nationalisation simply has not been made here. Providing electricity free at the point of delivery would place an enormous financial burden on the taxpayer and arguably would serve only to increase energy demand and waste. The immediate task is to decarbonise the grid and create larger grids, both of which the UK national grid continues to do.

On transport and buildings, JN makes many useful suggestions but in the former there is arguably too much emphasis on electric cars. The reality is that there are just too many cars on the roads, and too much being spent on roads, so the priority should be to challenge car culture and reduce car use by whatever means possible. On buildings, despite rightly dismissing the use of hydrogen to heat homes as ‘a con’ (p129), JN does not recognise that heat pumps are more efficient than boilers (p122). The main priority here, of course, should be for a programme of mass retrofitting of UK buildings to make them as low carbon as possible. JN offers some useful proposals on concrete, namely to ban it for most purposes (p118), and on steel, namely to recycle more of it and use (green) hydrogen to heat the iron ore from which steel is made (p116). In order to reduce the amount of steel, he proposes banning tall buildings (p123) and using aluminium (produced using renewable energy) instead of steel for vehicles (p117).

Perhaps the best part of JN’s book is the section on agriculture. It contains an up-to-date account of conservation agriculture (no-till farming, crop rotation, organic cover, restricting the use of fertilisers, etc), the problems with rice paddies, the management of livestock and land and forests, and rewilding, among other topics. I liked his critique of the ‘rewilding fantasy’ (p185) and his advocacy of pigs! However, I cannot accept his claim that: ‘Pigs and poultry are not a climate change problem’ (p156). Maybe if there weren’t so many chickens and if pigs and chickens were fed only on human waste products, this could be true. As it is, however, the land currently used to grow crops to provide feed for farm animals could be better used to grow crops for the increasing number of vegetarians. Also, on his alleged myth of ‘sustainable forestry’ (p180), he doesn’t seem to understand that a life cycle begins with birth (afforestation) not with death (deforestation). I think this shows how easy it can be to choose the wrong starting date in making one’s calculations (if one starts with planting trees, it is blindingly obvious that the process can be sustainable). Also, it was not at all clear to me how ending deforestation could save 5GtCO2 a year or how planting new trees could sequester another 5GtCOt a year (p183).

JN calculates that a global climate transition will cost 3-4% of global GDP (p240), compared with 2% paid by governments (p259) for a climate jobs programme (compared with L&L-L’s 4-5% of GDP a year for a ‘green stimulus’ in the UK – p130). He thinks that world governments are eminently capable of incurring such expenditure, but gives short shrift to modern monetary theory on the grounds that it is biased towards sovereign economies such as the US who can control their own currency. As he says, the problem with this is that it undermines international solidarity, which is essential to achieve a peaceful global transition.

Where JN is clearer on the detail, L&L-L are clearer on the broader political context of what they call ‘environmental breakdown’, which is not just about climate change but also about species extinction, wetlands lost, deforestation, soil degradation, habitat destruction and ecosystem collapse. They argue that this breakdown is caused by ‘the economics of extractivism’ (p10), which has a long history (at least 500 years) but has accelerated in more recent years. They emphasise three political points: first, they identify a powerful elite or elites who are benefiting most from the extractivism that is causing breakdown; second, they outline an ideological formation called ‘eco-ethnonationalism’ (or ‘ethnonationalism’ for short), which supports this elite in a variety of ways, e.g. by denying or ignoring the breakdown, by pretending to respond to it (greenwash) or by blaming other forces for it (such as overpopulation or globalisation); third, they argue that extractivism, supported by this ideology, presents a serious and growing threat to life on this planet.

