Local Agenda 21 is Dead
by Ian Brown
Those of us who are involved in the Local Agenda 21 (LA21) process, that is working to make our towns and cities better places in which to live in the 2Ist Century, are occasionally reminded how many and great are the forces ranged against us. One such occasion occurred recently; you must have read about it in the local press. Five Law Lords, in their wisdom (or lack of it, more likely), dismissed a last ditch challenge by opposing town halls and retailers claiming that former Environment Secretary, Michael Howard, was wrong in law to approve planning permission for a vast £200m shopping centre at Dumplington. The case had already been before the High Court and the court of appeal and there was a good chance that the development would not have gone ahead, until the Law Lords made their decision.
You might ask, what has this to do with LA21, or even wildlife. The development, on a 300 acre site between the M63 and Trafford Park will be known as the Trafford Centre. It will be similar in size to the Meadowhall Centre at Sheffield, providing 6,000 new jobs, boast more than 100 shops, ten stores, restaurants, a cinema, a nursery and parking for 10,000 cars. In other words it will be exactly the same as any other “shopping city” in the country. So what about the wildlife? 300 acres of open land going under concrete is bound to have some effect. We know little of the wildlife on the site but have heard that Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl are present. We also heard that the site, where the Barn Owls nested, was blocked up at the end of a breeding season, to deny them further access, but this could be just an ugly rumour. But it’s not just what wildlife is there at present; what about the potential? 300 acres would make a great contribution to the Red Rose Forest! Enough said. And what about LA21? As mentioned before in these pages, there are Action Groups to discuss the problems which must be tackled if we are to make Manchester a better place in which to live. As well as the Greening, Land Use and Open Space Action Group, in which we are most interested, other interests covered include Energy, Transport, Waste & Pollution, Health & Safer City and Economy & Work. The concern of the first Action Group is loss of open space, as mentioned above. The concerns of the other Action Groups become more obvious when one discovers what the development will entail. With 10,000 car parking spaces the Trafford Centre is obviously intended to be accessed mainly by motor vehicle; there may be a Metro link but that would only be convenient for a minority. Therefore there will be problems of pollution and congestion, with the possible “need” for new roads with more loss of open space. To quote Bernard Spilsbury in the Business Section of the M.E.N. (24.5.95), under the headline; Shopping city dream that rivals fear could prove a nightmare, “A MAJOR stimulus to the economic regeneration of Greater Manchester the best retail centre in the UK, providing one stop shopping and leisure for more than 11 million people within 90 minutes drive…. That is the dream. But the nightmare, on the other side of the coin, is that the Dumplington `shopping city’ is a giant white elephant clogging motorways and killing off town and city centres round the region.” One of the main points of LA21 is that local people should buy locally, not travel 100 miles or more to shop. If local shops close, those without first call on a car for transport (a majority) will be put at a distinct disadvantage. It’s happened before; do we never learn from experience?
And what about employment? 6,000 new jobs; sounds great but to quote more of Bernard Spilsbury’s article, “It would attract shoppers not only from the North West but from Cumbria, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, North Wales and the Midlands, claimed the developers…. stemming the flow of wealth out of the region caused by shoppers travelling to giant retail centres like Sheffield’s Meadowhall.” In fact it will just move retail business around causing job losses, not just in Greater Manchester, but further afield. And because of the economies of scale there will be fewer jobs created than lost.
You cannot create more jobs merely by building more shops because retail development is not sustainable development; there’s no added value, so no more money available for spending in the shops. To achieve that great changes will have to be made in the way we run our economy. Jobs must be created making things from inexpensive, local raw materials where the added value is in the labour. MW is showing the way in this respect with our woodland crafts initiative, using cheap local wood to make many useful items from rakes to chairs. All we need is an enlightened authority to fund a craft officer to run and manage a centre where the necessary skills can be taught. With the coming of the Red Rose Forest there should be plenty of raw material available locally. Sheffield seems to be ahead in this field. As well as having a centre, with a manager, they employ a charcoal burner and a pole-lathe turner who coppice local woodlands.
