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Stockport 2506_ by Flickr user Brian Rogers

Q&A: Eamonn Boylan, GM Low Carbon Hub

The Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub aims to realise the economic opportunities of a low carbon economy, increase awareness of the low carbon agenda, prepare the region for the effects of climate change, and support a carbon reduction target of 48% in Greater Manchester by 2020.


What are some of the key ways the hub is contributing to the 2020 target?

The reality is that nowhere will achieve carbon reduction of that order of magnitude unless national programmes and interventions work. We are reliant to a degree on government implementing various policies.

Locally we’ll be focusing on energy efficiency in buildings [according to the GMLCH, in 2011, 36% of emissions were generated by industrial and commercial users and 34.6% from domestic users]. We’ll be building on the work that’s already being done by social landlords on improving energy efficiency in social rents, and seeking to exploit and maximise opportunities like Green Deal, trying to make sure that private owners and private landlords can access that.

We’re looking at how we as local authorities can reduce our own carbon footprint, working with other public agencies on retrofit to non-domestic buildings particularly in public sector.

We’re working with private businesses to raise awareness of how they can reduce their own emissions. That’s quite a tricky one, because it’s often investing in something that brings them no short-term benefit, but there might be a long-term gain.

The other area where we need to work very hard is around transport and reducing transport emissions [the current 4m tonnes of CO2 in transport emissions accounts for 30% of the region’s total direct emissions]. So we are promoting more effective and efficient public transport, and encouraging people to use public transport rather than private car. Much of the Growth Deal that was announced this summer is around improving access. We’ve got approval for a new £40m+ transport interchange in Stockport.

We’ve also done a remarkably complicated deal with Hitachi and the national government of Japan to pilot the use of ground source heat pumps as domestic micro-generation.

We’re also looking at heat networks where we can combine either public buildings or new housing developments with single source heat generation. They’re commercially difficult, because there’s a big upfront cost in delivering the infrastructure before you actually start to generate.

We’re also looking at biomass. Stockport Council has recently given approval for an area to be used to grow biomass to generate fuel. And we’ve got one small-scale hydroelectric scheme already up and running in Stockport and taking forward another one.

So there’s a lot of activity going forward on the generation side, but that will inevitably be small scale in national or regional terms. No one’s going to build a mass incinerator or a nuclear power station in Greater Manchester; it’s not on the agenda. So the real emphasis is on consumption and how we deal with emissions.


A crucial component of the hub’s activity is developing low carbon skills and employment. Tell me more about that.

The city is becoming a large-scale pilot for the use of various technology, so we believe there is real opportunity for businesses to move into the creation of that technology and equipment. We want to position Greater Manchester to take advantage of the potential for the low carbon sector to generate growth and employment.

We don’t regard the green and low carbon agenda as being antipathetic to growth. We need to grow in order to provide sustainable and quality lives for our citizens. So how do we take advantage of low carbon technology to help us achieve some of our other aspirations, like reforming public service and helping people change the nature of their relationship to the state? It is fundamentally about a genuinely human, sustainable future for a city that needs to grow in order to survive.

We’re also building a skills base to make sure the skills needed to work in low carbon technologies are featuring in adult education and university courses. There is a big issue for us as a combined authority about the degree to which we have sufficient local control and influence over the adult skills agenda, to make it more closely match the requirements of the economy as it is emerging in Greater Manchester.

That applies to the low carbon sector and also to engineering and manufacturing. Our colleges are still producing thousands of hairdressers but nobody with any coding skills. Colleges can get funding for those students and it doesn’t really take into account the jobs that are available. It’s very difficult to get hold of funding for new courses.

The national level rhetoric around skills is that it should be employer- and learner-driven. The reality is that in a lot of places – not just GM – the position of the provider is dominant. If a college is set up to provide a certain curriculum, that’s what it will seek to do. The issue for us is how we can change that. So we’re starting to push and promote the right kind of skills to meet the needs of what’s still a very diverse economy. We have skills gaps from traditional manufacturing and engineering, through to new low carbon technology.


How is the hub preparing greater Manchester for the effects of climate change?

There’s a lot of work happening, some of which the hub is directly and very closely linked with, some of which the hub has an oversight role but it’s being delivered at a more local level.

For example we’re working at GM level on developing and continuing to review our strategies for floodwater management. On a level beneath that, individual authorities are implementing flood prevention and flood defence mechanisms. We’re trying to ensure we’re doing that in an obvious and sensible way.


What is the role of utilities and agencies in relation to GMLCH?

The involvement of the utilities is key. We don’t want to pursue a narrow municipal agenda, that’s not our interest at all. It’s about how we can generate cultural change across the city region to recognise the importance of the low carbon agenda, and what contribution people have to make to it.

We’re now working with major utilities to create what will be the UK’s first comprehensive map and data set for infrastructure. That’s partly to enable us to plan for economic growth and understand what investment is needed to open new sites etc, but it’s also linked to how we and the utilities want to manage the infrastructure to help us achieve our low carbon objectives.

It’s making certain that we’re trying to use that partnership framework as the planning platform for moving forward. It’s easier for agencies, for example National Grid, to deal with a coherent single entity.


Main image from Flickr user Brian Rogers published here using a Creative Commons licence.