The future for Manchester: investment in housing, offices, culture and heritage

Above: Future Cities Forum panel discussion in the heritage warehouse setting of Science + Industry Museum, with (from left) Sally MacDonald, SIM, Andrew Coles of Aviva Investors, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, John Rhodes of HOK, Trevor Mitchell of Historic England and Clive Anderson of the Government Property Agency.

The first panel discussion at Future Cities Forum's levelling up event in Manchester began with the issue of housing provision for the city and region. Housing has become the number one concern in the levelling up debate for some and Cllr Gavin White, Executive Lead for Housing at Manchester City Council, was asked about whether his plans for housing would ensure they were built with connections for jobs and sustainable high streets.

An important development for the city is the Victoria North project (formerly known as the Northern Gateway project, which will deliver up to 15,000 new homes while rejuvenating disused land over the next 15 years. This project involves the creation of seven new districts, adjacent to the River Irk, and is being designed to level up a traditionally poor area with low educational attainment and employment.

Cllr White answered:

'Levelling up has to be about our local communities. There is a lot of brownfield land in the city that needs use and where we can build sustainable communities. Victoria North is being built on land that has been contaminated for thirty years and now is being cleaned up and housing is being built there. An attractive river runs through it and we are making sure there are a series of parks, new schools, GP services and so on, so that we can be sure we are building communities.'

Far East Consortium (FEC) is the developer behind the scheme and Senior Project Director Tom Fenton, who spoke at the forum said:

'This is a lesson on how traditionally the wealth of the Manchester has always travelled south in the city, and the development has to work for a new populace as well as existing households, who don't feel connected to the centre. We don't want to gentrify because it won't work for these existing inhabitants, but we are trying to provide access to better built housing with improved air quality and we need joined up government investment in infrastructure at the right time.'

Above: Victoria Riverside (CGI from FEC)

In the Collyhurst area of the development, Manchester City Council says it has consulted extensively with local residents and will incorporate a mix of townhouses and low-rise apartments. So why is the council still planning tall tower blocks in the centre of the city, when in some parts of the country and particularly London, high rise living has been seen by some social commentators as a poor choice in the 1960's adding to loneliness and splitting up communities:

'I wouldn't rule out tall tower blocks for housing particularly in the centre and there is evidence that it is not just young people who want it, but families and people over 50 too. It is about delivering on our housing targets but also preserving the green belt for our neighbours. But the tall towers must be close to services.'

He added that there is an awareness that with failing high streets, one method for sustainability is to provide housing near shops:

'It is important that we can get people living in high streets again, making sure that the retail and leisure offer is right. We need good quality high streets in both large areas and smaller districts.

When asked about the council's plans for good transport measures in the face of some rowing back on national HS2 plans, Cllr White commented:

'The council is passionate about delivering services and the UK government also has to deliver. We want an underground station that connects HS2 to the centre of Manchester and we have a big ask on buses too. We want a London-style bus network so that we can bring down fares. We don't want to be continually moaning but want to work together with government so that we can invest for our residents.

'At Wythenshawe, land is being used for the creation of 1500 new homes with connectivity for jobs at the airport and hospital and there is a good high street there. We need to invest in good transport and follow our ambitious plans for the city to be net zero by 2038.'

The Government Property Agency's Director of Capital Projects, Clive Anderson, continued the discussion about the importance of levelling up in bringing more jobs to Manchester. Clive is driving forward the GPA's delivery of Government Hubs and Whitehall Campus Programmes, as well as leading its design standards to deliver smaller, better and greener Public Estate. In November, the GPA announced it was recruiting for more than one hundred roles to support the delivery of its essential role as part of key Government initiatives, such as the Levelling Up agenda and Net Zero initiative:

'Manchester is seen very much as a technology and digital centre by the UK government, Darlington as a centre for financial services and Wrexham for the criminal justice system. The way we do things is to move senior civil servants up to these areas first and then start recruiting locally. Now there is a move to tailor courses at universities to meet graduate demand for those centres.

'We have just announced a new hub centre at First Street in Manchester. We are demolishing the current centre at Piccadilly Manchester, and First Street will have initially 1500 people and grow to two and a half thousand. There is a third and fourth centre to be created within the city and we are working with the council to open up site 3 by 2027. The fourth site will relocate GCHQ as a new cyber security hub.

'In terms of cyber security in the North West, we have always known that we were able to recruit digital people and we feel that Cheltenham isn't the place they want to work. In Manchester, they can look at property exchange, get their children into good schools and we need to increase our cyber security capability.'

Above: view to the cafe and public entrance at the Science + Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester

Encouraging young people into the new jobs of emerging economies, was a topic that Sally MacDonald, Director of the Science & Industry Museum, Manchester, wanted to expand on in the debate. The Museum occupies a site of global significance as the world's first surviving passenger railway station in Manchester, the world's first industrial city. It has received £2,6 million of funding to transform the Power Hall, improving its energy efficiency and place carbon literacy and zero carbon technology at the heart of the museum's story and visitor experience. Sally questioned:

'How do you encourage young people to aspire to some of the roles out there in a gentle way? As a museum we need to be more upfront about being part of the regeneration of the city and not just being a great visitor centre. We are a STEM ambassador for the city and we want to open up jobs for young people who might not have considered them, and bring schools and teachers along.

'Manchester has its own historic story to tell about its impact on climate, but how do you take that forward? This will happen through the work we are doing in the Power Hall - the original northern powerhouse - where we are currently drilling a 90 meter bore hole, to install ground source heating to power all those machines by green energy. We also need to tell the story about the skills needed for these new industries.'

Sally stressed the importance of the need to be a permeable site:

'Historically we have always been a bounded site but the practical part of our wider role is to be more permeable. We cover six and a half acres in the city centre and have never been a sustainable site. We are glad that levelling up money is going into creating a new tech hub in the Air and Space Hall, so that we can get on with developing some of our own buildings to be more commercial and in turn re-invest in our historic estate. We have had lots of Covid-19 funding and the government has been good with that but our visitor numbers are only back up to 55% and the international visitors have not yet returned. We have a brilliant attraction but we need to be an institution that washes its face.'

Manchester is increasingly becoming known internationally for the high quality of education that the city provides and this is a key component that Andrew Coles, Director, Aviva Investors, says makes the asset management company want to invest in the city:

'The key for us is scale. Manchester is one of the most exciting parts of the country. It's got talent. We invest in real estate but we need people. There are one hundred thousand students in the city and compared to other places, there is a higher percentage that stay on after their courses. The quality of education in the city is very high.

'We invest in tech city offices outside the UK such as Amsterdam but Manchester remains very high in our ranking at around number 25 out of 300 cities for its tech and IT services. It only slightly falls behind in its current connectivity. Employees stay around in UK cities compared to European cities I think because the language is 'sticky' and it is not hard to travel in a small island.

Manchester Goods Yard, Enterprise City, with former Granada Television offices in background

Aviva Investors has funded Manchester Goods Yard which is part of the new St John's district, and which sits next to The Museum of Science & Industry. It is set to become the fulcrum for Enterprise City, a new digital media technology hub which be home to a mix of SME's and multi-corporation technology and creative industry organisations. It has been designed by architects Chapman Taylor with large-format office floorplates which provide adaptable and flexible uses. The design embraces health and wellbeing and elements of biophilia in order to create a vibrant environment for people enjoy. There will be bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, with t