L&L-L’s solution to environmental breakdown is explicitly political (their book does not have the technical detail that represents the core of JN’s book). Their ‘vision of the future’ is set out in full on p82 but can be summarised in terms of democratisation, decommodification and social solidarity. A slightly different vision for ‘a pluralistic economic commonwealth’ is outlined on p140: ‘a thriving ecosystem of business forms, where ownership is held in common, governance is democratic, and purpose is rooted in serving needs.’ It is interesting to note that decarbonisation is not mentioned in either of these visions, though it is presumably implied by the term ‘green industrial strategies’ (p82). This suggests that, whereas JN prioritised the technicalities over the politics of mitigating climate change, L&L-L may be less concerned with such technical detail than with advancing a particular political project. They call this project ‘ecosocialism’ (p77) but actually it looks more like social democracy, as they describe later on: ‘providing the public goods which markets under-provide, regulating negative externalities, “derisking” life through comprehensive social safety net’ (p200). This is consistent with a long tradition of social democracy, going back to Tawney and earlier, and it doesn’t seem very radical – there is no mention, for example, of toppling the elites or just ‘taxing them till the pips squeak’ (Denis Healey) or ‘taking control of the commanding heights of the economy’ (Tony Benn) or anything similar. The vision itself looks a little blurred, with the aim being ‘to build societies of flourishing and meaning’ (p235). How is one to identify such societies? How much democratisation will people accept? How much decommodification is really necessary or desirable? At what point does an emphasis on social solidarity encroach too much on individual freedom? L&L-L don’t mention citizens’ assemblies but they could be useful for deliberating on such questions.

Perhaps most importantly, the use of the term ‘flourishing’ fudges the issue of the need to reduce our consumption of the earth’s resources. There is a certain wordplay here: ‘Growth will remain the goal, but growth of a different kind, of social and environmental progress, of equity and care’, not ‘blindly degrowing the economy’ (p236). Such vagueness just offers a green light for greenwash. This fuzziness tends to pervade the whole book. Just as fine words butter no parsnips, warm words about caring and sharing are just talk, and L&L-L’s wish list is a very long one. To be fair, there are some nuggets here, e.g. on democratising finance and taming corporations, but little that is really new. Much of what they are calling for requires good management, but they seem to assume that this is a no-brainer when the reality is that good management is very difficult and arguably rarely to be found (L&L-L are not alone here: similar naivety about the quality of public management goes back to the founders of the Fabian Society, and is to be found more recently in the works of Mazzucato, Blakeley, and other left theorists).

L&L-L seem to want to democratise everything but what exactly this means is not clear. I was taken with the phrase ‘a commitment to the primacy of democratic power over technocracy’ (p129). Some might say that this already exists since we have a democratically elected government that can exercise control over technology. This prompts the question of what the demos is here and who the technocrats might be. In the context of the book, it seems that what they have in mind is a social democratic government that will prioritise public investment, enterprise and ownership over the private sector. In addition, perhaps, to avoid the risk of one set of technocrats/managers being replaced by another, they want to hold the managers accountable to a wider public (workers, consumers, communities, citizens, etc), but it is not clear who is supposed to be doing what or how it is to be done effectively (statements such as ‘reshape and pluralise economic coordination rights’ on p203 do not help).

L&L-L have much to say about the corporation. The changes they recommend are largely uncontroversial, such as aligning strategic and investment plans with a 1.5 degree centigrade pathway, making directors liable for their company’s environmental damage, half of company board members elected from the workforce, with workers having at least 30% of total voting rights, investing in socially useful activities, and promoting worker ownership and social ownership (pp151-60). However, they do not seem to understand that this does not challenge the fundamental rule of capital – indeed, such changes would serve to incorporate the workers more closely into the capitalist system. They do not seem to understand that businesses are both exploitative and generative, and government interventions generate both good and bad outcomes at the same time, which are often unforeseen, anyway. Labour itself is a form of capital, as it generates expanding value, which has to be abolished if we are to move away from capitalism. Cooperatives, for example, are a clear advance on mainstream shareholder-owned companies but they still have to compete in capitalist markets – and it is the same for all the other alternative models of ownership and institutions and practices of workplace democracy (multi-stakeholder boards, general assemblies, and so on – p213). At the end of the day, the democratisation of the corporation means giving labour and other ‘key stakeholders’ their ‘proper share’ of the corporation, making the corporation fully accountable to the people. This may involve taking the corporation into public ownership, so that it becomes ‘a democratic commons’ (p150). To make this work, however, a high degree of popular participation will be required, so maybe the people should be consulted first, and maybe they will just want the government to do the right thing and make sure corporations decarbonise and flatten their hierarchies.

