This is the first article from our Viable Future Mark holders. Evelyn Frearson from Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB), explains what the organisation is, its aims, and what they are working on.
SGMGB was established in 2017 as an umbrella organisation to bring together Green Belt and greenspace community groups across Greater Manchester, with the aims of protecting Green Belt, green spaces and the environment in Greater Manchester. It is a constituted organisation with representatives from all ten boroughs in Greater Manchester.
Formation of the group was precipitated by the publication of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2016. This draft plan proposed to remove the Green Belt status from large swathes of Green Belt land for development, which galvanised residents who treasure those spaces to join together and speak out against their loss. In response to objections from residents, GMSF was redrafted in 2019 and 2020 with reduced, but still significant, Green Belt loss. In 2020 Stockport Council voted against approval of GMSF and withdrew. The remaining nine authorities in Greater Manchester set up a new joint committee to proceed with a joint plan, which was revised to adjust for Stockport’s withdrawal and renamed Places for Everyone. This joint plan proposes significant loss of Green Belt land across the region and SGMGB members have continued to protest via every available avenue.
SGMGB members are currently preoccupied with the ongoing Examination in Public of the Places for Everyone Plan. Representations have been submitted to the consultations and members will participate in the Examination Hearings. Meanwhile, Stockport Council is preparing its own new Local Plan separately and is expected to consult residents on a number of draft options in the autumn of 2022.
We believe our Green Belt and greenspace is precious for ecology, food production, the rural economy, recreation, mental and physical health, and mitigating the impacts of climate change and air pollution.
We are becoming increasingly aware that we are part of a fragile ecological network with biodiversity that supports our existence. Some areas have seen a collapse in biodiversity, which poses a threat to the invisible network that we depend on. Our Green Belt and greenspaces help to support our ecological niche by providing habitats for a diverse range of species. For example, the Woodland Trust notes that a mature oak tree provides a habitat for 2,300 species of wildlife.
Green Belt and greenspaces include agricultural land which provides a livelihood for farmers and horticulturists and supports the rural economy. Global conflicts and climate change are threats to food supply chains. Locally produced food becomes increasingly important in providing food security and in reducing carbon emissions arising from transporting food. Farming has the ability support the environment while delivering economic, health and well-being benefits.
Countryside in Green Belt provides opportunities for access to nature and outdoor recreation that has well-established benefits for our physical and mental health. We believe that maintaining and enhancing these opportunities will improve quality of life in the population and reduce healthcare costs.
The challenges we face due to climate change are now acutely apparent. Green Belt and greenspaces play a vital role in mitigating the damaging effects of our life-styles and activities. Green plants and peat bogs absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also provide shade to reduce the amount of heat reaching the ground and some species, such as birch, trap particulate pollution on their leaves before it reaches our lungs. Green spaces absorb rainfall and help to reduce flood risk associated with development that covers the ground with non-absorbent materials, such as concrete and tarmac.
We liaise with other groups who have similar aims such as Wildlife Trusts and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). We are proud to be associated with the Community Planning Alliance, which does great work to highlight national issues in planning. Many of our groups are on their map which at the time of writing marks 640 grass roots campaign groups fighting environmentally damaging development projects.
Our ethos very much aligns with Steady Sate Manchester and we are delighted to have been awarded the Viable Future Mark. Their report on the Climate Impact of the Places for Everyone Plan is particularly pertinent to our campaign.