transport and planning graphic
In response to a recent blog post by Sir Richard Leese, we’ve been asking local groups to share their experiences of working Manchester City Council. Sir Richard Leese says the council are open to working with any parties interested in environmental and development issues.

The following article by Pete Abel of Manchester Friends of the Earth is part of our Civic Participation in Manchester series. In this article, Pete draws on over a decade of experience as an activist in Manchester. Situating local planning and transport issues in a national context, he then reflects on the state of civic participation in Manchester.

Sir Richard Leese
Sir Richard Leese’s blog, where he stated the council were “open to working with anybody”

Turning round the supertanker of unsustainable transport

Trying to achieve positive change on local planning and transport issues has been frustrating and slow. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when considering the disparities in transport funding between London (South East) and the rest of the United Kingdom. In 2019, IPPR North estimated that London would “receive £3,636 per person, the North will receive just £1,247 per person and within the North, Yorkshire and the Humber will see just £511; the North East £519; and the North West £2,062 per person.”

But it is not just about funding. Compared to London, local councils in England still have few powers to control transport services in their areas. We have also had 60 years of car-centric transport and planning policies from the national government, and have a current government that has seemingly forgotten the well-established concept of ‘induced demand’ – building new roads does not tackle congestion – it simply creates more traffic. Plus a Department for Transport that has been slow to take the best walking and cycling designs and publish national guidance that highways engineers in Greater Manchester, and elsewhere, could use.

We are also facing the consequences of decisions taken over 30 years ago to privatise and de-regulate our rail and bus services. In 1986, the Conservative government abolished the Greater Manchester Council along with the other Metropolitan Councils. That decade also saw the de-regulation and privatisation of bus services in England – except of course in London! Since then, outside of London, with respect to bus services, we have seen a massive decline in the provision and large increases in the cost of bus travel.

After 30 years, the government appears to have recognised the failure of these policies and in Greater Manchester, we have regained limited devolved powers and have an opportunity to regain some level of public control over our bus services. 

Read: Five reasons why Greater Manchester buses must be re-regulated

Alongside the fragmentation of our bus services, at the Greater Manchester level there was little strategic oversight or planning for the other sustainable travel options – walking and cycling. Infrastructure and facilities were designed and delivered by each local council and there was little coherence of provision. This began to change with the formation of Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) on 1 April 2011.

We want you to be critical friends….

Over the last 20+ years, we have often been told that the local councils or transport agencies wanted us to be a “critical friend’ to give feedback and advice, but so often when we have been positively critical of their plans they no longer wanted to be friends any more!

For example, we made our first critical response to the proposed Oxford Road bus corridor scheme in December 2009. It took nearly four years and a lot of campaigning to stop the original ‘green paint on the road’ proposal. Once over this disagreement, we were considered ‘friends’ again by some!

We have made many positive proposals to improve sustainable transport in Greater Manchester and have actively supported bids for Local Sustainable Transport Funds and Cycle City Ambition Grants and other sustainable transport schemes such as the Leigh Guided Busway. We were part of the coalition who successfully lobbied for the Mayoral commitments that saw Chris Boardman appointed as walking and cycling commissioner and the Made to Move programme and funding.

We have attended all types of events – scrutiny committee meetings, cycle forums, informal meetings, public inquiries, task and finish groups, stakeholder engagement workshops and submitted numerous responses to clean air plans, ‘conversations’, local transport plans, planning applications, spatial frameworks, statutory consultations and transport strategies.

Unfortunately, too many of these meetings are held during the working day – rarely in evenings or weekends. People have to take time off from work and spend many hours reading and trying to understand complex consultation documents and ‘burning the midnight oil’ to submit responses.

We will continue to oppose poorly designed or dangerous cycling and walking schemes and will object to planning applications for unsustainable transport schemes such as car parks, road building and aviation that will increase air pollution and climate emissions.

What colour paint would you like – consultation, engagement or empowerment?

Recent decisions such as the lack of cycling facilities on Great Ancoats Street, the car park on Central Park and Princess Parkway road scheme have highlighted how difficult it is for local people to challenge transport policy and change the course of the supertanker that is 60 years of car-centric design thinking.

But unfortunately, these examples are not unique. In some cases, we have attended ‘meetings’ where literally the agenda item is what colour would we like the new road signs to be – despite having no previous involvement in the scheme design. Often the scheme designs did not meet current guidance and for some cases in our view were downright dangerous.

Some of the recent schemes did not go through the local council planning process, or the new Made to Move cycling or walking criteria were deemed not to apply, because it was not TfGM or Mayoral Challenge Fund money! The large-scale transport schemes such as Metrolink do have an initial consultation – but the details of walking and cycling facilities are usually very broad-brush at that stage. Once the scheme has secured the Transport Work Act from Parliament, and the fine details emerge, local communities have few options to obtain changes.

