Magpie 45 – Local Agenda 21

Brown, I. (1999) Local Agenda 21. Magpie 45, pp.16-17

On Wednesday the 17th of March a meeting was called, at Manchester Town Hall, to discuss Local Agenda 21 (LA21). I had heard little on the subject since 1997, when the Draft LA21 strategy was produced. This strategy was to have gone out to public consultation. Shortly after, Manchester City Council pulled out of the LA21 process. It Is believed that the main reason for this is that they did not like what they saw. There was a meeting In June 1997 when it was agreed that a group called Partnership 21 should be formed to continue the work of the LA21 Forum and take over their remaining funds. NothIng,happened until a meeting was called, in May 1998, when it was decided that Voluntary Action Manchester should become the facilitators for Partnership 21. Nothing happened until the above mentioned meeting on the 17th of March, which I found out about one week before it was to take place.

The reason for this meeting being called was that John Prescott (Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions) had directed councils, who were lagging behind with their LA21 programmes, to submit a Local Agenda 21 Strategy by the end of this year. 

At the meeting we were told what steps the City Council intended to take to comply with this government directive. Briefly, a Forum would decide what should be included In the Strategy. This forum would be made up of 12 people from various sectors of the community: two from the voluntary sector, two City Councillors, representatives from transport, power generation and industry, someone from the Environment Agency, etc., to make a balance of community interests. From time to time, this Forum could then consult the wider community (which would include a nature conservation group, such as ourselves).

What would be in Manchester’s Local Agenda 21 Strategy is a little difficult to say. I foolishly suggested that the Draft LA21 Strategy should be used as a basis for public consultation. I was told that, while the Council thought that the Strategy was good as a “visionary” document, it was not practical enough. Well, excuse me, but I thought that LA21 was a “visionary” thing and, if we are to confine ourselves solely to practical strategies, we would hardly make progress from the Situation in which we find ourselves today. Maybe It depends on your definition of the word “practical”! 

Through various Action Groups, many volunteers put in hours of hard work to formulate the Draft LA21 Strategy and I feel that this hard work should not be wasted. But it seems that this Is exactly what we are being told. While there was much good stuff in the Strategy, there were some points which could have been improved. The Greening, Land-use and Open Space Action Group had suggested that the Nature Conservation Strategy and the Woodland Strategy should be adopted by the Council. In the Draft Strategy, this was watered down to “a nature conservation strategy should be adopted by the Council” as though the Nature Conservation Strategy did not already exist. We also suggested an Open Space Requirement. There should be a minimum requirement for “natural greenspace” in urban areas of a) 2 hectares within ½ kilometre of all residents – b) LNRs (Local Nature Reserves)  at a minimum level of 1 hectare per 100 of the population, [Manchester has no LNRs]. – c) One 20 hectare site within 2 kilometres of all residents. – d) One 100 hectare site within 10 kilometres, of all residents. ThIs standard was taken from UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Project. There was no mention of this In the Draft Strategy. The point of a public consultation was that individuals, and groups such as ourselves, could have made comments so that these errors, and omissions, could be corrected. 

What is going to happen next? We can only wait and see. How much say the citizens of Manchester will have, in the LA21 process?  Again, we will have to wait and see. One thing we do know is that, if Manchester does not submit a Local Agenda 21 Strategy, which is ac-ceptable to Central Government, by the end of this year, then the Gov-ernment will impose one on the City of Manchester. I remember, at the time of the meeting, saying (quietly), “maybe that would not be a bad thing!”

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