Whereas JN makes a reasonably clear distinction between technology and politics, L&L-L tend to confuse the two. For example: ‘the political crisis of environmental breakdown consists precisely in knowing the technical solutions needed to become sustainable rapidly’ (p143). This is the same mistake that the IPCC have been making for over thirty years (as well as promoting unicorn technology such as on carbon capture and storage), namely to show what needs to be done and then assume that policymakers will respond accordingly. Still, on some technical points, L&L-L have got it right, e.g. (and comparing favourably with JN) on the need for a ‘retrofitting revolution’ (p174) and the need to reduce car use (p175). Proposals for a progressive frequent flyer levy and the banning of non-electric private jets (p176) are also most welcome. Stopping new fossil fuel projects and subsidies for fossil fuel production, and fair carbon taxes and rules to shift investors out of carbon intensive assets, are of course all no-brainers, though they come only at the end of the book (p244). The discussion of agriculture and food, however, is not as good as in JN’s book: if the problem were really one of ‘cheap natures’, as Jason Moore claims, then the solution would be to make them more expensive, which does not seem as if it would serve the aim of ‘reducing hunger and poverty’ (p181). So there is clearly some confusion here.

On the concept of a technological or digital commons I don’t feel competent to comment but I doubt whether innovation can be regulated or directed as L&L-L appear to imply (p186). Thinking about the BT monopoly in the old days, I’m not sure if digital infrastructure needs to be publicly owned, and it is not clear how the new forms of public ownership will be different from the old forms. Also, the issue of the vast amounts of energy consumed by the use of digital technology is not mentioned here. L&L-L’s vision of a hi-tech future does not sound attractive to me: ‘a raising up of ordinary life to a higher plane of intensity, scope and capability’ (p211). I simply do not understand why they deem it necessary or desirable to accelerate automation (p210).

Work emerges as a key problem for L&L-L (contrast JN, where ‘climate jobs’ are proposed as the solution to a problem). For some reason they want to ‘weaken the link between income and the labour market’ (p204). This seems to mean increased benefit for those who are not in the labour market (e.g. a minimum income for all and free public services), which is fine but arguably should not be at the expense of wage-earners. A real transformation of work would involve challenging managerial power and equalising of wages and salaries at the very least – not to mention a transition to 100% low-carbon jobs (to be fair, they do mention ‘dissolving the authoritarian relationship at the heart of work’ on p242, which displays another fine rhetorical flourish). But they are right to stress the importance of care work, which they interpret widely to include free universal childcare, public and cooperative provision of adult social care, building green infrastructures and urban rewilding (pp205-7) and the foundational economy generally (though it is not entirely clear what this term includes or excludes – p208). On the other hand, they are wrong to assert that: ‘The key [to transforming work] is expanding leisure time for all’ (p219). Arguably, transforming work should be about making work (more) attractive and enjoyable, so that the gap between work and leisure is reduced. For example, writing this book probably counts as work (it could have done with a proper bibliography and an index, but that would have involved more work!) but my writing of this review counts as leisure because I am retired. Also, leisure services are themselves labour processes, and leisure spaces can also be workplaces.

Finally, politics. L&L-L call for ‘deep constitutional reform, democratising political power and experimenting with new forms of voice and participation, and decentralised governance’ (p229). They do not elaborate on what this all means but one can guess that it involves things like proportional representation, an elected upper house, maybe citizens assemblies – detail is sadly lacking and of course the devil is always in the detail. There is at least a recognition that a coalition of a variety of forces is necessary to build and win state power (p230), but these forces are not clearly identified, nor is there any sense of how this coalition might be able to transform and democratise the state. There is also a nod to green community wealth building and green enterprise and investment (p231), but there is no assessment of what this might be capable of achieving. They say: ‘if done right, municipalism and community wealth building could drive rapid sustainability from the bottom up’ (p245), but it is not made clear how it is to be done right (as in Preston?) or what the real capacity is for change at community level. Suggested ‘structural reforms’ do not look particularly structural, e.g. ‘the expansion of paid holidays’ (p232), changing company rules, a public banking ecosystem, scaling democratic media. The proposal to ‘democratise capital’ (p238) sounds suspiciously similar to the Conservatives’ property-owning democracy, with the property being public rather than private. This may well be the intention but it can only serve to buttress and even enhance the power of state capital (as happens in China), especially if it is managed well (by whom and how?). The vexed issue of the relationship between centre and locality is fudged thus: ‘Local action should be connected and coordinated by a centralised and better democratised state’ (p246). The nature of such a state remains to be developed, though I would have said that the English state, if not the UK, was already well centralised, and I thought that L&L-L were in favour of a certain amount of decentralisation. As a manifesto, therefore, this leaves much to be desired.

