Understanding Sustainability

When Trafford talks about New Carrington being

into a sustainable location, what does it mean? 

Well, it is interesting, because the plans for New Carrington will take away some inherently sustainable aspects of the area and replace them with some fundamentally unsustainable characteristics. 

Read on, to find out more!        But first……………..

If you look it up, you’ll find various definitions which suggest that being sustainable is about ensuring we avoid wearing out our natural resources as we seek to achieve financial success, whether personally, corporately or globally. 

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which all development masterplans and planning decisions should follow, says:

This policy links to the UN declaration within Resolution 42/187 of the United Nations General Assembly, which raises concerns about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.

The document proposes that sustainable development becomes a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments, private institutions, organisations and enterprises

Effectively, this means that plans should not be approved if they are likely to prevent future generations from meeting their needs.  Looking at some very basic examples, their ability to breathe clean air, access healthy, food sources with a low carbon footprint, and have clean water to drink. 

So, at a very high level, it is fair to say that we should not be building on a peat moss, which has the potential to be restored to sequester carbon more effectively, nor should we be building on Grade 2 agricultural land, which future generations may need to grow their food, nor should we be building on wetland which has the ability to reduce flooding and support clean water strategies for the future. 

Many commentators, however, only focus on how sustainable the design and development of construction projects are, how sustainably sourced the materials used will be and how attractive the new neighbourhood will become.  This is certainly true of Trafford’s own considerations within the New Carrington Masterplan, which mentions the word “sustainable” 42 times.  The section on Sustainability (4.9) states that it is “part of a holistic design process that runs throughout all aspects of the scheme, including design and layout of buildings and landscape, the components of the masterplan, transport strategy and phasing”. 

Trafford suggests that delivery of the masterplan will result in sustainable transport, sustainable communities, sustainable society, sustainable economy, sustainable drainage and sustainable movements. 

Yet, there is no mention of what will be lost to future generations.  In fact, the Masterplan describes the area (several times) as “the former Carrington Moss”! 

Excuse us, but ……………

In addition, the language used in the masterplan document does not bode well for future sustainability.  Even in that specific section on Sustainability (page 55), developers are only “encouraged” to use sustainable sources of construction materials and the Government’s forthcoming standards.  Principle 9 (page 31) is another good example “Optimise sustainability This masterplan supports prioritizing Biodiversity Net Gain and, where possible, optimise the wider environmental benefits for a sustainable society and economy.”  So, sustainability will be achieved “where possible”.  Should plans be approved on that basis?  We don’t think so.

Trafford acknowledges that the New Carrington allocation area is not a sustainable location today.  They assert that their vision is “to transform Carrington, Sale West and South Partington into a sustainable and attractive, mixed use residential and employment neighbourhood”.  We will not get hung up in this blog about the fact that these are three separate neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct characteristics. 

It is important to recognise, however, that NONE of these neighbourhoods will become sustainable if the New Carrington Masterplan, as currently documented, is implemented. 

Do keep reading to find out why we think this!

The NPPF has a clear focus on sustainable development.  Paragraph 103, for example, states that “Significant development should be focused on locations which are or can be made sustainable, through limiting the need to travel and offering a genuine choice of transport modes.” 

So, what about the area covered by this Masterplan?  With 5,000 new homes, 380,000 m2 employment space and 4 new major roads, it is clearly a significant development.  Yet in New Carrington, there is only one commitment and that is to the new road known as the Carrington Relief Road.  The plan suggests that the strategic roads will “enhance the provision of sustainable transport”.

But …………

There are NO commitments to improve public transport for this, the largest housing development in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (now known as Places for Everyone), no trams, no trains and no new bus services (in fact, another bus service has been withdrawn from the area recently).  For more information on this, see our previous blog confirming the revelations from our Freedom of Information Act requests here.

We mentioned the substantial volume of peat that remains on Carrington Moss in another previous blog (When is a Peat Moss Not a Peat Moss).  Peat is an irreplaceable habitat, so a mass extraction event to remove this precious substance cannot be offset by any amount of Biodiversity Net Gain (to say nothing of the huge release of carbon into our local atmosphere).