The ‘Ladder of Participation’ graphic below is from Sherry Arnstein’s work on citizen participation. We will leave it to the readers to decide where on the ladder their local councils’ engagement events lie.

The Ladder of Participation


Made to Move… some big steps forward but we need to do more, faster.

In September 2017 Andy Burnham, the newly elected Greater Manchester Mayor, appointed Chris Boardman as the Cycling and Walking commissioner. In December 2017 the Greater Manchester Combined Authority agreed the Made to Move plan and in 2018 allocated £160 million for the first three years of a 10 year £1.5 billion programme to deliver the 1800 miles of Bee Network walking and cycling routes.

Importantly, the Made to Move plan contains human-scale criteria for the type of walking and cycling facilities that will be funded:

  • “Not only must we create a joined-up network that spans the city region, it must be something a 12-year-old would choose to use. That ‘12-year old’ represents a pensioner, a mother, someone with mobility issues, all the people we want to travel by bike instead of car but currently don’t. A 12-year-old will be our yardstick.”
  • “Our pavement and public realm improvements also need to pass the test of being accessible to all, especially pedestrians, the partially sighted, and a parent with a buggy or double buggy.”

However, it would appear that some councils have ignored the criteria that states:

  • “Ensure all upcoming public realm and infrastructure investments, alongside all related policy programmes, have walking and cycling integrated at the development stage.”

As well as the design criteria, the approach for creating the Bee Network was very different to previous plans, with the Bee Network map made publicly available online and local people being invited to use their local knowledge and experience to comment. This process attracted over 4000 responses many of which were “where’s ours?”.

Other positive examples include the Bee Network ‘filtered neighbourhood’ plans for Levenshulme that have successfully been funded, the ambitious plans for a ‘Hovenring’ style floating walking and cycling roundabout above the road network at White City roundabout and the 60 schemes in the pipeline.

But we need to do more, faster.

The Meteor: Freedom of Information Workshop – 28 November – tickets available on Eventbrite

We are in a ‘public health emergency’ and a ‘climate emergency’ – ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option

Greater Manchester, along with most cities in the United Kingdom, has failed to meet the legal air quality limits since 2010. In April 2016 the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee declared that air pollution was a “public emergency”. The draft Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan due for consultation in January 2020 does not expect to meet legal limits till 2024.

So a child born in 2019 will be 5 before they breathe legal (not safe) air and we are still waiting for a coherent air quality plan or a new Clean Air Act from the government.

In July 2019, Manchester City Council declared a ‘climate emergency’. The transport sector (excluding aviation) in Greater Manchester contributes over 30% of climate-wrecking CO2 emissions.

Nationally, the transport section (including international aviation & shipping) is responsible for 34% of greenhouse gas emissions and Friends of the Earth challenged the Department for Transport for going ‘rogue’ on the climate.

Meanwhile, the stated objective in the TfGM 2040 Strategy is to effectively double passenger numbers at Manchester Airport at the same time that GM Climate Plan aims to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2038 and the UK is legally committed to reaching ‘net zero’ climate emissions by 2050.

Yes, it was great that the GM Mayor allocated £160 million for walking and cycling programmes, but at the same time, £400 million was allocated for road-widening and plans for over £6 billion for new road-building schemes in the GM area are being considered.

We need to stop ‘business as usual’ locking us into a future of high-carbon infrastructure

From ‘hollowed out’ state to citizen power?

Against the backdrop of austerity the Local Government Association estimates that “between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 they had from central government to run local services.” In many cases, local councils no longer have the staff to even deliver the services required by law.

We also have to overcome ‘silo thinking’ in terms of government or local councils only focussing on one policy objective at a time – such as encouraging people to buy diesel vehicles because of perceived better performance on climate emissions (CO2) without considering the problem with particulate air pollution.

But also ‘silo thinking’ in terms of budgets. We have sat in meetings with Transport Executive members who, whilst agreeing with our proposals for cycling and walking infrastructure, have responded along the lines of ‘you are asking me to spend the transport budget when the benefits will go to the health budget’!

The Made to Move / Bee Network programme has provided support to local communities and enabled them to take the lead in developing sustainable transport plans for their local neighbourhoods.

In July 2019, Camden held the UK’s first Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis. We need to adapt, borrow or create a range of approaches for Greater Manchester such as citizen assemblies, participatory budgeting and co-production to ensure that local communities are both engaged and empowered to help create positive, sustainable and socially just solutions.

Written by Pete Abel, for Andrea Sandor’s Civic Participation in Manchester series.

If you’re a campaigner or group who would like to contribute to this series, please contact us via email:

Look out for the next instalments of the Civic Participation in Manchester series.


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  • Andrea Sandor

    Andrea is an American-Hungarian who grew up in the United States and is now based in Manchester. She writes about development, environment, active travel and civic participation, among other subjects.

Reader Interactions


  1. Excellent piece – thank you .
    The opacity of local govt. is , I think, the greatest stumbling block to political participation in our boroughs.

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