…. and the environment? Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – the remix

GMSF projected green Space loss from all sources

GMSF projected green Space loss from all sources (except brownfields that have returned to nature).

At last, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework has appeared following Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s electoral promise for a radical rewrite.

It’s an enormous document, more than 1,000 pages, with many more than that in the various supporting documents. This puts quite a burden on those who will want to respond to the consultation, now open until Monday 18 March, 2019 (at 23:59).

We’ve been working our way through it and will certainly be responding to the consultation.  Meanwhile we have two pieces for you, an article by Mark Burton that appears on the Greater Manchester Housing Action website (also reproduced below), and a presentation that covers similar ground but with a number of diagrams and graphs that underpin that analysis (with one of these above).  These aren’t the last words and we’d also make the following points:
The new GMSF is an improvement on the previous draft.  The Combined Authority has an unenviable task of planning for the provisioning of its population (jobs, houses, employment) while also keeping within the demanding carbon budget proposed for the region and protecting and enhancing and area as a liveable and viable space and society.  It’s hard to fit all that together – our fundamental concern is that the assumptions made (housing growth, economic growth) are fantastic and there is insufficient attention to the ecological and climate crisis and the contradictions of the global economic system that all herald a likely contraction not expansion of economic activity in the years to come.  But we’ll have more to say on that in subsequent pieces.

Meanwhile, here the GMHA article is reproduced below.  Thanks to Isaac Rose for commissioning it. And the link to the presentation again, is HERE.

Greater Manchester’s plan for jobs, homes ……. and the environment?

Mark H Burton
first published January 30th, 2019 by Greater Manchester Housing Action

Steady State Manchester

After several delays the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has published the new draft of its Spatial Framework. The previous version, published in late 2016 met considerable criticism, especially from groups campaigning on green space but also from other quarters, including our own critique of its assumptions of accelerated “economic growth”. On the other side the developer lobby suggested those assumptions were timid, arguing for even greater expansion of the economy, and with it building for industry, warehouses and homes.


Before looking at the redraft, we should ask what the Spatial Framework is for. It is both an attempt to produce the first plan for the city region since the 1980s and a way of dealing with pressures from central government. Local authorities have to produce local plans and consult on them, and to ensure a 5-year pipeline of land for new housing, in line with the government’s imposed targets. Through GMSF the 10 councils in Greater Manchester are approaching these problems together, aiming to avoid a situation where penalties are applied due to the lack of plans and a housing land supply, with “the spectre of moving from plan-led development to a developer-led process of planning by appeal, which would be costly for all”. However, the Spatial Framework aims to be more than this, a “plan for jobs, homes and the environment”.

How many homes?

In September, the Office of National Statistics published its projections for household numbers. For Greater Manchester, this was 141,034 new households by 2035. If that translated into new homes, then that number could have been accommodated without building on the green belt. But the government then confirmed that it was not going to use those projections, but instead a formula that used the 2014 ONS population projections (since superseded with lower population growth estimates). It is reasonable to be cautious about the ONS projections since they do not translate directly into actual household formation, which depends on factors such as prosperity and housing availability and affordability. But as Andy Burnham has noted,

“ The truth is I would have liked to go further and get closer to the aim of ‘no net loss’ of greenbelt.

“That was under active consideration but effectively made impossible by the government’s insistence on us using the old population and housing figures, which are significantly higher than the most recent ONS projections.

“It was decided that our plan would be at considerable risk if it diverged from the methodology and the greatest risk of all to our greenbelt is to have no plan in place.”

GMSF 2016 was criticised for its bias to small flats. This aspect is even stronger now, partly as a result of a plan to increase still further the building of flats in the Salford and Manchester urban centres. Together these will account for 4,590 units per year, that’s 43% of the GM total. The overall average occupancy will be just 1.28 people per home, down from 1.3 in the 2016 plan. We have previously questioned the ecological and social desirability of this model of super-concentrated, high rise urban living. And others have argued that the country’s housing crisis will not be solved by building new homes.

Brownfields, Greenfields, and Green Belt

Since the last version, the local authorities have worked behind the scenes to identify more brownfield land for new developments, using the brownfield registers that they now have to hold. Assumptions on the level of economic growth and population have been revised down, largely in the light of brexit. This means that fewer new homes are now planned: 200,980 by 2035 compared to 227,200. There will also be less building on green belt land. The net loss is quoted as 2,419 hectares, compared to 4,900 in the 2016 version. However, the “net loss” figure is a bit disingenuous since is presumably subtracts the new green belt additions (960.5 ha). But that land is already green space: it is good that it has new protection, but it shouldn’t be used to obscure the gross loss. Moreover, analysis of the supporting papers indicates what non- Green Belt green space will be used for housing (1037.7 ha), industry and warehouses (567.51 ha) and offices (272.93 ha). That means a total loss of green space of 5257.64 ha, or 20.3 square miles. This is considerable and it does not include those brownfield sites that have reverted to nature.

Given the Mayor’s aim for Greater Manchester to have net zero carbon emissions by 2038, one might have expected to see an assessment of the loss of this natural “carbon sink”. I asked the GMSF team about this, having raised the matter during the 2016-7 consultation too. I was referred to the background topic paper on Carbon and Energy but there is no such audit there. I therefore produced my own ballpark estimate, using figures from the scientific literature on carbon sequestration by various landscape types, applied to the mix of green space in the city region. I estimated a total of 43,250 tonnes of avoidable carbon emissions from land use change by 2038, and that is not including the emissions from all the building, associated transport, and the energy use of the buildings in operation. This is perhaps small in comparison to the 67,000,000 tonne Greater Manchester carbon budget for the period 2018-2038. However, also foregone will be the possibility, on some of those sites, of considerably increasing the rate of sequestration by conversion to woodland. There is also a proposal for development on Carrington Moss: there will need to be a thorough assessment of the special environment and climate consequences of that proposal.

Fantasy economics

Housing is just one element of the plan. The other big demand on green space is for warehouses and industry. Assumptions here are based on the use of consulting firm Oxford Economics which produces economic forecasts. They produce a baseline assessment and an accelerated growth scenario. The baseline forecast is for an overall growth in the GM economy of 39.65% by 2037. The accelerated growth forecast “reflects a future where the city plays a lead role in driving forward growth ambitions for the North of England… [and] is consistent with the long-term ambitions for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It has the economy growing by 58.72% over that period. Did someone say “finite planet”? no, I thought not. Let’s be charitable and not say this is pure fantasy, but instead just note that Oxford Economics consistently produces higher estimates than the majority of other economic forecasters, all of whom share that belief in the possibility of endless economic growth. It has one of the lower estimates of the impact of brexit. This would not be a problem were not decisions being made on its basis. It means that the region will be speculatively allocating land for industry, warehouses and offices, in the hope that “if we build it, they will come”. This is not the way to plan a resilient future in the era of financial shocks, geopolitical surprises, and collapsing climate and ecological provisioning systems.


The new GMSF is an improvement on the previous version. It does a better job of integrating other policy areas into a cohesive whole. It includes a presumption against fracking and the aim of getting to net zero emissions. It considers transport and other infrastructure more thoroughly (though still celebrating our climate-toxic airport and its expansion plans). It has managed to reduce the destruction of green belt but it still quietly envisages at least 20 square miles of green space being built on. And this is in large part because of being forced to adopt the government’s housing targets and choosing to go with Oxford Economics extremely “optimistic” forecast.

What we really need is an entirely different model of what our city region could be.


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Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors?

Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors?   

pdf version

Mark H Burton

Steady State Manchester.

The City of Manchester has one of the most ambitious Climate Change Plans anywhere. But does it really add up? In this article we explain where we are now and what’s been achieved since Manchester started Climate Change planning back in 20091, what’s planned, and most important, we offer some ideas on what needs to happen now.

Because this is going to be a critical analysis, it is necessary to say that Manchester is to be commended for trying to take climate change seriously. It was one of the very first local councils to put together a plan and that plan was the result of a collaboration with a variety of experts, activists and stakeholder organisations. However, the effort has never had the resources it really needs. The, now free-standing, Manchester Climate Change Agency (“the agency”, from here on) has just three staff. It is supported by a board and also has a number of volunteers. In 2017, it had income of around £32,000 per year but also received unspecified services in kind of some £112,000 from the city council2. Given the scale of the task – reducing the city’s carbon emissions to near zero (“mitigation” in the jargon)and readying the city for the climate change impacts to come (usually called “adaptation”), this is pretty insignificant. It is therefore impressive that the agency has done what it has. But as we will see, the challenge is very great, and its work is, effectively, in contradiction with what most of the city and its commerce are otherwise trying to achieve.

The agency’s new report, whose recommendations have been accepted by the city council, begins to set out a plan for these tasks over the next 20 years.

Quite rightly, the agency emphasises that effective action on climate change will require action from all organisations, and indeed citizens, in the city. Hence the title of its forward plan report: Playing Our Full Part How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses Can Benefit from Ambitious Action on Climate Change3. But we do question whether it has the capacity to make this happen to any serious degree.

But hasn’t a lot been achieved already?

Since the development of the city’s first climate change strategy in 2009, Manchester: A Certain Future, climate action has been a collective, citywide effort. This approach has resulted in an estimated 34% reduction in CO2 during 2005-17. It has come about from the actions of local residents, private sector businesses, local charities and not-for-profit organisations, universities, schools and colleges, Manchester City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, other local public sector organisations and decarbonisation of the National Grid through Government policy.4

Effective action on climate change means reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, the largest part of which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels. We’ll come back to this question to look at some of the difficulties involved.