Back to Dumplington; who benefits? Well the developers, Peel Holdings, seem to be quite happy about it; they should make loads of money, and the retailers who set up shop there should do well in the short term. But what about the long term? What indeed!
As already mentioned, the extra traffic will cause pollution which will affect people’s health. But less obvious is CO2 emission which will contribute to global warming. This effect, now recognised by most scientists, will change our climate which could have a disastrous effect on wildlife and its bio-diversity. A warmer, and less moist climate could lead to the loss of bluebells from our woods. That would be unthinkable; it would make you want to throw your arms up in horror and say “What on earth can I do about it?”
But you can do something about it; be ever so small, it can make a difference. I have to thank Chris Morley, writing in Walk for the Earth’s newsletter, Earthbound, for the following: Under the heading, Global Warming and Universal Apathy; “Over a quarter of UK CO2 emissions result from domestic energy use, that’s your emissions, that’s my emissions; it’s not the country’s emissions, it’s not the government’s emissions, it’s not even the power station’s emissions. It’s emissions caused when we switch a light on, have a shower or boil a kettle; it’s the emissions saved when we use low-energy lights, turn down the thermostat or draught-proof our doors and windows. Don’t moan about government inaction – they’ve already tried grants and subsidies, newspaper and TV advertising campaigns, not to mention the incredibly ill-judged VAT on fuel. All hopelessly inadequate, of course, because hardly any one took any notice. Did you?”
Chris goes on to say that you can do something to reduce CO2 emissions and suggests, you can tell all your friends about it and see if they don’t get turned on to doing a bit more about the CO2 that they pump into the atmosphere. Then they can do the same.
And then…. And then….” In the same newsletter, under The Green Light, Chris says, “A recent incredibly learned article by an incredibly learned Swiss scientist in the incredibly learned CADDET newsletter studied the various technologies which are supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of life-cycle analysis. (Life-cycle analysis is a ‘cradle to grave’ way of looking at these things, i.e. it takes into account emissions released during the manufacture and disposal of these things as well as emissions saved during use.) The study compared, amongst others, conventional and nuclear power stations, wind farms, solar cells, and the humble low-energy light bulb, in terms of effective emissions per kilowatt hour. The conclusion was spectacular – the low-energy light bulb was so far and away the best of the lot that it was hardly visible on the accompanying bar chart!” and under, Local Energy Advice Centres, “There is a national Freephone network on 0800 512 012 to get in touch with your nearest LEAC – use it because they’re there to help you and it will cost you nothing. Ask specifically for a Home Energy Survey. You’ll be amazed at the amount of information you get back as a result of filling in this questionnaire, and you can translate that directly into CO2 savings. On average they save each caller around £36 per year on their fuel bill, which translates roughly into 400 kilos of CO2 annually, at a one-off cost of £28 per caller. All these services are available to small businesses as well as homes.”
So you can do something about global warming and save money at the same time. We believe that there is to be a promotion of low-energy light bulbs in the coming autumn. Why not take the opportunity to buy some of these fantastic lights and do yourself a bit of good. If you want to do more to help LA21, like take part on an Action Group or form a local action group to solve problems at a ward or neighbourhood level, contact the Local Agenda 21 Forum (Tel. 0161 236 5195) and ask for the Administrator, Brenda Sedgewick.
To get back again to Dumplington, the decision made by the Law Lords was probably correct according to the law, as it stood at the time of the original decision. But was it wise? A recent Government Directive has come out against out of town shopping developments but too late to stop the Trafford Centre which will cause problems for LA21 for many years to come. But is Local Agenda 21 dead? No it is not! Are we downhearted? No we are not! (Are you sure about that? Ed.)
If not you, then who? If not now, then when? Earth First! slogan