A plan for greener growth in Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester: home of industry, the Cottonopolis, crucible of modern computing, where free trade was born and Engels wrote a manifesto with Marx; a place synonymous the world over with the factory whistle and globally-traded goods.
That was then, and this is now.
Today we’re becoming known for a new industrial revival, for digital and creative, for the wonder material graphene, for life sciences and advanced manufacturing.
So imagine, if we could also become known for being a true, green capital? Just think if the global mental image of our smokestacks and back-to-backs could be finally replaced by a verdant place that understands that green space means better health, improved mental wellbeing and gave a healthy boost to property prices?
The transformation’s already started. We’ve got green schemes happening right across Greater Manchester, from the wetlands in the west to the uplands, to thousands of street trees radically upgrading the image of our urban centre; we’re making some natural progress happen.
The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework could be the next chapter in our green story. Even though there could be a release of green belt as part of the plan (just under ten per cent), through its insistence on good, green infrastructure being in place for new developments, and through its protecting of important environmental assets, we think that when it comes to nature, our framework will represent a net gain.
So what environmental assets do we have and why are they so crucial to sustainable development?
It’s everything from the trees, hedges and gardens outside your front door, to the rivers, valleys and woodlands in which you might walk your dog or take your kids to play.
It’s proven that green space – whether that’s the ‘green infrastructure’ in our urban areas, such as hedges and street trees, or the more obvious green space such as our great swathes of moorland – cleans our air, reduces flood risk, and provides vital habitats for our wildlife and a sanctuary for biodiversity. It also adds value to our properties and looks great, too – it’s the green that makes the grey lovelier.
The Framework will outline a variety of ways in which we will seek to protect, cherish and improve our environmental assets. Some priorities are:
• Nature conservation: increase the quality, quantity, connectivity and diversity of habitats, especially those that provide a home to key species;
• Trees and woodland: increase the provision of street trees as part of the aspiration to double tree cover and to ensure the city region is home to a diverse range of tree species to increase biodiversity and resilience in the face of tree disease;
• The uplands: our renowned upland moorlands, pastures and gritstone settlements will be protected and enhanced through extensions of bog areas and better management of integral habitats such as upland meadows;
• The lowland wetlands: maintain and enhance the varied wetland habitats of the subsidence flashes in Wigan, including open water, fen, swamp, woodland and grassland;
• River valleys and canals: returning rivers to a more natural state through de-culverting and a re-naturalisation of river banks and flood plains.
We have some impressive, ambitious targets to meet as a city region: 230,000 new homes and 200,000 new jobs over the next twenty years to house and sustain our growing population. But a more prosperous Greater Manchester, with an increased quality of life for its citizens, is only possible through sustainable development – and, of course, crucial to this is a thriving ecological network of well-managed, well-loved natural space and green infrastructure.
At a glance:
What can green infrastructure and green spaces provide for us across Greater Manchester?
• A place for peace and quiet, where people can experience and enjoy nature;
• Help shape Greater Manchester’s identity, giving our city region a distinctiveness that provides a high quality environment for development;
• Improve our biodiversity, by enlarging and connecting habitats;
• Help us reduce our carbon emissions, with our peat and trees sequestering and storing carbon;
• Help us adapt to the warmer temperatures that climate change will bring, by offering cooling and shade in urban areas;
• Clean our air by trapping pollutants;
• Places to play and enjoy, improving health and wellbeing;
• Easier, more pleasant journeys by bike and on foot; and
• Flood risk reduction, places to store water and to improve its quality.
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Main Image: Rochadale Canal - taken by Flickr user Marcel Musil
Steve is co-founder and CEO of Creative Concern. He specialises in ethical and sustainability issues, integrated campaigns, city strategies, brand development and creating strange installations out of trees, lights and beautiful type. Particular areas of expertise include climate change, place making, transport, food issues and the natural environment.