As noted, the city has been working on this agenda for more than 10 years (if we count the lead up to the A Certain Future report of 2009). So it is reasonable to asses its track record.

In its annual report for 2018, the agency says,

“Our analysis of the latest Government figures shows that over the last year the city’s carbon emissions have fallen from 2.2 million tonnes in 2016 to 2.1 million tonnes in 2017 – a 2.7% reduction. To date the city has achieved a 34% reduction against the 41% target and is projected to achieve a 38% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.”5

Yet the government has not yet produced figures for 2017. The latest are for 2016. The reduction appears to be an estimate, based on recent trends. The figure of 34% is accurate though, on the basis of the government’s figures. However, what are these figures? It is important to understand that carbon emissions for Manchester are not measured directly, but are instead estimated. The data are taken from tables supplied by the Office of National Statistics. They summarise the methodology like this:

“The dataset provides a spatial disaggregation of CO2 emissions from the UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI), part of the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI), on an end user basis. This means that emissions from the production and processing of fuels, including the production of electricity, are reallocated to users of these fuels to reflect total emissions for each type of fuel consumed. The disaggregation methodology is complex, and different approaches are used to make best use of the quantity and quality of suitable data that are available for each sector.

The activity data used to produce these estimates come from four main sources:

  • BEIS sub-national gas and electricity consumption statistics;
  • Point source emissions from large industrial installations;
  • High resolution emissions distribution maps developed under the NAEI programme; and,
  • Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) regional data supplied by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), under the NAEI programme.

National end user emissions data are used to calculate emission factors for each activity. Local authority activity data are then multiplied by the relevant emission factor to generate an estimate of emissions in each LA.”6

To take an example: suppose Greater Manchester’s Clean Switch was highly successful in getting people to change from standard tariffs to renewable ones. That is to say (simplifying somewhat), the electricity the household purchased would be matched by renewable energy supplied to the grid and purchased, in turn, by the household’s supplier. Suppose also that in Manchester, we thereby ended up using twice as much renewable energy as elsewhere. It would make no difference to the emissions attributed to city, except insofar as it reduced the hydrocarbon mix in the national supply. The same goes for other aspects. So the first problem is that the data used are, at best, an imperfect proxy for what’s going on with the city’s emissions.

It turns out that reductions in emissions from electricity generation account for 60% of the reduction in the city’s emissions, reported above, in the period 2005-17. On looking at Manchester’s data we find that emissions from electricity generation fell by 46.56% (using 2005-2016)7: nationally they fell by 45% between 2005 and 20168 (the mix of domestic versus industrial electricity in Manchester vs. nationally probably accounts for the difference). Conversely, increases in coal use for electricity generation in 2010 and again in 2012 led to Manchester’s estimated overall emissions increasing temporarily.

So the changes claimed for Manchester are to a large extent outside its control and even where changes in emissions are under its control they are not necessarily reflected in the figures. This makes it difficult to assess Manchester’s ability to make the changes required, at least on the basis of performance so far.

Graph Manchester emissions, by source: 2005-16

Sources of Manchester’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions over time. The two thick
lines are for domestic and industrial electricity consumption which account for the largest
share of reductions. See note 6  for source: graph by the author.

We’ve a carbon budget, so SCATTER!

The agency understands these problems. So they, along with Greater Manchester (via Mayor Burnham’s Green Summit initiative) are using an approach called SCATTER ((Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction), provided by a company called Anthesis9, with input from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre on Climate Change. The Tyndall Centre has proposed a carbon budget for the city, in effect our share of the national carbon budget, which is, in turn, the country’s share of the global carbon budget that is required for a good chance of keeping average temperature rises within 2 degrees C. This sets a limited carbon budget of 15 megatonnes of CO2 for 2018-2100; 13% annual reductions in CO2 from 2018; leading to zero carbon net emissions by 2038. We will return to this budget and its implications shortly, but note here that the city council Executive adopted it at its meeting on 14 November, 201810.

SCATTER aims to improve the approach to emissions accounting by means of a greenhouse gas inventory for the city, aligned with “a globally recognised and credible reporting standard”11. While it draws on the national dataset discussed above, over time it is designed to become more reflective of the actual emissions from Manchester.

SCATTER also provides a methodology for exploring scenarios for carbon reduction, making various assumptions about the rate with which different sectors reduce their emissions and the role of land (trees, soils, wetlands, grasslands, etc.) to capture and lock up carbon (or conversely to release it).

Manchester’s new carbon budget: what it means.

A carbon budget is a statement of how much CO2 can be emitted for a defined chance of keeping warming within a specific limit. For Manchester, Tyndall say,

Based on our analysis, for Manchester to make its ‘fair’ contribution towards the 2°C commitment enshrined in the Paris Agreement, Manchester would need to:

1) Hold cumulative carbon dioxide emissions at under 15 million tonnes (range of 8 to 24 MtCO2) from 2018 onwards. To give a sense of the scale of the challenge, at current (2015) CO2 emission levels, Manchester would use its entire budget within 4 to 10 years.

2) Initiate an immediate programme of mitigation delivering an annual average of 13% (range of 8% to 20%) cuts in emissions in order to remain within its fair 2°C carbon budget. The 13% [it’s actually 13.2% – SSM] annual average reduction in emissions combines both national and local action and would be part of wider collaboration with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) on meeting its emissions reductions goals. The recommended pathway, 13% per annum reductions, is similar to the annual rates of reduction achieved by Manchester in 2014 (18.8%) which was primarily driven by a change in the fuel mix for electricity; it is important to note that this reduction occurred over a single year only.12

They also say that “Manchester needs to begin a rapid programme of reducing emissions from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)”. Since that is a relatively small part of the city’s emissions (see above graph), that will not be explored further in this article although it is relevant both to the city’s continual in-filling of green spaces and to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the wider question of land use in the city region.

A carbon budget is actually a rationing tool: it aims to keep our carbon emissions within a fair share of what is permissible for minimally safe climate safety – minimally, since with just over 1 degree of warming we are already witnessing severe impacts on the climate, impacts that have reached us too as we have seen with recent floods and fires.

It is worth exploring the scale of the challenge of this carbon budget in some more detail.

First the basic figures for Manchester’s 2 degree carbon budget and its current emissions.


Manchester 2 deg budget


Manchester annual emissions 2015


Manchester annual emissions 2016


The current rate of emissions gets us into trouble very quickly.

years left at 2015 rate of emissions

2015 annual emissions as per cent of budget



It is important to note that all this is only considering the emissions that take place in Manchester (scope 1) and as a result of Manchester’s electricity use (scope 2). Emissions from the production of all the things brought into the city, flights from the airport, shipping to bring things here, land use change as a result of our food consumption, emissions as a consequence of all our investments (including the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s huge holdings in the fossil fuel industry), emissions caused by driving using petrol purchased outside the city, emissions from the waste we export for “recycling”all these things are excluded (scope 3). The reports and appendices are clear about this noting that these issues (including that elephant in the room, Manchester Airport) do need addressing – but when and how?

Definitions of scopes 1, 2, 3.


Let’s look at the impact of various rates of emissions reduction for those scopes 1 and 2 (using, like Tyndall / Anthesis the 2015 baseline figure).

Graph: Manchester's cumulative emisisons at various rates of reduction.

The grey dotted line represents the 2 degrees carbon budget for Manchester. The other lines represent a variety of theoretical emissions reduction trajectories. Note that they are theoretical in the sense that they do not fluctuate from year to year: in reality emissions will reduce in irregular amounts from year to year. The curves, however so illustrate the scale of the problem. Only one of those curves keeps the city within the budget. In this case, emissions are reduced in the first year by 10% and then in each following year by the same number of kilotonnes, 230. The Tyndall 13.2% annual reduction gets close but it overshoots, that is, it exceeds the carbon budget by 2030. However, by front-loading higher percentage reductions in the earlier years it would come in under budget (the average annual figures is perhaps not very helpful since it is applied to a diminishing annual level of emissions).

This modelling demonstrates how difficult it is going to be to stay within our fair share of the global carbon budget. When SCATTER modelled some emissions reduction scenarios, all of them overshot the budget of 15 megatonnes. Here is the graph from the relevant appendix13:

Graph: scenarios from Anthesis and carbon reductions over time.

This leads us onto the question: what concrete actions will be required to stay within budget?

What must Manchester do to to play its full part?

Reducing emissions.

The Playing our Part report made the following proposals which have also been accepted by the council:

  • Manchester accelerates its efforts to mobilise all residents, businesses and other stakeholders to take action on climate change, starting in 2018.

  • Manchester puts in place an action plan and the resources needed to stay within the proposed carbon budget, starting in 2018.14

With the new target endorsed by the council’s Executive, the Manchester Climate Change Board will now develop a draft action plan by March 2019, ahead of producing a final plan by 2020, detailing how the city can stay within its carbon budget.15

So far, so good, but what should be in this plan?. The technical report from Anthesis gives some clues but is actually rather sketchy.

It breaks down the emissions into a number of key areas16:

detailed table from Appendix 1 of Playing Our Full Part

Click image for a larger (pdf) version – opens in new tab/window

This is not a bad start but, as we’ve noted:

1) Even the “ambitious” Level 4 scenario (the last column) fails to keep the city within its scope 1 and 2 carbon budget.

2) These actions apply to the city’s territorial emissions. If we are to really play our full part then we need to also programme actions that cover the totality of the emissions we are causing (scope 3 as well). Moreover,

3) The climate change agency and council have limited powers to make these changes happen. They are clear about this but will need a real strategy for bringing the other sectors on board.

