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Manchester cleans up its act with 14m windfall


This month St Ann’s Square in Manchester was blighted by a huge pile of rubbish. Almost 1.4 tonnes of litter, three days’ worth, was collected from the streets of the city, stuffed into blue bin bags and unceremoniously dumped in the pretty square. Manchester City Council displayed this mountain of rubbish in order to highlight the extent of the city’s litter problem – and to flag up the council’s renewed efforts to tackle the issue. As well as a targeted campaign that encourages residents and tourists to clean up after themselves and avoid dropping their waste on the streets, the council has also invested in 600 specially designed larger bins, at a cost of £500,000.

The cash has come from the council’s new Clean City project, an initiative funded by the council’s shareholding in Manchester Airport, which recently yielded a £14.5m windfall. “We were lucky enough to receive some money from our investments in the airport that we hadn’t anticipated,” councillor Bernard Priest, deputy leader of the council, tells Platform. “So we decided that Manchester would benefit if we invested that cash in making the city cleaner and greener.”

For the Clean City scheme, which will run until 2016, the council is letting community groups and members of the public have their say on how the money should be spent, with residents being encouraged to make their own suggestions of ways to make the city cleaner and greener. The council is keen on fun, innovative ideas that come from Mancunians, not the city governance.

“What we’re trying to do is engage with people to say, it’s our city,”

“What we’re trying to do is engage with people to say, it’s our city,” explains Priest. “It’s not the city council’s city, it’s the residents’ city. We all need to get behind this initiative so we have a city that is fit for the 21st century. That will mean that it’s a greener city, a cleaner city, a better city to live in.”

Since the Clean City call was first issued last autumn, the council has received just over 500 suggestions from locals and organisations. “They range from helpful to absolutely brilliant,” says Priest. “And what we’re really impressed by is just how innovative some of these ideas are.”

The community’s suggestions include maintenance and improvement around the city’s canals; community gardens, farms and allotments used by residents to grow produce; separate areas in parks for dog owners; better lighting in Piccadilly Gardens; offering bikes for hire; creating a citywide cycle lane; giving free lights to cyclists; increasing the city’s tree stock; and introducing food clinics to educate people on healthier eating. Many of the community’s proposals centre on clean-up activity, including spring cleans; better bins; new street cleaning machinery and equipment; and increasing the frequency of street cleaning.

In order to get a project approved under the Clean City fund, the suggestions must be realistic and deliverable. Moreover, the money cannot be spent on projects which would create ongoing costs, such as hiring extra staff or supporting existing facilities; they must be one-off investments that make a lasting difference to the city’s environment. 

“Selecting projects does have to come down to some fairly technical and financial analysis,” says Priest. “If a group of people come forward and say they’ve got an area of  land that they want to turn into a food growing area, then emotionally we want to say, yes that’s great. But we have to ask them how they’re going to sustain it, where they’re going to get the compost from, and how they’re going to sell the food. But ultimately if we can show that a particular project will make the city cleaner, greener and reduce our costs, then it’s a no-brainer.”

The first batch of Clean City projects have now been approved. In addition to installing the new bins in the city centre, another scheme that will go ahead is the removal of clutter and debris from streets in North and East Manchester. Broken street signs and benches will be removed from the area, while overgrown bushes which can reduce visibility and make residents feel intimidated, will be trimmed back. Metal items will be recycled wherever possible.

As well as complaining that this rubbish makes their streets look scruffy, locals in these communities also pointed out that unused planters attract people to drop litter or dump waste, so those will also be taken away. It is claimed that the street clutter removal project will also support ground maintenance crews and street cleaners, whose sweepers can get blocked by the waste. According to the council, there are thought to be around 100 such items that need to be removed in North and East Manchester, many of which are several decades old.

The goal is also to develop the youngsters as citizens, getting them involved in key community efforts.

Another project that will be funded by Clean City encourages primary school children to work alongside residents in keeping their own neighbourhoods clean. Manley Park Primary School in Whalley Range is running the ‘Little Hands Make Big Changes’ scheme, organising litter picks, growing edible food and improving the school’s recycling. The goal is also to develop the youngsters as citizens, getting them involved in key community efforts. While it will start off by tackling the area immediately around the school, the initiative will later be extended to other parts of Whalley Range and Chorlton.

The street clutter removal project and the scheme at Manley Park Primary School have cost just over £250,000 of the Clean City cash. A total of six projects have been approved, and City Council officers are currently working on turning a further 80 suggestions into practical plans. The council welcomes more ideas from residents on how the Clean City money can be put to good use.

A total of six projects have been approved, and City Council officers are currently working on turning a further 80 suggestions into practical plans.

So how does Clean City fit into Manchester City Council’s wider environmental strategy? Priest says recycling is key. “If we can get people to recycle the waste, and not just drop it on the floor, we’re going to reduce our footprint on this planet and we’re going to reduce the amount of mess we leave behind. It’s a very close link then to looking at the way in which we build the city, and the way in which we fuel the city, to try and make sure the city’s carbon footprint is reduced. It’s all part of the same picture. We’ve chosen to brand this as Clean City, because we think that that will capture the public’s imagination. But the green and environmental elements are there very strongly.”