Manchester: The times they are a changing’

By Rebecca Fieldhouse of Iceni Projects


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Iceni Projects has recently joined a growing list of companies to establish an office in Manchester. And as Bob Dylan once sang, ‘the times, they are a changing’.

Manchester is also leading the way with devolution and, along with other cities across England, will be electing its first Metro Mayor on 4 May 2017. The chief task of the new Mayor will be developing a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which will allocate strategic sites for housing and industry. Later in the year, Transport for the North will launch its infrastructure plans and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, chaired by George Osborne MP, is starting to mobilise. It’s an exciting time for the city and wider North West region.

Having brought about change in Birmingham, Sheffield and Wakefield, Joanne Roney OBE is primed to take up the reins from Sir Howard Bernstein. Roney has a track record of innovative built environment projects and her fresh, female perspective could be just what Manchester needs. She will need to work closely with the new Metro Mayor to deliver the right spatial strategy for Greater Manchester, and key to this will be thinking beyond the city region to authorities across the Northern Powerhouse.

Having spent the last seven years of my career in the humdrum of London, cramming onto the underground each day, one of the best things I’ve learnt since being back in the North is that Manchester has relatively few power-brokers to engage with.  Can you imagine being a public servant in London with the clout that Sir Howard Bernstein had - never mind a politician. Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London) has plenty of power-brokers to deal with and can’t influence spatial change in the way the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) can. London’s planning and political straightjacket weakens the Capital, whereas the Northern Powerhouse has taken off its straight jacket to tackle its problems head on.

Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities have been working collaboratively for over 30 years, a pattern that has culminated in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the draft spatial plan for the city region. However, with over 25,000 responses to the latest consultation, which closed in January 2017, and the mayoral election fast approaching, the draft GMSF is rather unsurprisingly being used as a political football.

Labour candidate, Andy Burnham, has said that the draft plan needs a radical rewrite, also supported by Jane Brophy, Liberal Democrat candidate – the main issue for both candidates being the proposed release of green belt. While young up-start Conservative candidate, Sean Anstee, having sat on the GMCA is in full support of the proposals. Whether green belt is released or the not the GMCA is going to be a leap forward for Manchester and the wider North West.

With a new female CEO at the helm, a new Mayor about to be elected and the Northern Powerhouse ready to go into full swing, it’s going to be a big year for Manchester. To make strides in this next step in its evolution Manchester needs to draw on its spirit of collective endeavour and collaboration, with local people, businesses and the public sector pulling together for the city and the Northern Powerhouse to fly. If anyone can, Manchester can.