Will Manchester – former capital of the global cotton trade, birthplace of the industrial revolution, and home to the first modern computer – be renowned in the future for its low carbon lifestyles and clean tech economy?
That’s the plan. Organisations across Manchester city region are joining forces to shift towards a more resilient economy. New momentum comes from the launch of the Low Carbon Hub, a platform created by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority [GMCA] to promote the design and delivery of sustainable initiatives. The Hub will channel funds towards projects that touch all aspects of society, explains Mark Atherton, Environment Director at GMCA.
A combination of capital investment in low-carbon buildings and infrastructure, resource efficiency, and advice in innovation for businesses will set the region on track for a low-carbon economy. The Hub will also raise awareness of pilot projects to help them expand across the city region.
One project ready to grow is the Oldham Energy Switching Scheme, which encourages residents to join together and offer their collective purchasing power to energy companies at auction, to get a cheaper deal. So far, the scheme has attracted 8,726 households, and is set to achieve an average annual saving per household of £171, totalling an estimated £1.4 million. Plans are underway to extend it across Greater Manchester in 2013.
Domestic energy management will get smarter too. An agreement between Japan’s Department of New Energy and Development Organisation [NEDO] and the GMCA, backed by the Government, will see low-carbon heat units and a remote ‘smart grid’ management system fitted in homes across GM. Subject to feasibility, around 300 social-housing properties will become the first in the world to trial the technology which, if successful, could be rolled out to thousands of properties across the region. Electricity North West is working on a £10 million project with Ofgem to release unused capacity in the network and encourage customers to change the way they use electricity. Another £3 million scheme to facilitate housing retrofits and test Green Deal processes, called ‘Go Early’, will be rolled out, thanks to £1.3 million revenue funding agreed by the GMCA to cover procurement and start-up costs. Under an earlier programme, the non-profit company Northwards Housing installed solar panels on 711 houses, with Carillion Energy as its delivery partner, saving residents an estimated £74,000 per year.
The Hub will also give universities, businesses and NGOs a platform to share their knowledge, making sure start-ups have the necessary skills and technologies to take off. The £800 million low carbon redevelopment NOMA, backed by The Co-operative Group, is a big part of this, beginning with One Angel Square, the Group’s new head office [pictured]. Ruairidh Jackson, NOMA’s Strategy and Development Director, hopes the Hub will attract dynamic SMEs to Manchester and help train the local workforce in skills for low-carbon development. That is the key, he says, to creating a resilient economic model which will make Manchester an attractive place to live and work.
For Michael O’Doherty, who leads the Hub’s ‘Buildings’ work, the Low Carbon Hub is a way for Greater Manchester to take some of the risk out of investments in new business ideas, and make them a reality. He’s looking forward to connecting with other projects, and hopes they will “share the technological expertise and regulatory advice we need to scale up”.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, adds: “The Low Carbon Hub will enable us to pioneer exciting new projects, creating jobs and develop expertise which will prove essential over the next few years.”
High hopes, then – but ones that have won the backing of central Government. In October, the GMCA secured a unique `pathfinder’ commitment from the Department for Energy and Climate Change to help pioneer innovative approaches in the region. Through this, Manchester now hopes to provide an example of civic leadership globally, creating a clear strategy to cut its carbon emissions by almost 50% by 2020, in line with the UK’s national target.
Of course, good intentions don’t always translate into reality. The Hub aims to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges in achieving these targets. The biggest challenge, says Atherton, is to engage all of Greater Manchester’s population – communities, organisations and businesses – creating strong relationships over time which will put sustainable economic development at the heart of local decision-making and culture.