Richard Leese interview July 2010

Interview with Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, conducted on Tuesday 27 July. Transcribed by MCFly, and a couple of things do need tidying up… First draft of history’s first draft and all that… Hyperlinks to follow.

We’re in the year 2020: what does a “low carbon council” – and I quote from the Internal Delivery Plan – in a low carbon city look like, and how is it different from today?
How it will it look different?

Yeah, how it different, what does it do differently
What you’d actually see in a sense, probably won’t help you a great deal. We’ll probably be in a smaller number of buildings, so we’ll occupy less space, so the footprint of the organisation is less. We’ll probably have IT (Information Technology) that looks on the face of it looks very much like the IT we’ve got now. We’ll move from desktops like I’ve got there to Citrix [Ed- thanks to the reader who explained this – Citrix’ system of third generation delivered ‘thin servers’ – where you have a dumb receiver machine and the programmes/data are run from the centre – might be lower C02]. The technology will be far lower in its consumption. As you start to explore the buildings a bit more, there’ll be a lot less water disappearing down drains, though there’s a real debate to be had about water management and the most effective way of doing that. Buildings will be greener in the sense that – flat roofs will be green roofs, green walls, there will be more trees around, so it will be greener in that sort of sense.
Travel will be minimised, or done more effective ways. More remote working, less need for people to physically touch into particular bases all the time. All of the systems, and I guess the biggest one is procurement, would have built into them the sort of checks that are about emissions, the effective use of resources, about recycling and so on. People will have almost have stopped thinking about those things, because they’re built in, they become automatic.
If we’re in 2020, we also be thinking we’ve got a long way to go before we’re where we want to be in 2050, so part of it will be in all sorts of ways – including in service to the customer – will be far more innovative organisation. So, employees, again as a matter of course, will be thinking how can I deliver a better service to the citizen, how can I do it more cost-effectively, how can it become more environmentally sustainable. It will become part of the culture of the organisation. And bear in mind in terms of the Certain Future, apart from the physical things, what is clearly identified- really is fifty per cent of the strategy is how we change behaviours. And that’s going to be as true for the City Council as an organisation as it is for the City as a whole.

OK, one of those behaviours – are people eating more meat, the same amount, or less meat in the year 2020?
Again, there’s an interesting debate there, because a lot of farmers, and particularly livestock farmers will argue that if they organise their grazing and so on in the right sort of way, you can basically compensate by doing your grazing right – far more carbon dioxide absorption- and methane absorption – than what cows and sheep produce. So I think there is a debate to be had whether meat is bad. But that assumes the City Council won’t have gone into farming big style by 2020, and other bits the world does things will have changed as well, which they will have. I think a lot of farmers will argue that livestock grazing is far more sustainable than growing maize to produce fuels.

Does Manchester still host the big International Sporting events, and literature festivals, and other international things Manchester does. And if we are, who is responsible for the carbon emissions of the people who’ve flown here to be here?
Clearly, aviation emissions are a big issue. They won’t be solved locally. There’s an interesting question about if, say someone takes a train from Stoke-on-Trent, flies to New York, then goes to somewhere in Pennsylvania, who do the emissions belong to and where geographically do they lie, given that most of the emissions have been generated somewhere other than Manchester? I’d argue that the emissions lie with the individual… a lot of different people take responsibility.
I think with aviation there are a number of routes. Aeroplanes will become more efficient. The sort fuels they will use will change. Not by 2020, but by 2050 we will be talking about hydrogen-fuelled planes. How that changes the equation I don’t know, but it does quite significantly. In the interim you can see fewer bigger more efficient planes going from a smaller number of locations. If you look at it globally you can make a very strong case that we ought to have more aviation out of Manchester, less from other places, with better ground transport links to it. But there are lots of scenarios there…
Will we still be hosting those events, will people want to travel around the world to do things, is that something we ought to be encouraging? I would say most definitely yes.
What a surprise!
The point is we’re going to have to start doing all those things differently. It will change. This is not a status quo argument. If the World Cup in 2018 is as poor in football terms as it was this year then perhaps I might be less enthusiastic, but it can only get better.

