BURY Council leader Rishi Shori brings you his latest column

WE might be the smallest council in Greater Manchester, but that doesn’t stop us taking the lead in important matters.

As anticipated in last week’s Bury Times, we are on course to become one of the first boroughs in the country to go plastic-free.

The plans, approved by council last night, aim to create plastic-free community spaces in Bury’s parks, libraries and community and leisure centres.

Community groups who share our ambitions will also be able to bid for a share of £20,000 from the council’s social capital fund.

We’re also asking our partners to join the cause and we will, where allowable, require that the requirement to be plastic-free be incorporated into our social value policy, to ensure our supply chain is plastic-free by 2026.

Of course, it would be completely impractical to ban plastic completely. So many products we use every day are made of plastic. What we have to focus on in the first instance are single-use plastics such as plastic bottles, drinks straws, bags – basically, products which there are already alternatives for.

As part of the PlasticFreeGM campaign, which has been launched by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, the GM Combined Authority has been in talks with United Utilities to bring a bottle refill scheme to Greater Manchester. This includes the installation of a number of water fountains across the conurbation.

As a result of this initiative, we will trial two public water fountains in Prestwich and Whitefield to encourage residents to refill their re-usable bottles instead of buying single-use plastic bottles. These fountains will be paid for by United Utilities.

We were the first council in England to debate the introduction of deposit return schemes, back in 2017, and this has now been taken up by the Government in its English waste strategy document. So these things can, and will, be done.

While our plans for plastic are ambitious, they will have to be complemented by a range of other measures to improve and protect our environment.

For instance, we need to improve the quality of the air we all breathe. This is a serious public health problem, which studies suggest contributes to the equivalent of 1,200 deaths every year in Greater Manchester.

With our partners across the conurbation, we are working to produce a Clean Air Plan, to cut the harmful levels of roadside pollutants emitted by transport. Several roads in Bury have been identified as having too high levels of pollution.

We are under pressure from the Government to act quickly to reduce pollution levels on our local roads, and I am all in favour of that. But it will also need Highways England to act, as they are in charge of our motorways. With two motorways cutting through our borough, we in Bury know all too well that tackling vehicle emissions from these sources will be essential if we are to succeed.

One way, of course, of reducing vehicle emissions is simply to use vehicles on fewer occasions. Bury will benefit from proposals across GM to improve public transport right up to 2040, alongside the creation of cycle and walking routes.

Sustainability is at the heart of the revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which has just been published. This regional plan for jobs, homes and the environment is vital in how Bury will look for decades to come. We must have a plan that identifies the amount of industrial and housing land we will need over the next 20 years and beyond, and where those sites should be.

In Bury, we will continue to take a ‘brownfield first’ approach. Did you know that, in 9 of the last 10 years, more than 90% of housing applications were to build on brownfield land?

However, there is not enough brownfield land in Bury to accommodate all the houses we are being asked to find room for. The release of some of our Green Belt is therefore necessary.

But did you know that, even if the new GMSF is ultimately approved, some 52% of Bury will still be Green Belt? That’s the third highest figure in Greater Manchester!

Having a legally-binding plan also allows us to protect our Green Belt sites from being picked off one by one by developers.

I know that some of our residents have serious concerns about these plans. Can I urge you to look at the proposals and, if you wish, have your say during the consultation period, which runs from 21 January to 18 March? All the details are here: www.gmconsult.org

Looking after the environment isn’t just about the scenery. Work will start this year on the £46 million plan to boost flood defences in Radcliffe and Redvales, which we all hope will prevent a repeat of the terrible and unprecedented Boxing Day floods of 2015 which forced 750 households out of their homes.

You may have read about plans to stop fracking across Greater Manchester. Again, Bury Council took the lead on this. We decided last year to ban fracking on any council-owned land, due to real concerns about safety and the impact on the environment and the communities who live near drilling sites.

I know that many of you share our aims. Together, we can make a difference.