In what follows we’ll look at each of these issues in turn.

What else needs to be considered to bring the actions in line with the city’s share of the global carbon budget?

We’ll take each of the sectors and proposals (from scenario 4), in turn, as listed by Anthesis (see above table) and comment. We do acknowledge that at this point the plan has yet to be prepared. So what we are doing here is, building from the information that has so far been provided, to suggest critical areas for attention.

1) Energy supply: Significant increases in local renewable energy generation.

This is fair enough but Anthesis then say, “100% of Greater Manchester’s electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2050”. Why 2050 when the aim is to be carbon neutral by 2038? They add, “(with a view to maximise the proportion of renewables in-boundary or owned & controlled by the City); Solar PV on 50% of domestic properties plus over 100 football pitches[ on commercial roof space and ground mounted sites; 10x more biomass generation capacity; 10x more onshore wind generation capacity.” Increasing the supply of energy from locally owned and controlled renewable sources is to be welcomed of course, but where do the figures come from? Why only 50% of domestic properties? Where does the 100 football pitches” figure come from? What kind of biomass, sourced from where and burnt where? Where is the tenfold increase in onshore wind generation to go? But above all, what is the quantitative target in terms of units of electricity generation? Does this include increased demand for transportation and space heating? Does it include reductions or increases in consumption for other uses?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Spatial Energy Plan, 2017 (GMSEP)17 stated that, “…up to 9 % of GM’s electricity could, technically, be generated locally using renewable sources. It is likely, however, that only a small proportion of this will be economically viable.” However, the parameters that determine what is “economically viable” are not fixed and likely to shift in further favour of clean energy (not that clean generation for Manchester needs to be locally based).

The GMSEP report points out that,

“Any wind farms built within Greater Manchester can be expected to feed energy into the National Grid. This means that, whilst they will contribute to reducing the carbon content of the electricity that is imported into Greater Manchester, their total output is unlikely to be allocated to GM in terms of carbon accounting.”

The same goes for any local energy generation that is fed into the grid.

With regard to biomass, the report noted that,

“Growing biomass in the UK could increase energy security and complement imports. However, UK land available for biomass production is finite so any large scale deployment of biomass will be dependent on imports. These are likely to have emissions associated with their production and transportation such that they may not be ‘low carbon’ over their entire life cycle. These factors combined with the versatility of biomass mean that future supplies are likely to be highly valued and so may not be economically viable to deploy at a large scale for domestic heating where cheaper options are likely to be available.”

Clearly, the Manchester plan will need to utilise the kind of detailed work that has been carried out regionally, building on it in detail and ambition. The recently released “Local Area Energy Planning” approach from the same consulting organisation that provided the GMSEP appears to offer a comprehensive framework for doing this18.

2) Domestic buildings: Large scale domestic retrofit and significantly more energy efficient new builds; Energy demand reduction for heating lighting and appliances; A shift away from natural gas as primary home heating source;

Smart temperature controls. And the scenario 4 proposals are, 75% reduction in thermal leakiness of 60% of all homes; 80-100% of homes using electric (or zero carbon); heat source; Average temperature (across the whole home) reducing to 16°C from 18°C via smart thermostats. Again these proposals are sound, so far as they go, but why only 60% of homes? Perhaps this comes from the slightly under 60% of Manchester homes that have EPC ratings of D or worse? But how then is the target of 75% improvement for these decided? Moreover, an increased level of ambition would be needed, given that in Manchester, home heating is a major contributor to the domestic 30% share of carbon emissions. We have also noted above the interdependence between decarbonisation of heating and increased electricity demand.

Improved levels of domestic insulation are a critical element in enabling a lower overall energy input (of clean energy) to keep houses warm enough. How are radically improved levels to be achieved? How are they to be financed? We suggest that one model would be to establish a revolving retrofit fund, replenished by a share of the achieved reductions in energy costs and in the case of the private sector, from a share of any house price rises (improved EPC ratings increase both the saleability and value of homes).

As in other areas, it is essential that policies join up: proposals for a regional community bank, or for a regional green investment fund, are relevant, together with divesting local anchor institutions’ holdings in fossil fuel companies and re-investing in local energy reform. Beyond finance, there is a need to develop cost-effective ways of conducting retrofit: for example, where possible, by working on neighbouring homes and combining retrofit with other home improvements19. Incentivising home sharing is also relevant, especially for older people living in larger houses but with spare rooms.

Projected increases in housing are materially relevant to domestic energy demand for both heating and other uses (previous section). At the time of writing, the Office of National Statistics projections are at odds with central government targets and those of the discredited 2016 draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework20: it is difficult to plan with this uncertainty but it is likely that the city will see a greater density of housing units, if only due to the rising cost and inconvenience of commuting into the area.

3). Commercial buildings: Large scale commercial retrofit and more energy efficient new builds; Significant energy demand reduction for heating, cooling and hot water; lighting and appliances; A shift away from natural gas as primary heating source; Smart temperature controls. Scenario 4 assumes that Space heating demand drops by 40%, Hot water demand by 30% and Cooling demand by 60%.

This is fine in outline, but again, detailed proposals are required. Moreover, as we will discuss later on, the critical question is “how are the relevant organisations going to be encouraged, enabled, and let’s face it, made to make these changes?

4) Transport: 100% shift to zero emission passenger vehicles; Significant reduction in distance travelled per passenger; Passenger modal shifts from car to walking & cycling and increased public transport; Freight modal shift from road to rail & water. And scenario 4 suggests 100% zero emissions cars and buses by 2025; Complete railway electrification by 2035; 25% reduction in passenger Km by 2035; Significant modal shifts in walking and cycling (+4%), bus and train (+15%) and reducing car travel (-19%).

Transport accounts for 29% of Manchester’s direct emissions. A significant reduction in distance travelled per passenger is a great aim but contradicts the city’s emphasis, in its economic strategy, of getting people to travel to the places where the jobs are supposedly going to be created, in the “growth hubs” of places like the airport city, and the warehouse sheds around the conurbation, as well as the expanding city centre. As we continue to argue, you can’t reduce carbon emissions while promoting economic growth21.

Some of the other proposals, from this, still budget busting, scenario sound implausible given current policies and trajectories: for all cars and buses driving round the city to be emission-free in just 7 years is, however desirable, just not likely. And while rail electrification by 2035 is achievable, the present government has cancelled plans for electrification of routes, though an alternative government could put this right22.

street crammed with carsThe target for car travel reduction is woefully insufficient. Our city is infested by the private motor car: we need to make it the exceptional way to travel, not the dominant form. That will be difficult because so much of the population uses cars, but it must be done. Moreover targets need expressing more clearly – is the 19% about a reduction in passenger miles, number of cars on the road, or number of journeys. There needs to be an assertive policy framework, with punitive charges for high emission vehicles23 and for road use in the urban area24, in concert with the provision of adequate alternatives, both active travel and public transport. Buses in particular are the most relevant area for investment but without re-regulation we will not achieve a rationally planned network25. Finally the question of freight needs further analysis: reductions in the volume of goods being transported are going to be required but will also occur with the impacts of climate change, energy descent and geopolitical shocks. Shifting the remaining freight from roads will require significant investment in the alternatives, rail and water and this will look quite different from the inter-city mobility and high value passenger focus of the current rail investment plans and proposals (HS2 and HS3).

5) Natural capital: Tree planting and peatland restoration. And the scenario suggests: 3m trees planted by 2030, 5m by 2050 75% peatland restoration (across various bog and land types). This is very welcome but vague. Again it would be helpful if these figures were explained, in terms of what they mean for our green spaces (including those whose natural ecosystem is not woodland), who will plant the trees, how they are to be sourced and what the carbon metrics are likely to be. Otherwise it is hard to evaluate them. However, while valuable, it is outside the city where most of the battle over land-based carbon sinks is to take place.

6) Waste & Industry: this part of the table is particularly vague, only mentioning carbon capture in relation to power generation, and waste disposal (and only setting woefully inadequate indicative assumptions that “ Waste decreases by 20% and recycling hits 65% by

2035”). Industry, even in our post-industrial city still accounts for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore concerning that the report and its main “technical appendix” remain almost silent on what must be done. Data on industry for the city is hard to find. For Greater Manchester as a whole, the breakdown of the larger sectors is as follows. They are listed in order of their share of the total city regional Gross Value Added (GVA) which gives an idea of the price of their products but not of their carbon intensity:

Industry (by SIC07 code)

% of Greater Manchester total GVA in 2014.

Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles




Real estate activities


Human health and social work activities


Professional, scientific and technical activities


Financial and insurance activities






Administrative and support service activities


Information and communication


Transportation and storage


Public administration and defence; compulsory social security


Accommodation and food service activities


Other service activities


Food products, beverages and tobacco


Arts, entertainment and recreation


Electricity, gas, steam and air-conditioning supply


Basic metals and metal products


Rubber and plastic products


Water supply; sewerage and waste management


This would give some clues as to the key areas for action but needs supplementing with at least an estimate of the carbon intensity factor for each sector prior to identifying priority actions. We know that carbon intensity is high for areas such as construction and the motor trade, for instance, yet both will present challenges should serious action be taken on emissions.

