What can Bengaluru learn from Greater Manchester?
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Bengaluru: Residents of Bengaluru want to know if India’s Garden City can learn about smart governance from Greater Manchester, which once was Britain’s industrial hub.
Bengaluru is a bit like Greater Manchester, but with many more people. Roughly of the same area (around 1,300 sq km), Bengaluru has a population of 9.5 million (remote sensing data), compared with Greater Manchester’s 6.7 million.
Both are engines of growth, for industry and innovation, respectively.
If Greater Manchester is called the heart of Britain’s northern region, Bengaluru enjoys the tag of Silicon Valley of India. Yet, check for liveability, and the similarities stop.
Bengaluru has lakes on fire, terrible traffic snarls and poor urban infrastructure. Greater Manchester frequently makes it into the list of the 50 best places to live in across the world. In the Global Liveability Survey compiled by The Economist magazine, for instance, Manchester part of Greater Manchester has been winning the title of best city to live in the UK for the last two years.
It wasn’t like this until recently, said Mark Atherton, director, environment for Greater Manchester, at a workshop on urban governance organised last Thursday by non-profit Janaagraha, a public policy think-tank.
Then, Manchester, much like today’s Bengaluru, was struggling with ageing infrastructure, growing population, falling green cover and lack of motorways to connect town centres and periphery towns, said Atherton.
Things began to change after the regional authorities put together a development blueprint in 2013—with buzzwords like “connected, talented and greener”—aiming for sustainable economic growth by 2020.
Most cities across the world have development blueprints—the difference perhaps is how the plans take off on the ground.
This cannot be truer than in the case of Bengaluru. Throw a stone and you’ll hit an urban thinker in Bengaluru. But turning their clever ideas into action is another matter.
It is a leader in Master Plans: one was supposed to come out in 2015, but is still in the making; another is finished, but the planning agency wasn’t the one that did prepared it; the third was written by the right planning agency, the Metropolitan Planning Committee, but the committee has hardly ever met since its inception in 2014.
Add to this the dozens of blueprints prepared by advocacy agencies like Janaagraha. It is anybody’s guess which plan the city is actually following at any given time.
By comparison, the blueprint for Greater Manchester has a target of a 48% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2020, which is as much as the target for the whole of the UK.
The authorities have calculated the power generation from each industrial unit, decided not to open any new thermal power plants, spent a lot of time talking to and moving fresh businesses to arid northern areas in order to protect the much greener southern regions, and implemented projects that will reduce energy consumption.
Houses have been given free solar panels on ‘rent-a-roof’ model, and energy is priced at higher rates when the production is low.
“Delivering is a key thing,” Atherton said, adding the region is already reaching the halfway mark on its climate change target. “You have to show you are succeeding so that people who are trusting you and funding you will do more.”
The two burning problems of Bengaluru, garbage and transport, were brought to the table.
In Branford, which lies almost in the centre of Greater Manchester, garbage collections work on a mobile app. If a collection is missed, you can report it on the app, and the revised pickup details will be notified to you, explained David Cawthray, assistant director, information services, Bradford Metropolitan District Council. The garbage collection trucks come with a GPS.
On roads, Bengaluru corporator Lakshminarayan had a question: just how long does it take Greater Manchester to lay down a one km road?
“Assuming there is no planning consent required, two weeks maximum. For expensive work (where the project cost is more than 500 pounds or about Rs41,000), it may take about three months… only in exceptional cases are you allowed to extend the budget for a project, so normally most of the small projects have a formal closure within a year,” said Atherton.
One researcher in the room responded: “We will often make a project report for a road, only to later realise that it was planned on a defence land or that the land is under litigation or, as in the case of a recent steel flyover, it is just unfeasible.”
The main difference between the UK and India of course is in taxation—in the UK you pay not only pay income tax, but also a local area tax, known as council tax, all of which is spent on your liveability.
For instance, Greater Manchester spends 6 billion pounds (Rs 49070.19 crore) on health and social care alone. The government can afford it because it taxes more. But couldn’t that make the city unaffordable for some? That is relative.
“No,” Atherton said, “the cost of living is lower than southern England actually because the wages are higher.”
“The biggest takeaway is you can’t automatically get Bellandur (the lake which got fire several times over the last two years due to pollution) de-polluted or make 12,000 km roads free of potholes despite spending Rs 1300 crore per year,” said Janaagraha’s chief executive officer Srikanth Viswanathan.
“Some foundations need to be placed at Bengaluru. We may not be able to transpose what they (Greater Manchester ) are doing, but we may have some lessons on how they are doing things. That they have project managers who are certified in a standard manner (PRINCE2 certification) ensuring the implementation of each project itself should tell us something (about the importance of delivering ).