Both books warn of the dangers of right-wing extremist nationalism (JN, p291; L&L-L, pp227, 251). This is a new version of the old trope of ‘socialism or barbarism’. Like the latest (but very different) fashion of ‘deep adaptation’ (e.g. Bendell and Read, 2021), however, this narrative is based on scare-mongering and fatalism, and appears to foreclose a number of possible alternatives (e.g. degrowth).

Overall both books inadvertently serve to reveal the weakness of social democracy that was highlighted in the 1970s. The key problem here is that the tribalism of the left cannot solve the existential crisis of climate and ecological emergency. There are many very good points in both of these books but a coherent, comprehensive, convincing and realistic path to a safe world remains to be developed. This is the key challenge for our times.

References

Bendell, J. and Read, R. (2021) Deep adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Blakeley, G. (2019) Stolen: How to save the world from financialisation. London: Repeater Books.

Mazzucato, M. (2020) Mission economy: A moonshot guide to changing capitalism. Allen Lane.

Posted in Climate Change, further reading, key concepts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The timidity of Transport for the North (TfN)

Transport for the North has released what it calls its Decarbonisation Strategy.  It is also asking for comments on it via its consultation process. Occasional contributor to this website, Peter Somerville, has provided the following commentary.

The timidity of Transport for the North (TfN)

Peter Somerville

This report makes some interesting points, for example, on the need for adaptation to climate change. Overall, however it lacks the ambition required to decarbonise transport sufficiently quickly or effectively. It is broadly supportive of the status quo without recognising that it is precisely the status quo that has got us into this mess. A ‘near-zero emissions surface transport network in the North by 2045’ (p10) plus zero emissions before 2050 (p12) is just not good enough in the context of a global emergency. They seem very proud of their target of 55% reduction from 2018 to 2030 but this is really nothing to write home about.

It’s good to hear that they will soon be taking account of emissions from aviation and shipping, but of course they could be doing this already. They report that Manchester Airports Group have pledged to be a net-zero airport by 2038 (p14) but they omit to mention that this applies only to the airport itself and does not include the emissions from all the flights into and out of the airport.

Their four hypothetical future travel scenarios up to 2050 are worth noting. Three of them involve significant car growth: it’s interesting to hear that the high-tech scenario would increase car usage by 44%, and that a scenario based on soft solutions such as quality of life and community still involves massive car growth of 30%, more than the business as usual scenario increase of 28%. Even the more radical fourth scenario involves 10% car growth, when of course what is really required is a significant reduction in car usage. It is hardly surprising, then, that none of these scenarios would hit the 2030 target (p44) – indeed the carbon budget would be exhausted by then (p46). 

I could not make sense of Figs 18 and 19 on pp44 and 45 but it seemed clear that their proposed decarbonisation strategy purports to be going much further than any of the four hypothetical scenarios. How this can possibly happen they do not really explain. It seems as if we are just expected to accept on trust that the measures they recommend will lead to the emissions reductions that they say will result. Unfortunately, this sort of approach is not uncommon in government publications (see, for example, the famous ten point plan), and needs to be considered with a comparable degree of caution and scepticism.

When it comes to the recommendations themselves, the general impression is one of timidity and incremental change, representing no clear advance over any of the four hypothetical scenarios. Indeed, the report largely fails to go beyond current government policy. The only example I could find that did so was the recommendation that all new cars sold from 2030 onwards should have zero emissions, compared with the government’s policy that new hybrids can be sold up to 2035. Big deal, you might say. Given that cars last for an average of fifteen years, a more appropriate policy would be to ban sales of new fossil fuelled cars from 2022.  In any case, this is not something TfN controls: it requires government legislation, so the “should” is just that, an exhortation without substance.