7) Storage. The final row of the Anthesis table is about energy storage. There is a lot of interest in electricity storage at present to smooth the peaks and troughs of renewable energy supply and demand and also to convert flows of energy into more portable stores. At present this relies on a) pumped hydroelectric storage schemes (and potentially at a smaller scale, compressed air), b) electrical batteries (including vehicle batteries as a buffer store), c) conversion of surplus energy to hydrogen gas. All involve losses of energy. Battery storage relies on mineral extraction (for example Bolivian lithium) so has an embedded hydrocarbon cost, and social and environmental consequences where extraction takes place. However, there is not a direct relevance to Manchester’s carbon reduction plans. The table lists as its scenario 4 assumption, the figure of 84MW of storage capacity within Manchester (equivalent of a 4kW battery in 10% of homes). It is unclear why this figure should have been chosen and just what is being proposed.

Playing our part means reducing our total carbon footprint

The Board also recognises there are areas of the city’s activities that generate CO2 indirectly and, whilst currently difficult to measure, the city still needs to address these emissions. We expect it will be possible to include them in future definitions of zero carbon when data and monitoring processes improve. 26

The above quotation is welcome insofar as it recognises that non-territorial emissions are relevant. But the statement is misleading for two reasons. Firstly, it is misleading to label them as indirect. They are the direct result of our activity. Every time we buy something made outside the city, every time we watch a video on the internet, every time we go on holiday, and for every mouthful of food or drink, we are pulling the lever of demand that uses materials and energy and causes carbon emissions at every step of the way from resource extraction via manufacture, processing, transportation, storage and consumption, to the finality of waste. That is pretty direct. These emissions, though they might happen in Brazil, in the mid Atlantic, in China, or in a field in Cheshire, are all our responsibility. The test of that is that we can reduce them by changing what we do here. To say they are indirect and thereby to leave them for another day – that’s not playing our full part.

Secondly, it is a bit of an evasion to imply that the (real) difficulty in measuring these scope 3 or consumption emissions justifies leaving them until another day. That’s not playing our full part.

It so happens that we know quite a lot about our total carbon footprint.

The government issues statistical tables for the UK. We can apply these to our territorial emissions to arrive at a rough estimate. For the UK, in 2015, the total carbon footprint was 1.72 times larger than that for the territorial emissions, or put another way, the scope 1 and 2 emissions accounted for 58.16% of the total27. A study conducted in Greater Manchester in 2011 made detailed estimates of the total carbon footprints for each of the local authorities in Greater Manchester28. It estimated Manchester’s total carbon footprint as 7,134,675 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. At the same time, the direct emissions were estimated at 3,200,000 tonnes. So the total footprint was approximately 2.23 times higher than of the scope 1 and 2 figure. Nationally at that time, the ratio was approximately 1.81. The methodologies differed somewhat between the national figure and the local study. If we apply the national reduction 2011-2015 in the share of consumption emissions to the 2011 Manchester figure, we arrive at a ratio of 2.12. Erring on the generous (to Manchester) side, we could say that the scale of our total carbon emissions is likely to be around twice that of our territorial emissions. The conclusion is clear. To play our full part, we do need to consider all our emissions. That means identifying actions that also bring down those extra-territorial emissions, the ones that we essentially outsource to other economies and populations.

The study on Greater Manchester’s total carbon footprint also made a number of suggestions about reducing consumption-based emissions. It makes interesting reading, firstly for the areas covered (e.g. reducing food waste and more careful driving – both of which have had policy initiatives addressed to them, but also the reduction of leisure flights, which has not). Secondly, though, the proposals were for a modest 1% emissions reduction per year. Having collectively delayed doing anything serious about our emissions, over the intervening 7 years, that looks small indeed. We now need to consider reductions in the order of 13 per cent per year in our consumption emissions, collectively, if we are to seriously “play our full part”.

Given the following breakdown (from 2011, but based on data a couple of years older) of our total carbon footprint in Manchester, the areas for action should be clear enough. Note that this is the total footprint, which includes the direct emissions already discussed. But obvious candidates include sectors such as personal flights (and yet the city council is still paying for officers to fly to other UK cities), “other non-food consumption” and “construction” (let’s end the construction frenzy in the urban core). When considering consumption footprints, though, we must not forget that many people in Manchester do not have high carbon footprints (while many others do).

Estimated Total Carbon Footprint of Manchester and Greater Manchester, 2009-201029


Greater Manchester


per cent


per cent

Food and drink from retail





Household fuel





Personal flights





Other non-food shopping





Domestic vehicle fuel





Public admin. And other public services





Household electricity





Eating, drinking and staying away





Car manufacture and maintenance





Other bought services (inc. financial)















Water, waste and sewage





Travel by train, bus and other










Electrical goods










food and related



personal transportation



public services






Subtotal for food, transport, public services and utilities



Other sectors



All sectors



Towards a strategy for collective action

A little frustration, even cynicism, is understandable here since we have now had nearly ten years of hearing that all organisations in the city need to be encouraged to get on board with these climate mitigation plans. In 2009, the City’s first Climate Change Action Plan, Manchester a Certain Future, stated as the second of its two overall aims,

To engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low-carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city.”30

But where are the detailed plans and proposals, even from some of the bigger players that routinely work in partnership with the city council? And what is the strategy for actually making this happen this time? The table in the Anthesis report that we have reviewed is followed by a rather scattergun tour of possibilities (and promotion) for some key organisations in the city but as the report acknowledges, these only account for approximately 20% of the city’s carbon footprint (based on building-based emissions). The other 80% will be critical but much harder.

So, if a collective, shared response is necessary if Manchester is to “play our full part”, but relatively little has been achieved yet in building this alliance of actors, then “what is to be done”?

The Playing Our Full Part report states that “Manchester Climate Change Board wants all organisations in the city to help realise this vision.” It’s third proposal, adopted by the council’s Executive is,

“Manchester accelerates its efforts to mobilise all residents, businesses and other stakeholders to take action on climate change, starting in 2018.”

However, there is not any clear suggestion, yet, as to what an adequate strategy might be. There is a form for organisations to fill in and express their support, but that is all. It will be argued that the approach will be integrated within the Our Manchester Strategy, the overall strategy that the council leads with other key organisations. But other than asking organisations to pledge and make plans, there is little here that is recognisable as a political strategy for building the kind of change coalition that is going to be needed.

Indeed it is not easy to produce such a strategy but let’s take the risk of suggesting a few pointers.

1. Tell it like it is. The Playing Our Full Part report makes the strong suggestion that everyone will benefit from climate change mitigation actions. Certainly, as the report suggests, it will be better to live in a warm house that is cheaper to heat, a neighbourhood that is not enveloped in traffic fumes, and to eat a healthy diet. These co-benefits are well established but there is a danger that by spinning such a positive tale, the public, and organisations are not confronted with the absolute necessity of taking action, not so much to create a better life – that is highly uncertain as we face collapsing economic, social and environmental systems – but to prevent things getting much worse. Manchester could make a declaration, like Bristol council31 and the London Assembly32, and others worldwide, that there is a CLIMATE EMERGENCY. This would underline the urgency of the situation, signalling to all stakeholders in the city how it is. An emergency requires emergency action. There will be hard choices to be made: our council (and the other Greater Manchester ones) receives income from the Manchester Airport Group, for example: with council finances squeezed between government austerity and rising population needs there will need to be serious consideration as to how it can be weaned away from what we have called “aviation dependency”33.

2. Bring the public in. In addition to seeking pledges from organisations (which the climate change agency has tried before with limited success), the city could far more proactively use its convening power to create climate emergency summits in each ward and for each business sector. These would combine crash briefings on carbon literacy, explaining the crisis, and participative planning to establish local action plans for individuals, households, neighbourhoods. Key ideas and proposals could then be scaled up for city and region-wide action. The British like to refer to the spirit of collective action, of being in the same boat, that characterised the last great war. The stakes here are, if anything higher: a climate emergency could galvanise public participation, rebuilding community across the many divides, on a shared civic project of survival and regeneration. There is plenty in the report on actions individuals can take and this can be built on, very much with a view to supporting both collective action and institutional supports for individual behavioural change. Just leaving things to individual conscience is insufficient, as we are sure the authors of the reports understand.

Moreover, widespread public action not happen without resources. One idea would be that each ward has a climate animator – someone to lead, galvanise, inform, facilitate, organise, plan, monitor, etc. at local levels, involving not just citizens but traders and businesses. At the city level, a team of climate animators could work with business sectors. But it’s going to require more than the modest funding the agency currently has to work with. Why not use some of the considerable revenue from the airport to fund such a scheme in the short term (pending the city weaning itself off aviation dependency)34?

3 Establish a media strategy. In hand with bringing the public in, there will need to be an effective media strategy for explaining the problem that we share and motivating people to get involved. A balance between frightening people (some anxiety will be necessary to the process – too much will freeze people) and encouraging them to take positive, collective action, will be needed.

4. Recognise climate action and shame climate destruction. This needs to be relentless. The city is good at spinning the positives, promoting a culture of celebration, not always justified by the facts on the ground. We know, however, that some key players and sectors will drag their feet. They should be exposed, particularly where their inaction (or worse, damaging activity) contributes to a worsening of climate damage.

5. Produce regular, accessible updates. People and organisations will need to know where we are. A publicly accessible dashboard could be constructed. It would have top level data on emissions (courtesy of the SCATTER tool for making visible the greenhouse gas inventory) and, through a set of traffic light indicators, on the status of the multiple actions that will be designed to cut emissions. This will make it clear where we are on target, where we are not, and who is accountable. It could be boosted by having competitions and awards for the neighbourhoods, businesses and other organisations making the greatest contribution to emissions reductions (think Britain in Bloom, or the Spirit of Manchester awards).

