The city at the forefront of Britain’s industrial revolution and its post-industrial decline is about to become the standard bearer of its urban regeneration, thanks to £1.5bn in funding and the return of the crack team that tackled the Hulme estate. Victoria Madine reports

Go to Manchester these days and you’ll see signs of the city’s continuing transformation wherever you look. Giant construction cranes tower above the city’s gothic red-brick buildings, planning notices hang from crumbling warehouses. Just to the east of the city centre, dilapidated cotton mills carry gleaming signs promising their imminent conversion into homes, both luxury and affordable.

Over the next 10 years, more than £1.5bn in private and public funding will be spent on further regenerating Manchester and its immediate environs. One urban regeneration company, New East Manchester, will be investing £600m to create 12,500 homes (see “Masterplans for the four corners of Manchester”, page 45), and the Manchester–Salford pathfinder will spend £500m on housing renewal. On the commercial front, the £650m Spinningfields mixed-use development will create a district right in the middle of the city.

The sums involved are huge – but then what else would you expect from Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester council, and the group of developers and designers with whom he has worked for more than 15 years, a group who make up the vanguard driving the city’s renaissance?

The formative experience that brought this group together was the Moss Side and Hulme Partnership, set up between the council and Amec in 1992. This was the team that saved one of the UK’s most notorious estates (see “The Madchester Generation”, 20 June 2003, pages 42-45). The individuals who were pivotal then are spearheading regeneration projects across the city. Tom Russell, the chief executive of New East Manchester, used to be deputy chief executive at Manchester council. Architect Ian Simpson, who worked on areas close to Hulme back in the early 1990s, has since designed the 47-storey Beetham Tower on Deansgate. And Ken Knott, now director of property developer Ask Developments, which is developing part of the £18m commercial Central Park scheme in east Manchester, was a board member of the partnership and an engineer with Amec.

All agree that the experience of working on those early regeneration projects has built the council and its partners’ confidence and experience in handling major regeneration schemes.

Knott says the ability of the development community to move quickly is partly down to personal connections forged on the Hulme project. “Working on Hulme was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought the private and public sectors together on the same side. As a developer for Amec I had never really been confronted with the issues faced by the public sector – the learning curve was very steep for us all,” he says.

Lesley Chalmers, chief executive of the English Cities Fund and a former member of the Hulme gang, agrees that the ties established between the private and public sectors back in the 1990s are still bearing fruit. “You can get things done in Manchester and that’s partly because the regeneration community is close,” she says.

As Simpson points out, you can walk across Manchester’s city centre in 30 minutes, so you are bound to bump into people you know.

“The network is strong and there’s enough work for us all so that we can work in partnership,” he says.

Given the amount of work under way in the city, it will come as no surprise that Bernstein harbours ideas of turning Manchester into the “leading regional capital of Europe”. Bernstein says: “Our vision is to make the city a world-class location for people to live, to invest and to work. The aim is to become a leading centre of excellence for the knowledge-based economy – namely science and technology, IT and professional services. It’s a goal we’re moving towards – we believe Manchester is already one of the strongest regional centres in Europe.”

The city has been helped in its move towards becoming a knowledge-based economy by the merger of the University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), which is to take place in October. This will create the largest university in the UK, and is integral to the Southern Gateway project, another major development area in the south of the city (see “ Masterplans for the four corners of Manchester”, page 45). The idea is that this super-university will attract technology companies to the area.

Maurice Grubbins, area manager for Greater Manchester at the North West Development Agency, says: “This merger creates a massive opportunity for the university to increase its research and development capacity, which is an attractive prospect for technology companies. It’s of huge significance to Manchester’s future growth.”

Another coup for the council came in June when the BBC announced its intention to create in Manchester its largest broadcasting and production centre outside London. The exact details of the move will be announced in the autumn, but about 700 jobs could be created and hundreds more may have to relocate away from the capital. Architect Hodder Associates, another practice involved in the Hulme scheme, is already at work masterplanning the revamp of the New Broadcasting House site in Manchester’s city centre.

