Future Manchester

30th November 2011

Last week saw the launch of Future Manchester, a week-long festival of sustainable living and working across the city.  It also saw the final chance to influence a document that will have a major impact on how sustainable Manchester’s future will be.

The Core Strategy

Manchester City Council’s Core Strategy contains a series of planning policies that will shape development in Manchester over the next 15 years.

Work started on the plan back in 2006, and after five long years, the final stage of the process took place last week with an examination in public by an independent planning inspector, whose role is to ensure that the Core Strategy is legally compliant and “sound” – that is, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.

As one of the respondents to the final round of consultation earlier this year, I was invited to take part in the examination on behalf of Manchester Friends of the Earth.

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The Examination

The examination started with an introduction to the Core Strategy from the council, who described it as having a focus on economic growth in order to drive regeneration, with support for airport expansion to “enhance the region’s economic prospects”.

The inspector then raised a series of questions on matters she identified as needing further investigation, including housing, transport, environment, economic policy and Manchester Airport.

My contribution started on the first day by questioning if it was reasonable for the Core Strategy’s vision to expect a “growing economy” in 2027, or whether it would be more sensible to aspire to a “sustainable economy”.

On the environment, we raised concerns about the use of biofuels for energy generation, and the council agreed to define sustainable biofuels as resulting in net carbon savings over their full lifecycle, including production and transportation.  And they also acknowledged that the purpose of transport policy should not just be to meet the needs of businesses, but also to meet the needs of residents.

However, on the economy, we had less success arguing that council’s Retail Need Study, which they had used to justify new supermarkets in the city centre, Newton Heath and Levenshulme, was flawed, even though Keep Chorlton Interesting had found the existing methodology had underestimated independent retail capacity in Chorlton by a factor of three.

The Airport

The most controversial issue at the examination (with the possible exception of the policy restricting the conversion of houses into flats) was, of course, Manchester Airport.

The Core Strategy currently supports the airport’s plan to more than double passenger numbers from around 20 million per annum today to 45 million per annum by 2030, eating into the Green Belt to provide more space for aircraft, freight facilities, car parking and hotels.

Representatives from CPRE and Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport joined me in arguing that:

  • the proposed rate of growth wasn’t in line with the latest passenger number forecasts from the Department for Transport, which had slashed its prediction to 35 million passengers per annum by 2030.
  • the plan contradicted both local and national climate change policy, with Manchester: A Certain Future setting a target to cut the city’s emissions by 41% by 2020, and the Government legally bound to a 50% reduction by 2025.
  • the economic benefits of airport expansion are questionable given a regional tourism deficit of over £2 billion, with up to £5 taken out of the North West economy by UK residents travelling abroad for every £1 brought into the region by overseas visitors.
  • increasing flights and road traffic would lead to unacceptable levels of air and noise pollution for local residents.

The council’s legal representative responded that the airport is a key economic asset for Manchester and the wider region, that the change in forecasted passenger numbers was “not substantial”, and that the policy was in line with the 2003 Air Transport White Paper, which is still official Government policy.  And the airport’s representative tried to argue that the Department for Transport forecasts had taken climate change policy into account, and that aviation emissions would be capped under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

In the end, it’s up to the Inspector to decide if the Core Strategy’s policy on the airport is sound, and whether there are the “exceptional circumstances” needed under national planning guidance to remove land from the Green Belt to accommodate the airport’s expansion.

All we can do now is wait until the end of January for the Inspector’s report, when we’ll find out just how sustainable Manchester’s future is likely to be.