6. Lobby for change at the superior levels. As we have made clear, radical reductions in emissions will require regional, national and international level actions. Having a coherent strategy for emissions reduction will enable the blocks and barriers to be identified. Where these lie at other levels (for example, the UK government is committed to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction) then Manchester needs to use its existing and future networks to lobby, and lobby hard, for change.

7. Shock-proof the city. It is going to get ugly, however well we perform on emissions reductions. There will be extreme weather and supply shocks that will affect our population. The city will need a very public and assertive programme for building community resilience – shock proofing our people, our neighbourhoods and their supply systems, particularly give nthat many companies are laggards in their assessment and management of climate change impacts and risks35. This will not start from a zero base: the city is already experienced in disaster planning and response, but rather than responding to single events, it will be necessary to develop capacity for responding to threats of longer duration and greater impact. Climate change jargon calls this adaptation: we call it shock-proofing.


Manchester has good intentions on climate but these need a step change if they are to become a reality. This article has analysed the nature of the problem and, without prescribing what, after all, has to be a plan by and for the people and institutions of the city, we have outlined some of the key dimensions of an adequate approach. The city has to get serious about this agenda and built an effective alliance to realise deep cuts in our total greenhouse gas emissions: that’s what “Playing Our Full Part” means.

Note: I am grateful to Carolyn Kagan and Peter Somerville for comments on an earlier draft and for some of the ideas presented here.

Some rights reserved: Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Steady State Manchester, December 2018.


1Manchester City Council (2009). Manchester: A Certain Future.  Our co2llective action on climate change. Manchester: Manchester City Council. Retrieved from http://www.manchesterclimate.com/sites/default/files/MACF%202010-20.pdf

2Manchester Climate Change Agency CIC (2017) Report and unaudited accounts, 30 September, 2017. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09761661/filing-history/MzIwODc2NDQ1OWFkaXF6a2N4/document?format=pdf&download=0

3Manchester Climate Change Agency. (2018). Playing Our Full Part How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses Can Benefit from Ambitious Action on Climate Change. Manchester. Retrieved from http://manchesterclimate.com/sites/default/files/POFP%20Proposal%20to%20MCC%2016.10.2018_0.pdf

4See note 3 (page 11).

5Manchester Climate Change Agency (2018). Annual Report, 2018. http://www.manchesterclimate.com/sites/default/files/MCCA_Annual%20Report%202018.pdf

6Pearson, B., Joe, R., & Tsagatakis, I. (2018). Local and Regional Carbon Dioxide Emissions Estimates for 2005–2016 for the UK (Technical Report No. GA0216) (p. 57). London: BEIS. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719073/Local_CO2_-_Technical_Report_2016.pdf

8See note 6 (page 6).

10Report to council (agreed by Executive on 14 November, 2018). https://democracy.manchester.gov.uk/documents/s2324/Climate%20Change.pdf
Video of the discussion at Council Executive: https://manchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/383587/start_time/2297000

11The World Resources Institute. (2014). Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories.

13Playing Our Full Part: How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses can benefit from ambitious action on climate change. Technical Appendix by Anthesis (UK) Ltd. http://manchesterclimate.com/sites/default/files/Appendix%201%20Manchester_2038_Technical%20Report%2011.11.18_0.pdf

14See note 11.

17The Energy Technologies Institute / Catapult Energy Systems. (2017). GM Spatial Energy Plan (evidence base study). http://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/240/gm_spatial_energy_plan_evidence_base_study.pdf

18Catapult Energy Systems. (2018). Local Area Energy Planning: Supporting clean growth and low carbon transition. https://es.catapult.org.uk/publications/local-area-energy-planning-supporting-clean-growth-and-low-carbon-transition/

19See Carbon Co-op’s evidence to BEIS for helpful pointers: http://carbon.coop/blog/jonathan/beis-call-evidence-building-market-energy-efficiency-0

21For a recent analysis, see Kuhnhenn, K. (2018). Economic Growth in mitigation scenarios: A blind spot in climate science (p. 25). Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Retrieved from https://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/endf2_kuhnhenn_growth_in_mitigation_scenarios.pdf?dimension1=division_oen

22Labour’s current policy framework proposes ramping up rail electrification. Labour Party. (2018). The-Green-Transformation: Labour’s Environment Policy. London. Retrieved from https://www.labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/The-Green-Transformation-.pdf

23Madrid, for example has banned all petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and all diesels before 2006 from its central districts. https://www.eldiario.es/madrid/Manana-circularan-Madrid-vehiculos-ambiental_0_845165619.html (in Spanish).

24There are a number of examples in European cities, including Milan, Stockholm and Oslo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_pricing#Europe

26Playing Our Full Part. See note 3 p. 9.

27For the direct emissions: Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990-2016. (n.d.). Retrieved 8 December 2018, from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics-1990-2016 For the consumption emissions: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uks-carbon-footprint

28Berners-Lee, M., Hatter, W., & Hoolohan, C. (2011). The Total Carbon Footprint of Greater Manchester: Estimates of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Consumption by Greater Manchester Residents and Industries. Small World Consulting / Lancaster University. Retrieved from http://media.ontheplatform.org.uk/sites/default/files/gm_footprint_final_110817.pdf

29Table from Steady State Manchester (2012). In Place of Growth. Data from Berners Lee et al. (2011) see note 25. Data used in compiling the estimates is largely from 2009 and 2010 (see methodology section of their report).

30Manchester a Certain Future. (2009) page 5, see note 1.

31Bristol has also set 2030 as a deadline to go carbon neutral. This is 8 years earlier than Manchester but so far it is only an intention: the Mayor has been mandated to produce a detailed plan.

34Manchester recently received a profits windfall of £39.3M, just part of the total income for this financial year. https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/business-news/manchester-airport-dividend-profit-council-14868721

35Goldstein, A., Turner, W. R., Gladstone, J., & Hole, D. G. (2018). The private sector’s climate change risk and adaptation blind spots. Nature Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0340-5

Posted in Climate Change, explainers, Manchester, Manchester City Council | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Retrofitting suburbia

Retrofitting suburbia

by Charlotte Allen

A recent session of the SSM Reading Group discussed two articles by the Australian author and permaculture pioneer David Holmgren: ‘Retrofitting the suburbs 1and A History from the future2. Although we were a small group, we had a good discussion.

Suburban dual carriageway with green area and houses

South Manchester suburbia: near an area with the interesting name, “Fallowfield”.

In ‘Retrofitting the Suburbs’, Holmgren argues that the suburbs are ideally adaptable living spaces for life in what he describes as the ‘Energy Descent Future’3. They can easily be gradually transformed into low-energy use, agriculturally and economically productive areas with home-based lifestyles and strong communities, following the holistic approach of permaculture.

In ‘A History from the future’ Holmgren illustrates how humanity could get from the present ‘golden age’ of consumption to a culture of ‘Earth Stewardship4’, demonstrating a ‘prosperous way down5’ to low-energy use future shaped by behaviour change at the household level.

We discussed how far Holmgren’s vision, grounded in the sunlit low-density suburbs of Melbourne, is relevant to, or replicable in British suburbs, in particular in Greater Manchester.

We found that although GM is much denser than, for example, Melbourne (43 people per Ha compared to 26, on a population weighted basis6), it has a lot of green space, in both public and private hands (e.g. back gardens). Generally English cities have much lower residential densities than continental European cities. However, excepting the very dense building in Manchester city centre, most residents of GM live at relatively low densities in houses with gardens – this includes large areas of social housing pre-war and from 1970’s. Flats are not the norm. Houses can be retrofitted by public and private owners and gardens could be more productive. But access to land is a barrier for future suburban expansion (if this is desirable); in Australia there are wide open spaces which don’t exist in the GM region.

The problem with GM at the moment, and with current planning policies, is that people overwhelmingly have to travel from all over GM to work in central Manchester or sites such as the airport (very often by car), leaving houses unoccupied during the day, equivalent to almost 50% of the time. And most workplaces (offices) are empty more than 50% of the time – isn’t that crazy? So much energy is consumed by people travelling to work, instead of being able to work close to home.

Obviously Holmgren is writing from different socio-cultural perspective in a different physical environment (climate, housing types and density). A key difference between GM and Victoria is the climate – we need heating and we can’t grow so many crops. However, we found it strange that he doesn’t mention public transport in his writing.

We also felt that his suggested bottom up approach might not be successful in GM. There is not the same pioneer spirit nor the availability of land for suburban / rural settlement. There is a much tighter regulatory framework, which is largely accepted – we have learned that lowering regulatory standards many not be a good idea. We felt that an approach based on partnerships/joint activities between grass roots and local government or social housing providers could be more successful – local authorities might support community ideas because they are desperately looking for new ways to provide services etc.

We concluded that we should look at Holmgren’s list of bottom-up activities and, for each one, find out whether there are any relevant activities in GM and map/investigate these. One possibility will be to prepare a paper on possible future scenarios and trajectories for change in GM in the face of climate change, energy descent and economic collapse, similar to Holmgren’s ‘History from the future’7.

Update: this recent article, by Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson, also covers the same theme, arguing that the suburbs could be the site of a degrowth transition.