Some MCFly readers will be saying by now “Ask him about Peak Oil” so I will : what’s your position on Peak Oil and what is the Council doing to prepare for it?
If you were to be a complete global warming skeptic – which I am not – if you were to say “I don’t believe in global warming” then what is absolutely certain is that fossil fuels are going to run out. When, don’t know. There are already issues about fuel security, but most of those are about. Most of our electricity is already generated by gas that comes from outside our shores. So there are a whole range of other reasons to why we need to take these issues seriously. That does mean that energy reduction, it does mean alternative energy sources. We’ve already talked about fuel cell technologies. Geothermal, there might be something there. MMU are building a building – in modern buildings its cooling that uses the energy – they’re going to be cooled by ground water pumped up by the building. We are developing a smart grid pilot for the Corridor area of Manchester. We’ve looked in East Manchester – probably at geothermal but energy sources for new housing developments. Enormous potential for photovoltaics. We still have the biggest photovoltaic array in Europe down the road. We’ve now got social housing in North Manchester we’re building in photovoltaics in a retrofitting basis. So, in many respects in early days. But by 10 years time a lot of those will be the norm. What things we’ll be doing in 10 years time that we’re not doing now, I don’t know. But I know one thing, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of research into these things. It’s probably less important in 2020 than it will be by 2050. We’ve got a research project with Manchester University looking at adaptation. If we’re going to have a several degree hotter Manchester, with more erratic rainfall, with more extreme conditions and so on we need to be able to prepare for that.

On the geothermal, I’m going to try to dovetail. Newcastle City Council got some money to do geothermal, but the funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change has tried up. So, in this financial context, how is this going to be paid for, not just the energy work around Peak Oil, but the whole shebang, the costs around the Internal Delivery Plan.

Ultimately one way or another it all has to pay for itself. One of the arguments we made in the mini-Stern that carried forward into the Greater Manchester Strategy. A low-carbon economy makes you money, it doesn’t cost you money. If you take buildings and energy use, new buildings are almost not the issue. It is retrofitting, and then about what techniques give you the right payback period. For local authorities we can afford a longer payback period. We don’t have a return to investors in that sense. Up-front finance is going to be difficult over the next couple of years. But even this government is looking at developing investment vehicles that will invest in green technologies with a payback period, ones that don’t (need to) meet the most extreme commercial requirements.

You mentioned the mini-Stern… Nicholas Stern has gone on the record as saying we need to use 1 to 2% of GDP to avoid the worst effects of climate change. So doing a crude calculation, 1 to 2 per cent of 1.2 billion quid is .. help me out.

Well if you’re going to take GVA across Greater Manchester, you are talking about £40 billion, so you are talking about 400 to 800 million a year. These are big sums

What are the biggest things? The biggest single is buildings, after that is transport. Where do you put the money? We currently have an investment programme of over a billion pounds spread over about 4 years, in improved public transport. There’s proposals for 500 million more through the Manchester Hub. There’s real evidence if you put real improvements in – especially around rail – you will get modal transfer. You can then translate the electricity that powers that into green electricity, the savings become greater. The point I’d make is there is a lot of investment taking place. For those mini-Stern numbers you have to take the sum of all the investment that’s taking place across Greater Manchester, not all of which is public sector investment. Look at what the Co-operative Group is doing – investing in their new building which will be BREAM outstanding. The University is looking at buildings that would be putting energy back into the grid rather than taking energy out. All sorts of things looking at heat storage out of water. You have to take the sum of all those investments. If you do, you will find that currently in Greater Manchester there is already a lot of money being spent. The point of having a strategy is, is that money being spent in the most efficient, effective and coherent way. And the odds are it’s not.

Economic growth. Two separate questions. First, looking at the last 10 to 15 to 20 years, many people have benefitted. But there are specific pockets – and I’m thinking of East Manchester but it’s not the only place – that haven’t developed/benefitted as much? Is it time to be redefining prosperity?

It depends partly how you do your sums. Twenty years ago, the number of high income people living in Manchester was significantly lower than it is now… the most significant change has been the development of the residential sector in the City Centre. It ranges from students to high income professionals. Now not only do you have high income professionals living in the city centre in a way they didn’t twenty years ago, but over half of them walk to work. So those are journeys that twenty years ago would probably have been single occupant vehicle from Alderly Edge are now people walking to work instead. So there’s been a transformation there in the City’s economy which also has. Difficult to quantify the environmental benefits, but very clear ones. If you take areas like East Manchester, Harpurhey and so on – take this as an approximation for what benefit are people getting from economic growth in the city. Compared to other core cities Manchester is a high wage economy with a low wage population. The high earners all go off to other places. That gap now has been narrowing consistently for around the last eight years. We’re not where we want to be but those areas where we want to be, but those areas like East Manchester are improving at a faster rate than other areas. The other objective test, the index of multiple deprivation, is due to be published again later this year, so it will be interesting to see what happens then. But between 2004 and 2007 in points terms, Manchester had the biggest reduction of deprivation of any place in the North West. We are making a difference, I’d like it to be a lot faster, but it is happening.