One of the many advantages of carbon sequestration via peatland is its own negligible carbon footprint.  There is no requirement for manufacturing of major technology or equipment and no ongoing use of fossil-fuel based power (although we do recognise that restoration techniques might involve some initial machine-using groundwork and some installation of plastic dams or pipes).  Peat mosses require relatively low maintenance, perhaps some weed incursion control, but mostly it is over to the forces of nature and time to deliver the benefits. 

In comparison, most new buildings, however sustainably built, do not have the capability to capture carbon, and those that do cannot compete with the carbon sequestration capabilities of our peat mosses.  In fact, such construction will result in a huge increase to carbon emissions locally (more heating, more cars on the road, more waste removal).  Furthermore, as this article suggests – it takes over 50 tonnes of CO2 to build the average UK house

Conversely, in addition to their superior carbon capture capabilities, the restoration of our peatland habitats would bring numerous ecosystem benefits, such as water quality improvements, flood impact reduction, species recovery, biodiversity gains, wellbeing and climate cooling to name just a few.  This wetland environment is a very effective tool which reduces the potential for local flooding (take a look at the Carrington Lake page of our website for more information) and helps to dissipate polluted air, with the large areas of woodland on Carrington Moss also supporting carbon sequestration. 

So, here on Carrington Moss, Trafford will be reducing the highly sustainable peatland area (which could be restored to capture carbon more effectively) and will replace it with housing and employment sites that generate extensive additional carbon emissions and do not have access to sustainable transport options.

But………….. that is not all!

The employment area in Carrington, located alongside the Medieval village, has previously had substantial areas of industrial and warehousing development approved over the years.  This has resulted in huge volumes of HGV traffic on local roads and other pollutants being released from some of the business premises, causing well known, significant and unacceptable, health and wellbeing issues for local residents.

Yet, the New Carrington Masterplan currently proposes to build a further 380,000 square meters of additional industrial and warehousing space (so, no digital, no technology, no green or professional occupations, just industrial and warehousing sites).  This lack of diversity, and the resulting very limited career opportunities, means that many local residents will not have the range of employment options that they would need to find work locally.  In addition, these new employments sites will bring yet more HGV traffic into the area because alternatives, such as rail freight or shipping (given the proximity to the Manchester Ship Canal) have not been proposed.

The brownfield sites in the allocation area have already been granted planning approval.  The remaining land is either green belt (Trafford plan to release 169 hectares) or Protected Open Land.  Where this land is not the peat moss or woodland mentioned above, it is Grade 2 agricultural land, excellent for crop production, supporting existing employment, in farming activities and horse riding/stabling pursuits, both of which sustain Trafford’s local economy.  Much of that existing Grade 2 agricultural land will become housing, industrial or new roads and most of the rest will become extremely polluted as a consequence of all that construction, preventing future generations from being able grow crops here and food growing in the UK is even more important now (because of Brexit), it’s not as easy, or cost effective, to import, given the trade barriers that have been erected.  The plans will decimate the existing agricultural and equine economy and local supply chains will be severely impacted by the loss of these businesses too. 

Furthermore, the development will fracture the wildlife corridor, significantly impacting many red listed birds and endangered wildlife populations.  The active travel routes, that are widely used by large numbers of local residents, will also be extensively affected.  There are, for example, over 1,000 horses stabled in this area, many of which are ridden across Carrington Moss on a regular basis.  Already popular prior to the pandemic, recreational use of the moss by cyclists and walkers has increased dramatically over recent months.  All these healthy, active, outdoor pursuits will be severely constrained by the plans for development.

In researching for this blog, we’ve been talking to some existing employers who are currently based on the Carrington and Warburton Mosses to find out how sustainable they are today.

Carrington Riding Centre, for example, has focused on various environmental improvements, continuously investing in their land, maintaining their fields and recycling their horses’ waste.  They also invested heavily in a bore hole so they can produce their own water. 