The report’s proposed reduction in car demand (1%-4% by 2025, 3%-14% by 2030) is pitifully small. The best way to stop car demand increasing is to stop funding road development, but the government is still proposing to invest £27 billion in new and expanded roads, and the report has nothing to say about this. So demand is set to rise, not fall, particularly as electric vehicles pay no fuel tax and the cost of battery recharging is much less than the cost of petrol or diesel. A possible increase in the road fund tax is mentioned but not actually recommended. Larger cars should of course have to pay more, and car owners generally should be required to pay tax that is equivalent to the whole cost of their car usage. This would be a bolder but fairer proposal.

Similarly on public transport there is no bold thinking in this report. For example, on rail TfN envisage only a 25% reduction in emissions by 2030 (p48) when they should be advocating full electrification by that date. And it wasn’t clear to me what they were proposing on buses – just ‘invest in bus and light rail networks’ (p68) and more demand-responsive bus services (p61). This sounds fair enough but how far does it go? It would be more radical to argue for publicly controlled bus services (as proposed for Greater Manchester) and free bus travel, as exists in other countries (e.g. Luxembourg), but there is no mention of such possibilities in this report.

Finally, the report contains a section on ‘clean growth’. Here, however, the calculation of emissions goes out of the window. The emphasis is on delivering charging infrastructure, developing hydrogen technology, digitalisation, green freeports, and carbon capture and storage. There are many problems with all of this (see, for example, on Carbon dioxide removal). The report does not distinguish clearly between blue and green hydrogen, and doesn’t seem to be aware that green hydrogen (made by the electrolysis of water) is already well developed (though not in UK) and becoming cheaper by the day, so there is a real opportunity here and we should not be advocating hydrogen manufacture that is not green (blue hydrogen relies on fossil fuel production). I am not competent to comment on digitalisation, but I’m sure that it has a significant impact on carbon emissions, as well as embodied carbon and other impacts arising from the extraction of the materials required for its production. None of this is discussed here, and indeed there is no mention of a circular economy. As for freeports, it is difficult to see how they will not add to the transport of goods and services and therefore contribute further to the UK’s carbon footprint rather than reduce it. All in all, even if clean growth is possible (which is doubtful), this report clearly fails to show it.

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Members and Supporters Event – Shifting the debate

Last month, we held a meeting with some of our members and supporters to collectively consider the challenges facing Greater Manchester and look ahead to some of the ways Steady State Manchester can work to address those challenges. The meeting built upon a short discussion paper, and some of the key points discussed are drawn together below.

In the context of big challenges

Steady State Manchester works to influence thinking, practice, and policy in Greater Manchester. However, in the discussion with our members, it was clear our focus places limits on our scope. While there is a long way to go in building a more viable Greater Manchester, the fact is that many of the necessary shifts we discussed will require large-scale changes. A key case of this is the need for a fundamental rethinking of how national government invests tax revenue (e.g. the Green New Deal). While we agree that government investment and other wider structures need changing, this is in tension with a focus on advocating at a city-regional level. A similar tension arises when thinking through the impacts of Brexit (which have been obscured by the pandemic). Indeed, operating in the context of big challenges means understanding what we can – and what we can’t – directly influence.

Still, we will continue emphasising the many ways that a viable economy and society can improve lives and wellbeing, not least through advocating policies at the Greater Manchester scale. Equally, stories of success need celebrating, including activist mobilisation in Manchester calling for the city-region to address the climate emergency, the local wealth building of the Preston Model, twenty minute neighbourhoods being taken up in places like Melbourne, and adoption of the doughnut model in Amsterdam. These and countless other examples show ways of putting a more viable future into practice now, and our work will continue to draw inspiration from these exemplars while urging wider structural change.

Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

A main point of discussion was, understandably, the kernels of difference that might be taking root as a result of our collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most obviously, and widely discussed (such as here, here, and here), is a newfound appreciation for certain industries: especially those working in healthcare and food shops. Less widely acknowledged, however, are others essential workers that operate with less immediacy to many people’s everyday life, such as rubbish collectors or those in ‘elementary processing’ industries (aka un-unionized factory workers). This redefinition of what is essential to our society points to one possibility for recognizing that certain kinds of services that characterize a prosperous society are not amenable to a productivity-obsessed, growth-fuelled logic – a point brilliantly articulated by Tim Jackson some years ago, which is closely linked to our continued calls for an embrace of new social values – from care and democracy to resilience and localisation – in a more viable economy and society.