Our next reading group session “What will it take to keep global warming within safe limits?” is on 23 January. More details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-will-it-take-to-keep-global-warming-within-safe-limits-tickets-53048731183



https://www.holmgren.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2003/11/RetrofittingTheSuburbsSimplicityInstitute1.pdf Holmgren has also written a substantial book on the subject, “RetroSuburbia” a kind of permaculture manual for the coming energy descent. Holmgren, D. (2018). RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future. Hepburn Springs; Victoria.: Melliodora Publishing. UK supplier: http://www.ragmans.co.uk/shop/retrosuburbia/

3 For an exploration of energy descent in the context of Europe, and the brexiteing UK, see https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/brexit-stage-one-in-europes-slow-burn-energy-collapse-1f520d7e2d89

One of Holmgren’s 4 Future Scenarios: Holmgren, D. (2008). Future Scenarios: Mapping the cultural implications of peak oil and climate changehttp://www.futurescenarios.org/

The term comes from the book, Odum, H. T. O. and E. C., & Odum, E. C. (2001). A prosperous way down : principles and policies. Univ. Press of Colorado.

6 Comparing the densities of Australian, European, Canadian, and New Zealand cities. (2015, November 26). Retrieved 11 December 2018, from https://chartingtransport.com/2015/11/26/comparing-the-densities-of-australian-and-european-cities/

7 Some dimensions of such a future scenario in post-industrial cities and towns can be found at the end of this presentation: https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/a-better-collapse.pdf

Posted in energy, event reports, Greater Manchester, land use, re-localisation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hey, Fossil Banks – Climate Change is here!

Hey, Fossil Banks – Climate Change is here!

As we know, climate change is with us already, harming the lives of millions of people around the world. It’s driven in large part by the continued exploration and burning of coal, oil and gas. To stop a further climate breakdown we urgently need to bring the fossil fuel era to an end. But the fossil fuel firms continue to extract, sell and burn as much coal, oil and gas as possible….

SSM campaigners and friends outside HSBC Bank, Chorlton

SSM members and friends outside a branch of the worst UK Fossil Bank

What have the banks got to do with it?

The big banks are financing this activity, funding new mines, oil and gas fields and pipelines. Between 2015 and 2017, just 36 global private sector banks funnelled already a staggering US$ 345 billion into extreme fossil fuel projects and companies alone. The worst banks in the UK (sum total of investments 2014-16) are:

HSBC – $13.2 billion although decreasing investment in new coal mines and moving out of tar sands;

Barclays – $12.5 billion and still increasing investment in a range of extractive and support industries;

RBS/NatWest $3.3 billion but significantly reducing their investments to $122 million in 2016;

Santander $3.74 billion – can you believe, increased spending after the Paris Agreement!

What can be done?

Only massive public pressure will make banks end their support for this climate-wrecking, fossil fuel industry.

Switch banks

If we don’t want our money to be used to finance fossil fuels and thereby climate destruction, Action on Climate Change urges those of us with accounts in these banks to switch to more ethical banks.

Fossil Banks No Thanks campaign

Steady State Manchester is one of many organisations to sign up to the Fossil Banks: No Thanks campaign. The campaign aims to put pressure coal mining, tar sands extraction, oil drilling, fracking, gas pipelines, deep water drilling, arctic drilling …

As part of the campaign there is a petition for individuals and organisations to join the global call for banks to cease funding fossil fuel companies. The demand is for banks to clearly and publicly acknowledge that stopping climate breakdown means putting an end to the exploration and burning of fossil fuels, as well as their support for the fossil fuel industry. The call is for the banks to publicly commit, by the 25th UN Climate Summit in November 2019 at the latest, to end their financing of all new fossil fuel exploration, extraction and power projects, and that they publish a robust and timed phase out plan for all their existing fossil fuel clients.


  • Have a look at the data for yourselves

  • Switch accounts if you can or put pressure on your bank

  • Sign the petition

  • Spread the word: follow the twitter account @NoFossilBanks, and help spread the word using the hashtag #FossilBanksNoThanks, or simply #FossilBanks

Posted in Banking, Climate Change, event reports | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s not to like about CounterCoin ?

What’s not to like about CounterCoin

Flyer for the Countercoin Challenge

Flyer for the Countercoin Challenge


by Carolyn Kagan

(The second of two pieces about CountercoinThe first by Mike Riddell set out the basic philosophy and reported on the event that Carolyn mentions below.)

There are some great things happening in the Potteries and Newcastle-Under-Lyme – couldn’t they happen in Greater Manchester too?

I spent a day in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the Cultural Squatter’s community café taking part in The CounterCoin Challenge

Captain CounterCoin who drummed up interest in the streets with Narina Stead who runs the café

We were making CounterCoins out of clay that had been donated by local supplier Valentine Clays to raise awareness of CounterCoin and the part they might play in regenerating town centres and contributing to sustainable communities.

Making countercoins

It was uplifting to see and hear about the enthusiasm local people have for essentially linking a community volunteer reward scheme with resources that might otherwise go to waste. Businesses are starting to join the scheme which will expand the things that CounterCoin can be used for.

What exactly is CounterCoin?

CounterCoin is an innovative scheme which rewards community volunteers for time they spend making a positive contribution to the community – any work, in fact, that benefits society and/or promotes good citizenship.

How does it differ from other schemes?

It is different from timebanks and LET schemes, which also recognise voluntary work, as it is not about sharing and trading between members of the scheme, instead it is about enabling community volunteers to use businesses and services that would otherwise go to waste.

It is different from town Pounds (such as the Bristol, Brixton, Totnes, Lewes Pounds) which can also be spent in local businesses and services, as it has no value beyond what a business or service will offer. It is not linked to the money system in any way. CounterCoin cannot be bought and cannot accumulate as money does. If a business collects CounterCoin, they can simply return them to the body that issued them.

It is different from local discount schemes (such as TagItOn) which also encourage local spending, because it is clearly linked to excess resources and community volunteering and not just to using local shops and services, although the local aspect is built in to the CounterCoin model.

It is different from other volunteer reward schemes, (such as Tempo Time Credits ( also known as Spice ) which has national as well as a local spending opportunities on routine goods and services, and is not specifically linked to excess community resources) or school volunteer reward schemes such as Vivo Class as there is no commercial link to a company providing rewards and very clear emphasis on local businesses.

It is different from the corporate social responsibility work of local businesses where they engage in a range of different activities, usually over and above and often quite different from their usual business activities. Instead it seeks to enable businesses to use spare goods and services in return for community volunteering.

If it is not any of these things, what is it?

CounterCoin explicitly links time spent in community volunteering with spare or excess resources in local businesses and services, which would otherwise be unused or go to waste.

Some examples might illustrate the idea.

A cinema sells tickets for a show but has some spare seats which are unused. This space is wasted. The film is being shown, the cinema heated but there are empty seats. At no cost to the cinema, these seats cold be filled through customers part-paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community, so that only the balance is paid in cash. For example, the cinema could sell of £6 seats not purchased an hour before the screening for £2 plus 4 CounterCoin.  That way they are increasing their audience, improving the atmosphere in the cinema and increasing revenues by £2 in a manner which hasn’t devalued the price of a seat for the regular cinema-goers.

A bowling alley is quiet in the afternoon. The lanes are empty, the place is heated and the lights are on. The empty space is wasted. At no cost to the bowling alley, these lanes could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed by buying drinks and food, and by part-paying in CounterCoin these customers would add revenue to the bowling alley.

A butcher’s shop has some unsold meats at the end of the day that cannot be kept for another day. They would either be thrown out or sent for animal feed. At no cost to the butcher, this meat could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed this might increase future footfall to the Butcher and increase their local reputation.

A cake shop has some cakes left unsold at the end of the day. At no cost to the cake company these cakes could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

A bus company is running a service from X to Y. There are empty seats on the bus. This space is wasted as the bus is running anyway, is being heated and lighted anyway. At no cost to the bus company, these seats could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

A newsagent has some unsold newspapers that will have to be returned for recycling (a process which uses further resources). By agreement with the publishers, at no cost to the newsagent or publishers (in fact a saving, as the recycling costs would not be incurred) the newsagent could make the spare papers available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

In all of these examples, businesses and services are using their spare resources and capacity to reward community volunteering. And community volunteering is rewarded by being able to choose to gain access to goods or services.

So, there is no cost to the redeeming businesses and often a saving of disposal of unsold goods or even an increase in footfall and reputation as a result of being a part of the scheme.

The following diagram summarises how CounterCoin Works.

Why was CounterCoin invented?

CounterCoin was established to do three things:

  1. Help increase the sense of self-worth and confidence of local volunteers by valuing what they do and thereby helping them, where possible, along the pathway into employment;
  2. Enable businesses to extend the contribution they make to their communities whilst increasing both footfall and revenues;
  3. Reduce waste and use spare capacity, thereby bringing about a more sustainable and inclusive local economy.

The idea initially was to increase the vitality of areas which had become socially and economically depressed over a number of years, with high levels of unemployment and a weakened community spirit.

In practice, how does it work?

Charities and community groups who take on and support volunteers issue CounterCoin. It enables them to attract and retain more volunteers and thus helps them raise awareness and promote their activities, and to achieve their objectives.

Businesses and services can choose which goods or services they supply as rewards –the provision of perishable goods which might otherwise go to waste, or perhaps use up spare capacity; or it may be in part payment for goods on sale. They can accept payment wholly in CounterCoin or part in cash, part in CounterCoin. There is no cost to business and often a saving. Most importantly, it enables them to use up resources and capacity that would otherwise remain unused.

Businesses and services will be able to demonstrate their engagement with the local community at no (or very little) cost. Awareness of their offering will increase and footfall will rise. Instead of selling off surplus capacity at a discount, CounterCoin will enable businesses to increase turnover in a manner that has not devalued the product.