There’s another question around economic growth that I think readers would be keen to see me ask. And this is related to what Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre has been presenting. He’s been looking at the kinds of emissions cuts that are needed globally to keep the temperature around/below 2 degrees rise, and economic growth. And ultimately his position is that – in the West at least – economic growth and the levels of emissions reductions- even when you throw in heroic assumptions about technology improvements – are not compatible. Do you have any response. who say that economic growth in the developed world and the sorts of emissions reductions we need – are incompatible?

I’ve not seen that evidence, so I can’t comment on the evidence. As far as Manchester is concerned – not just Manchester- is concerned. We did some work, probably 15 years ago, what is a ‘sustainable community?’
And I expected the answer to come back as a variety of social and environmental factors for a sustainable neighbourhood. The answer came back as a very simple economic one. Once benefit dependency has gone above a certain level, a neighbourhood is not sustainable. It can’t sustain the amenities, the social infrastructure, everything else. It’s something that in the very first World Environmental Conference, Indira Gandhi made a comment. I think she said “poverty is the biggest polluter.” In terms of the evidence we’ve got, she’s not far wrong. How do you eliminate benefit dependency? You get people into work that pays. So, as far as I am concerned, for Manchester, and for the most deprived parts, the biggest single priority is creating jobs and getting people into those jobs – decent jobs, good jobs. Jobs that you can support yourself on. If we don’t do that, we are dooming whole generations to ongoing deprivation. Do I believe we can do it in a low carbon way, in a way we decouple emissions from economic growth, then yeah, I believe we can – and do need to do that. And if what Tyndall is saying is that we haven’t found a way of doing it now, then let’s find a way. Otherwise the social impacts are not sustainable.

Turning back to what has already been done, what are you proudest of in Manchester’s response so far?
[long pause!]
Where I think we are at the moment is we’ve got a bloody good strategy but having a bloody good strategy is the first 5% of this, so that’s where we are. I’m quite proud of the way that we’ve got the strategy, given that behaviour change is a big part of it. A lot of sign up for that. Very proud of the stakeholder approach we’ve taken to that. It’s not getting buy in, it’s other people feeling

I think there are some really good piloting work taking place within the city at the moment. But I think this is the wrong point to be proud of what we have achieved. If I am still saying the same in ten years, I’ll be a little bit upset.

Looking forward not 10 years, but to November, there’s a Stakeholder Conference looking at what the Council’s Internal Delivery Plan is saying, Manchester A Certain and what other groups are doing. What would you like to see come out of that Stakeholder Conference?
We’ve determined as a City that we want to get a 41% emissions reductions by 2020. What I’d hope to see, certainly by that conference is the Council itself has a Delivery Plan that has at least some chance of us getting there. It is an ambitious target. But also that other partners are doing likewise, so that we can see that this is becoming part of the Manchester agenda, and it’s becoming a delivery agenda, not just a think about agenda.

What would you like to see “concerned citizens” doing around climate change?
Concerned citizens? Well there’s an issue there. The evidence we’ve got is that only about a third of the population. And the concerned citizens probably already have had low energy light bulbs for the last ten years, and they’ve got cavity wall insulation and insulated their loft and boilers and so on.
And like me ride their bike rather than driving their Jag to work and so on. I don’t think the issue is going to be the concerned citizens. It’s the one third who think it’s a load of rubbish and the one third who couldn’t care less, that’s where the real task lies. Concerned citizens can become partners in how we address the other two thirds, as long as we don’t get into hectoring or preaching. If we hector or preach, we’ll get nowhere. What we have to do is I guess is use concerned citizens almost as almost being demonstrator projects about how being green in your personal behaviour can give you a better life.

Last question then – what is Richard Leese’s legacy? In thirty years time, when they look back on this chap who was here from 1996 until to two thousand and x, what do they say about him?
(even long pause) We’ve been talking a lot by 2020. I hope to be still on this planet, if not in this office. And so it’s rather more about what I’d want to say about myself in 2020. At the moment we have a strategy for this city that goes until about 2015, which is another 5 years. The headlines of that are about being greener, about being wealthier, healthier, better educated, being happier. There are some strong statements about what sort of city we want Manchester to be. What I’d like to be able to say about myself, is to be able to look at Manchester and say “yes, it’s made enormous progress in becoming that sort of city”, and to be satisfied with my contribution to it becoming that. And also, this is about teams, it’s not about individuals, it’s playing a leading role in making Manchester into the sort of place we want it to be.

One Response to Richard Leese interview July 2010

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