Another lesson emerging from the pandemic that we discussed is related: the flaws and weaknesses that COVID-19 exposed in various systems, along with the innovative responses, indicate ways forshock-proofing against future unexpected events. Examples such as the community groups that activated to provide mutual aid or the way that regional food systems adapted rapidly, are positive developments that have emerged in the past year or so. They need considering as we think about a post-pandemic Greater Manchester – and we intend to account for these lessons in our work moving forward.

Looking ahead

A last theme in the discussion with our supporters emerged when thinking ahead about the future. It was clear there is a need for unity amongadvocacy groups andto buildmomentum behind positive change. There is latent support for acting to address climate change, homelessness and so many other issues. But, at the same time, while there is potential, the limits of people’s engagement with civic life should be understood. People need an outlet for bringing them closer to decisions, which is seriously lacking in Greater Manchester – and elsewhere. A climate assembly (like the one in Blackpool) may be one possible way to encourage greater civic engagement, and we stand with Extinction Rebellion in calling for climate assemblies in other places, including Greater Manchester.

Another way we discussed for encouraging civic engagement involves drawing media attention to key issues and local events – both positive and negative – that can raise people’s awareness about what matters. Our post-growth challenge, in partnership with The Meteor and Systems Change Alliance, is one endeavour in this direction. Please do explore the entries to the challenge here and here. We plan to pursue other similar innovative ways to communicate with broader audiences in our future work.

A third route for catalysing civic engagement is our coalition work. At Steady State Manchester, partnerships and alliances are a key part of what we do. These activities are all aimed at activating a local ecosystem where people feel like they have a say in governance – despite the challenges (such as arcane ‘consultations’ and dull committee meetings). But to continue developing a groundswell of support for a more viable economy and society for Greater Manchester, we need your support. Whether that is donating, joining as a member, or remaining committed as a supporter. Our monthly emails often include several actions that we are asking you to take. And to encourage your engagement, our future mailings are going to highlight ‘Our Ask’ for a concrete action we hope that you will take each month.

Most importantly, we are keen for others to get involved in our work by joining our collective. If you might be interested, we encourage an informal chat with one of our collective, followed by no-commitment attendance at a collective meeting as an observer, to help show you what Steady State Manchester is about.If you are curious and would like to learn more, please drop us an email.

Overall, it was great to reconnect with some of our members and supporters, and we thank those who came very much for attending and participating. We are looking forward to further activities in the future involving our members – especially for a return to in-person events – including both our AGM (keep an eye on your email). In the meantime, the free and all-online Degrowth and Ecological Economics Conference, which we are co-sponsoring, is coming up in July. Hope to see you there!

Posted in degrowth, events, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester City Region, Supporting SSM, Viable Economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

News about the Manchester Degrowth and Ecological Economics Conference, 5th – 8th JULY 2021

Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis

The International Online Joint Conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics and the European Society for Ecological Economics, the international degrowth research networks and Steady State Manchester, hosted by University of Manchester, UK.

Registration Link

Conference website

Conference portal (for those who have registered)

Live programme and abstracts book linked on this page

Plenary speakers and plenary panels

Registration is now open for this event which comes at a critical time for our planet, its people and the entire living world. Lives and livelihoods have been unequally impacted and threatened by climate change, ecological degradation and the global pandemic. The construction of alternative livelihoods requires a radical transformation of economy, culture and society. What are the institutional arrangements which safely provide for basic needs, social stability and democratic legitimacy in the transition to environmental sustainability? How can both social justice and ecological justice for the populations of the Global North and the Global South be ensured? How can political support be mobilised for the necessary transformations?

We have had an enormous response to our calls for contributions with a variety of symposia and round tables, artistic and participatory events, that will appeal to scholars and activists concerned.

We are pleased to announce there will be conversations with Naomi Klein and George Monbiot and events with indigenous activists and with trade unionists.

There is NO CHARGE to attend this virtual Conference as an Attendee or Invited Speaker. Presenters are asked to contribute a fee to help cover the costs.

To register, click this link.

As we develop the programme, more information will appear on our website: https://www.isee-esee-degrowth2021.net/

For a taster, take a look at the videos from our September 2020 event: Economy and Livelihoods after COVID-19 click HERE.