Communities will benefit in three ways. Firstly through the increased volunteering on activities that are of community benefit. Secondly on an increased use of local businesses and services. Thirdly through the clear support for local community building demonstrated by participating businesses and services. Further than this, though, the CounterCoin project in Newcastle-u-Lyme and the six towns of Longton, Hanley, Burslem, Stoke, Tunstall and Fenton is already a tale of widespread community engagement. Local school pupils and their teachers, a range of local people, artists, and local businesses have all been involved in designing, creating and making both the CounterCoin stamps (different ones for each town) and the CounterCoins themselves, as well as publicising the scheme. (See the video made by high school students ). To do this they have discussed and thought about the matter of wasted resources, and the roles that volunteering and business play in creating and sustaining strong communities. More than any lectures on climate change, and localising the economy, or admonishments that we have to live differently, a sound awareness of these matters has emerged from involvement with CounterCoin. As someone said to me ‘my life will never be the same after CounterCoin’.

Volunteers will benefit, not only from the voluntary activities they engage in, but in gaining goods and services they might otherwise not be able to afford. The incentives to build enough CounterCoin to spend, may mean that they do more volunteering which in turn increases their confidence and skills, helping those of working age into paid employment. There will be an increase in the number of groups who can use volunteers which will help to ensure that older people and those living with long term health or disabling conditions are not isolated and lonely.

So, what’s not to like about CounterCoin? What would it take to start a CounterCoin in Greater Manchester?

An active community group or social enterprise, established to addresses local problems or enhance the community in some way would simply have to set up a local governance board to begin issuing CounterCoin. They would issue them to their volunteers who participate in activities addressing these issues in their communities.

Backbone support can be provided to help the group develop commercial partnerships with the shops, venues and transport providers that the community themselves have identified as having unused resources and being of interest to volunteers. The best way to think about this is as a revenue share model which incentivises both parties to work together for mutual commercial and community benefit, at no cost to either. Contact CounterCoin via the CounterCoin website , via Twitter @counter­­_coin or via Steady State Manchester for more information about the scheme and the support that can be offered.

Further resources

Twitter: @CounterCoin

Recent Blog on the role CounterCoin might play in place management: http://blog.placemanagement.org/2018/09/26/countercoin/

Guardian article about CounterCoin https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/09/shopping-centre-currency-hope-newcastle-under-lyme

You Tube video introducing CounterCoin


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CounterCoin’s continual experimentation towards The Viable Economy

The first of two pieces on Countercoin In this one Mike Riddell (of CounterCoin Community Club Limited, Hometown Plus Limited and Steady State Manchester) reports on the Countercoin Challenge event held last week in Newcastle u Lyme.  Next up is Carolyn Kagan’s report on the event with more detail about what the scheme does.

For those unfamiliar with CounterCoin, it is a volunteer reward scheme that incentivises and recognises community action and volunteering. It was launched in partnership with the YMCA North Staffs on June 18 2017, and has already achieved a lot with the support of 24 organisations and 140 individuals working together as a team. In aggregate, over 15,000 hours of social capital have been invested into the project. This continues to rise every week.

CounterCoin believes that cooperative values and principles really are the key to securing The Viable Economy – one in which everyone is pulling in the same direction. And what we are doing here in Stoke we hope will eventually benefit everyone who shares our vision for a healthier, wealthier and happier world.

CounterCoin believes in showing the world what The Viable Economy looks like. We are people who ‘show’, not ‘tell’.

In the context of migrating towards the Viable Economy in a very practical sense, we would like to thank everyone who made Wednesday the 21st November such a special day. We were blown over by the way the people from Newcastle and the six towns of Stoke on Trent embraced the “The CounterCoin Challenge”. Many congratulations to the winner which was the Co-operative Academy in Burslem which on the day made 837 clay coins…

schoolchildren with their countercoins

Pupils from the The Co-operative Academy of Stoke-on-Trent with some Countercoins

…but in truth everyone was a winner on the day. (Photo credit: Stoke Sentinel) And thanks particularly to Valentine Clays for providing the materials to make the coins on the day, and to Steady State Manchester for funding the t-shirts our volunteers wore on the day:

Narina and Roo with countercoins
Narina and Roo of Cultural Squatters were the Newcastle hosts (photo credit: Fee Wood)

To CounterCoin, The Viable Economy is one in which volunteers are rewarded for the work they do, where they feel valued and where their own sense of self worth increases every time they immerse themselves in the CounterCoin Experience. For six volunteers at Cultural Squatters (CounterCoin’s spiritual home) this philosophy has already provided them with a successful pathway to full employment, and all since it opened on May 1st.

A Viable Economy is also one in which social enterprises and charities can see how much easier it is to attract volunteers, promote their activities & achievements, and meet their financial sustainability objectives – sooner rather than later. It is one where they are able in a very practical sense, reduce their reliance on funding for which they have to compete with other charities in an outmoded commissioning process that hails from the Old Economy.

The Viable Economy is one in which local businesses have the opportunity to contribute to community action and volunteering at little or no cost, and secure in exchange the opportunity to promote their business, increase both footfall and their customer base and increase their revenues by selling off spare capacity for part cash part CounterCoin in a manner which does not devalue their product or service.

From the perspective of the public sector, The Viable Economy is one that continually invents new ways of cross-sector working that relieve the pressure on social services and helps take individuals off benefits because they too have found work that pays.

Overall, CounterCoin is aiming to develop a less wasteful and more sustainable, inclusive and resilient local economy.

What we would really like to see now is more and more people joining us – volunteers, social enterprises and most of all businesses – in helping to create a society that really does work for everyone.

Greater Manchester has given birth to many movements. But it’s time those movements discovered their common ground and joined forces as allies of Newcastle under Lyme and the Six Towns of Stoke on Trent, to show the rest of the world what can be achieved when community comes together and fights back. Please help bang the drum for CounterCoin with the message “We want you to help us to help you!!”

Our second piece (on Monday) will explore how Countercoin works.

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Better Buses in Greater Manchester.

We are pleased to republish an article that appeared in The Big Issue North, by Pascale Robinson, coordinator of the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign. First though, we’d like to introduce it, in the context of our thinking on a viable Greater Manchester.

People with placards getting on a bus.

Campaigners, including some from Steady State Manchester, at the Better Buses launch.

Steady State Manchester is happy to back the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign. Why?

Firstly, environment and climate change: 29% of carbon dioxide emissions in our city come from transport. If we are to encourage the radical shift away from the private motor car that is needed, then, in addition to human powered travel over short distances (walking and cycling mainly), then there needs to be affordable and attractive shared transport between the places where people need to be. The current pattern of public transport in Greater Manchester is largely radial in nature – much better connections in and out of the centre than between suburban neighbourhoods. So a lot of people end up using private cars to go between places. The results are the noise, the crisis of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at levels far in excess of our share of what’s left of the global carbon budget to keep warming within minimally safe limits. Moreover the sheer number of cars, as well as causing congestion, means that walking and cycling become unpleasant and often dangerous.

Secondly, economic and social justice: at present people with low incomes have to spend a considerable part of their income on transport. Public transport is costly (typically much more so than in comparable European cities) and since it doesn’t go where people need to be taken, people are often forced to run a car, a big drain on household budgets.

Bus regulation would be an essential first step in getting the kind of public transport system that would meet these two goals of ecological and social justice. We would also like to see people travel less: working, playing and resting near home rather than wasting time being transported across the city would improve the liveability of the city, reduce costs and reduce environmental impacts. So while we support bus regulation, we want to see efforts made to restructure the city around liveable neighbourhoods that meet most of the functions people need. That won’t happen overnight, but economic, environmental and social factors mean we need to start the move in that direction and escape the treadmill of fossil-fuelled hypermobility.

Why don’t we just bring our buses into public control/hands?

Pascale Robinson                                                              Originally in Big IssueNorth                                                                                                          (thanks for permission to reproduce it)

Buses make up of 80% of public transport journeys in Greater Manchester.

They’re the backbone of our local economies, to our ability to access jobs and opportunity. When they’re unreliable, they hold us back. 37% of job seekers in Greater Manchester cited transport as one of the keys barriers to getting a job. That’s over a third of us not able to get our foot in the door.

So why isn’t our transport up to scratch? Why are our buses expensive, late and infrequent? Why aren’t our local transport authorities doing their job and setting up the infrastructure for us to live our lives?

The simple answer is the system currently doesn’t let most authorities run or have any oversight of bus networks.

Currently, most bus networks across the country, including Greater Manchester’s, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, are deregulated, except for a few pockets (where publicly owned buses companies exist). Bus companies only run the routes they want to, and they set the fares. Most think that it’s the local transport authorities that are in the driving seat, but actually the only time they can put on a bus service is when there is a big need and they have cash to offer to bus companies. They’re at the mercy of big bus companies, who run the profitable routes and take public money to foot the bill of other services. It’s against competition law for bus companies to cooperate, so you cannot have a smart ticket which lets you get on any bus or tram in one city, with a cap on daily spend that guarantees you’re getting the right price. We have a patchy, fragmented network which no one takes accountability for as a result.

And why would they want to cooperate on better services? Many bus companies hate the idea of a daily cap on spend, like you have with the oyster card in London. The system works well for them. Some 40% of bus companies revenue is public money. Shareholders of ‘the big five’ pocket £149 million a year on average, all while First raised fares last week in West Yorkshire and Leeds. There was an outpouring online, with one Leeds bus passenger saying ‘Absolute joke. No wonder people are preferring to drive rather than use public transport.’