But regeneration experts admit they are still grappling with the thorny question of how to ensure that the benefits of investment reach all of Manchester’s citizens. In May, a government study labelled the Harpurhey district in north Manchester the most deprived neighbourhood in England. Professor Brian Robson, director of Manchester University’s centre for urban studies, says this is a reminder that the £1bn or so that was spent redeveloping the centre after the E

E 1996 IRA bombing has yet to benefit many inner-city areas. “The city continues to have a problem linking the growing affluence of some areas to the benefit of poorer areas,” he says. “Getting the chemistry right to correct that is very hard to achieve.”

The need to develop the inner city has been recognised, and New East Manchester is working with its partners, including the council, NWDA and English Partnerships, to improve the rundown estates in the east of the city. Regeneration will be led by the New Islington Millennium Community project to redevelop the Ancoats area (see “Masterplans for the four corners of Manchester”, right). This has raised £200m from the private sector and £100m from the public, a level of funding that is likely to double.

Nick Johnson, director of development at Urban Splash, the project’s lead developer, says the aim is to retain the area’s current residents while also attracting higher income earners into the area. “By creating a mixed community, the whole area has the chance to grow,” he says, adding that experience suggests it will work, as this is exactly what happened with in Hulme

15 years ago. The government is also funding housing market renewal schemes to combat areas of low housing demand in inner-city areas.

One area that has had high housing demand in recent years – and discovered that this is something of a double-edged sword – is the city centre. The council estimates that about 11,000 people now live in the centre, compared with about 3500 in 1991. Although the growth has enlivened the area, the high value of apartments has meant that properties that would usually have been developed as office space have been developed as homes. David Rudlin, director of urban regeneration consultant Urbed, says if the trend continues it could push out commercial developments.

However, the signs suggest the residential market may be flattening. “The council is aware of the need to counterbalance residential with commercial development,” says Rudlin. “With so many residential developments in the city, the market will soon level out and developers will begin to switch back to commercial schemes.”

Another issue the development community has to deal with is the lack of skilled labour available to take on all this work. Housebuilder Lovell is building 550 homes as part of a scheme supported by NEM to regenerate the Beswick estate in the east of the city (see “Masterplans for the four corners of Manchester”, right). Paul Hulme, Lovell’s regional director for the North-west, says its response to the lack of skilled workers has been to design out aspects of construction that require a high degree of skill, such as masonry, and build off site whenever possible. “The idea is to reduce

our labour needs on site, but we still feel the pinch – it’s proving hard at the moment to find plasterers and finding experienced surveyors is a perennial problem,” he says.

And the pace of development is not going to abate in the near future. For one thing, there’s John Prescott’s Northern Way proposal to regenerate towns across the North, and the prospect of thousands of civil service jobs being relocated out of London. Paul Spooner, regional director for the North-west at English Partnerships, says more and more people will commute to Manchester and this, in turn, will fuel more growth. “These are exciting times – I truly believe this is the start of a great renaissance in the North.”

The list of development opportunities in the pipeline is positively mouth-watering for developers, contractors and designers alike. But is the work exclusive to the Manchester clique? Philip Doyle, partner at architect Sheppard Robson’s Manchester office, says (with a

chortle): “Not really”. But he admits that even though the firm, which set up the office seven years ago, has a healthy portfolio of work and is contributing designs for Spinningfields and the Southern Gateway, it is still playing “a wee bit of catch-up”. He says: “The likes of Ian Simpson and Stephen Hodder have been here for decades so, yes, they are close to the council. But it’s fair play – they deserve their status because they’ve contributed so much to the city.”

With so much to redevelop there’s scope for new blood all the time. Urban Splash’s Johnson says he wants to work with any kind of firm that can think “laterally and creatively”. So it looks as if, the construction cranes have a secured place on the city’s landscape for years to come.

What you didn't know

  • Greater Manchester has a population of
    2.5 million and a workforce of 1.2 million
  • The population of Manchester city centre has reached 11,000, according to the council
  • That figure could grow to 20,000 over the next five years
  • Manchester's population is predominantly young - 45% of Mancunians are under 45