Posted in events, news | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Post-growth: an economist meditates

Review of Post Growth: Life after Capitalism. Polity 2021.

by Tim Jackson

Book cover, Post Growth from the publisher's website.

ISBN 9 781509 54529

The economist Tim Jackson is well known as a leading advocate of an alternative to the dominant growth-orientated economic policy. He wrote the report to the UK government, Prosperity Without Growth (2009), later published in book form (2011) and now in its second edition (2017). It’s an important resource for all of us trying to explore and promote the possibility of a society whose material basis does not have to keep expanding: post-growth or degrowth. He has produced numerous papers mostly based on macro-economic modelling of the consequences and policy options for a post-growth economy. In the two book versions of Prosperity Without Growth, Jackson asked whether doing away with growth means doing away with the capitalist system.

For many people, growth and capitalism go together. Growth is functional for capitalism. Capitalism demands growth. The idea of doing without growth is tantamount to doing away with capitalism, in this view. [Second edition p. 561].

He concluded that while a post-growth economy would not be compatible with “casino capitalism”, it could be compatible with other variants. His discussion was rather impaired by a somewhat simplistic definition of capitalism, limiting it to the private ownership of the means of production, rather than considering it as a system in which capital in its chameleon forms is continually accumulated, expanded, as a result of expropriation (Marx’s primitive accumulation – Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession) and exploitation (expropriation of surplus value from the labour process). Instead he followed Baumol in contrasting private with State ownership of the means of production, although he notes that this breaks down when “State capitalism” comes into the picture.

Jackson’s new book has a subtitle that refers explicitly to this question of capitalism. If anything, in this new book, Jackson seems to be yet more critical of capitalism. However, the reader will not find here a critical political economy that analyses the dominant system and its contradictions, together with the options for its replacement and the vulnerable leverage points in that system for activists and movements to address themselves to.

Instead the book is very much a personal and philosophical essay wherein the author seeks and takes inspiration from an eclectic group of figures, including Rosa Luxemburg, Robert Kennedy, Wangari Maathai, Hannah Arendt and Emily Dickenson, who have in various ways gone against the grain of the dominant system and its associated world-view. I suppose whether this enterprise is judged as successful will depend on the resonance that these paths of exploration have for the reader, not just the choice of those figures but the selections from their works and the sense Tim Jackson makes of them. For me, notwithstanding the fulsome praise cited from twenty notables, mostly with pedigree in post-growth, or at least sustainability circles, the resonance was not generally there. It will be for others.

If you are looking for a path from the madness of the current system to an alternative, then this book is not for you. Tim Jackson gives some pointers but I found it too idiosyncratic, and curiously, given that it is ultimately about systems, too personal and introspective. We all need to look inward and reflect on values, on what’s important in life, and find ways of detaching that from the imperatives of the encompassing, dominant system. The pandemic (referred to in several places) has helped many of us to do that, with more time out and more time alone and at home. Yet somehow, Jackson’s reflections didn’t take me any further. Maybe because I read too much Thoreau (Tim cites the Civil Disobedience essay but not Walden), listened to too much demanding music, and was lucky enough to get a good ecological grounding as a youth, the rather Buddhist talk of mental “flow” (with no less than 10 index entries) and anti-materialistic values weren’t much of a revelation for me. I suppose I was looking for something else.

There are some macroeconomic sections, and these are not unhelpful, but this is ground that Tim has covered extensively elsewhere, in research articles and blog pieces and his previous book. For example, there is discussion of the reduction of labour productivity in capitalist economies, which has, it is commonly supposed (and Jackson concurs) led to increased inequality. He sees a distinction between a high technology “fast” sector and a human orientated, “slow” sector, where, for example the jobs in caring are. This second sector, which cannot be made “more productive” is where he sees the hope for a reformed economy that doesn’t continue to destroy the basis for life. But the macroeconomist doesn’t offer us an analysis of how this might be arranged and under what kind of systemic arrangements.

My final disappointment was that, in a book that surprisingly dwelt little on global inequalities and the transfer of resources, wealth and value from South to North, there was a repeated use of the pronoun “we” when describing tendencies of the system. It is not all of “us” that are destroying the planet and stealing people’s livelihoods. It is a system, operated by those in power, economically and politically, who relentlessly extract, exploit and exterminate and will continue to do so …. until they are stopped.

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