This wildly inefficient use of public money is increasingly untenable, as government cuts to bus budgets mean there is less cash in the pot to offer socially necessary services.

So, what could we do instead? How can fix our buses and make bus companies accountable to us?

Regulation. Regulating a network basically means that one body, a local authority, have oversight of it, deciding the routes in advance, tendering out contracts to bus companies for a set amount of years. Authorities can use profits from busy routes to subsidise other routes, because they receive fare money, so all communities can have a bus service. Local authorities decide the timetables, pensions of drivers, maximum emissions that buses give out, what fares to charge, and more.

It’s pretty exciting, and Greater Manchester is one of the first authorities in the UK to consider it, which if successful, would set a precedent for others to follow.

Bus companies will tell you that everything can be achieved when you ‘work in partnership’. Partnerships will mean wi-fi on your buses. Partnerships are an alternative to regulation. We think they’re just not an option.

Why? Partnerships are voluntary agreements between bus companies and authorities, which bus companies themselves have to support for them to get through. This is not going to get us the bus system we as passengers and staff deserve. We need regulation.

Is it coincidence that under London’s regulated bus network, where Transport for London (accountable to the Mayor) runs the buses, they have one of the best bus networks in the world? Clean, reliable, frequent, and affordable. Is it coincidence that in the last five years alone Jersey’s regulated bus network has seen as 32% increase in passengers? All this while Greater Manchester has lost 8 million miles of bus route since 2010.

Why haven’t all these things that bus companies promise been done already? Are they worried about the reduced profit margins that regulation means?

Bus regulation is not a catchy slogan. However, regulated and deregulated bus networks are the difference between our access to jobs, services, and your loved ones. Regulated bus networks mean world class buses, one of the big ways we’ll achieve less congested cities with healthier air.

We need you on board to win this fight however. To call for regulated buses in Greater Manchester, which could set the precedent for all the UK to regulate, please sign the petition at www.betterbusesgm.org.uk

People and placards at the bus

ANother shot from the launch. Pascale is on the right of the picture.

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The degrowth niche: What does it mean for Steady State Manchester and a Viable Economy?

The degrowth niche: What does it mean for Steady State Manchester and a Viable Economy?

by James Scott Vandeventer                                                                         click for pdf version

Radical ideas and actions guide our work at Steady State Manchester as we advocate a better future for Greater Manchester. Our vision for a viable economy, and related policiesfor the Greater Manchester city-region, are informed by research and practice that challenge the dominance of economic growth, that embody social values such as cooperation, solidarity, and equality, and that promote stewardship for the planet. Among these influences on our work, the degrowth movement is gaining momentum as an alternative vision for the future. As it continues to develop, degrowth can and should continue to be an inspiration for Steady State Manchester and other groups that work toward a better future.

In a recently published journal article ‘A Degrowth Transition: Pathways for the Degrowth Niche to Replace the Capitalist-Growth Regime’, Claudio Cattaneo, Christos Zografos and myself argue that degrowth is a radical innovation to the current socio-economic system. Through an analysis of degrowth literature, we show how the field is developing over time and consider potential pathways it might follow into the future. We argue that degrowth is a niche – a small, relatively protected pocket of research and practice that is continuing to develop – and that it presents a compelling alternative to the dominant socio-economic system, what we call the ‘capitalist-growth regime.’ By understanding degrowth as a niche and how it is developing, Steady State Manchester and others can develop better ways for advancing our vision for the future.

This blog post will summarise the findings of our research, discuss two potential pathways into the future we identify, and comment on the relevance of this research for Steady State Manchester and our vision of a viable economy. I also include, for the visually inclined, some cool visualisations of degrowth research and citation networks.

The degrowth niche

To establish degrowth as a niche, my co-authors and I critically apply what is known as the multi-level perspective framework (Geels, 2004) and analyse degrowth literature to understand and visualise the dynamics of degrowth research. Because tables and charts can be terribly dry, I refer you to the article, (also available from author by request) for the full results of our analysis. Suffice it to say, the amount of publications and the citations of degrowth literature are both increasing over time, but there are a relative few number of authors both that are most frequently publishing degrowth research and that have highly-cited publications.

More interesting are the visualisations of degrowth literature. Below are few examples of those visualisations from 2008-2012, and 2008-2016. The first set shows co-authored research by geographic location of the authors. The second set shows authors that are often cited together in degrowth literature. In these latter two, the more that an author is cited alongside others – the more heavily they are relied on together – the larger their name appears. All visualisations are taken from the article (Vandeventer et al, 2019).

Geographic collaborations – 2008 to 2012


Geographic collaborations – 2008 to 2016

Authors frequently cited together in degrowth literature – 2008 to 2012

Authors frequently cited together in degrowth literature– 2008 to 2016

Our analysis shows how, in the degrowth literature, while there is an increase in the numbers of publications and citations, a relative few number of authors, including Giorgos Kallis, Joan Martínez-Alier and Francois Schneider, Joachim Spangenberg and Filka Sekulova, are most prolific. These works articulate core ideas of degrowth and set the vision and expectations for the field moving forward. The first set of visualisations show how many of these authors are based in Spain, but in recent years the dependence on researchers based in Spain (and specifically Barcelona) has given way to a multi-centred network of degrowth authors that is more geographically dispersed. In particular, hubs of research in England, Germany and USA are emerging. In our analysis, the development of degrowth is also clear through literature that considers degrowth in comparison to other visions for the future (such as steady state and sustainable development). These works reflect a critical exploration of the core elements of degrowth while maintaining an openness to new ideas and approaches. In the second set of visualisations, it is clear that authors are drawing on a range of historical scholarship (from authors such as Illich, Easterlin, Meadows and Castoriadis) to justify their critique of the capitalist-growth regime and, at the same time, engaging with contemporary literature both within and outside the degrowth publication network (including work by Jackson, Daly, Latouche, Fischer-Kowalski, Costanza, and others) to explore normative values and contemporary arguments and to relate them to degrowth. This narrative suggests degrowth is a dynamic and evolving field, but one that is becoming more cohesive. In fact, we suggest in the paper that this shows how degrowth is exhibiting characteristics of niche development according to the multi-level perspective. These include: the articulation of expectations and visions, building networks, and learning and articulation processes.

Looking ahead: pathways for change

Having established that degrowth is a niche, my co-authors and I lay out two potential pathways for change of the capitalist-growth regime. In both cases, significant pressures on the capitalist-growth regime lead it to severely de-stabilise, opening up opportunities for niches to step in. The paper explains these in more detail but, to summarise each pathway briefly, in the first – De/re-alignment pathway – involves collapse of the capitalist-growth regime and its subsequent re-alignment around degrowth as the new regime; in the second – what we call a Pluriversal pathway – following breakdown of the existing regime, degrowth becomes a model for some places, but a pluriverse of micro-regimes emerge that are relevant to local circumstances.

These pathways lead to significantly different outcomes, and the underlying logic behind each is likewise different. In the De/re-alignment pathway, niches compete until degrowth emerges as the preferred socio-economic system that hegemonically dominates the new regime everywhere. On the other hand, in the Pluriversal pathway, degrowth is symbiotic with other micro-regimes that are differentiated and do not compete for control of the socio-economic system. We consider this latter pathway more reflective of how human society organises itself – through cooperation, not ruthless, winner-take-all competition – and thus suggest degrowth ought to work toward this pathway for change.

What this means for Steady State Manchester and a viable economy

The argument that degrowth is a niche offers a compelling narrative about how degrowth is undergoing processes of development. By questioning the primacy of competition and introducing the possibility of cooperation, our paper opens up a discussion about processes of change not only for degrowth, but also for allies of the degrowth movement. Among these allies, we at Steady State Manchester and our vision of a viable economy could learn from the development of degrowth and a Pluriversal pathway for change.

First and foremost, we should continue to articulate our expectations for the future and our vision for a viable economy that is relevant to Greater Manchester. This should be adapted to contemporary changes, such as Brexit, the financialisation of housing in the city-region, and unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change. At the same time, we should continue to establish relationships with like-minded groups and individuals in the city-region with the aim to build a groundswell of support for the change we seek. In addition, we should learn from examples of success, such as the radical local government Barcelona en Comu or the participatory budgeting process in Brazilian cities, and also from other niche movements seeking change, such as the current work of Extinction Rebellion here in the U.K. Finally, the processes of articulating a viable economy for Greater Manchester should be informed by engaging with our members and allies, including those in the degrowth movement. By continuing our work and remaining guided by cooperation, we will help set the groundwork for a Pluriversal pathway as it becomes clear the capitalist-growth regime is destabilising and may be nearing collapse.

Based on this, there are some final considerations to think about moving forward. For one, how might a viable economy be different in other city-region contexts? What would be similar, what would be different, and what are the key local circumstances in determining the vision for a viable economy and kinds of policies to get there? A second consideration relates to engaging with other actors and institutions – what is the relevant scale, who can be legitimately considered an ally, and what key ‘anchor’ institutions should we focus on? Finally, how can a viable economy take concrete actions toward a Pluriversal pathway for change to the dominant capitalist-growth regime, and how does a viable economy envision the future socio-economic system of Greater Manchester?


I am grateful to Carolyn Kagan for comments on a draft of this post.


Geels, F. (2004). From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Research Policy, 33, pp. 897–920.

Vandeventer, J.S., Cattaneo, C. and Zografos, C. (2019). A Degrowth Transition: Pathways for the Degrowth Niche to Replace the Capitalist-Growth Regime. Ecological Economics 156, pp. 272-286.

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