Their carbon footprint is low, the Centre purchases their bedding and feed from local farmers, they use environmentally friendly supplies for horse feed and bedding and their café uses recyclable products too, such as paper cups, plates, etc. 

They would like to do more and regularly review potential grant funding to explore opportunities to:

  • introduce renewable energy
  • make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources
  • improve water courses and drainage. 

All of these are very expensive for a small business like theirs to absorb but they are keen to ensure they are as sustainable as possible.

Local farmers also aim to be sustainable and contribute to environmental improvements, such as hedge planting, ditch cleaning, soil quality improvements and they use the least amount of chemicals possible in all their activities.  One farmer told us that, whilst they do use local horse and chicken manure, there are times when they need to use chemical fertilisers.  The farmers deploy GPS and weigh cell technologies to ensure precision application, only dispersing what is needed for that crop, in that location, so the environmental impact is reduced as far as possible.

One of our local farmers hires out straw and hay bales for events.  They then recycle the used bales for their cattle bedding and then further recycle them as fertiliser on the fields.  They are conscious that manufacturers in their supply chain do not always use recyclable packaging, and, whilst this is changing for some products, it is still especially true for the bale wrap. 

Like the Riding Centre, local farmers would consider increasing sustainability, if funding becomes available.  They have also looked at renewable energy, such as solar panels on shed roofs, and improvements to water courses.  They have recently taken up opportunities, through grant funding, to renew fencing, cattle handling facilities, more GPS systems, yield monitoring and livestock monitoring via CCTV, all of which improve the sustainability of their businesses. 

Government funding schemes are evolving, and many are becoming more environmentally focused.  Local farmers are following proposals such as sustainable farming incentives (which will be simple actions most farms can achieve), whole farm plans, crop management, livestock plans, integrated pest management, soil plans, etc.  Local Nature Recovery initiatives, which Greater Manchester is piloting at a Regional level, would involve creating more woodland, wetland, restoring peat mosses, and supporting natural flood management.  The Carrington and Warburton Mosses would be ideal locations for these proposals.

Yet, despite all these Regional and National initiatives, Trafford is willing to sacrifice our essential farmland, this Grade 2 agricultural land, for construction, even though there are urban areas in sustainable locations, that could be used to build homes and employment properties (and it seems the amount of brownfield land is likely to increase post-Covid because of the recognised changes to working practices and personal habits that have become apparent over the past year).

The conclusion of Trafford’s document states that “This masterplan report demonstrates that the New Carrington Allocation site is deliverable and sustainable”.  We do not agree!  The plan to build 5,000 new homes, 380,000 m2 industrial and warehousing employment space, and 4 new major roads on a peat moss and Grade 2 agricultural land is clearly NOT a sustainable strategy. 

Sustainability is more than just a concept.  It is an intrinsic, high value, asset, with features that can and should be measured and monitored.  Furthermore, the assessment of the potential sustainability of this location lacks credibility and this masterplan demonstrates a huge lack of knowledge about the area itself!

That said, when the CPRE tells us that there is “enough brownfield land for 1.3m new homes” and the Local Government Association highlights that “More than a million homes granted planning permission in the past decade have not yet been built” we have to ask why there is a plan to build on green belt at all?  Who will benefit?  Trafford residents?  We think not!

Let’s just remind ourselves again about those words from the NPPF:

At a very high level, the objective of sustainable development can be summarised as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

So perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is – are there other places in Trafford where we can:

  • restore peat to more effectively capture carbon, so our children and grandchildren can breathe cleaner air?
  • grow crops and alleviate surface water risks, so our descendants have fresh food, with a low carbon footprint, and residents are not fearful of flooding every time it rains?
  • increase the populations of red listed birds and endangered wildlife, so we can help nature’s recovery, increase biodiversity and mitigate the impact of climate change?

If the answer is “No” to one or more of these questions, we should not be building on Carrington Moss.

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