Undoubtedly, Manchester is seen by many as the leading contender for UK’s second city, something that can be attributed to the strong leadership that has continued to drive forward regeneration relentlessly over a distinctive 20+ year period. During this period, city centre living has certifiably returned to Manchester and this has been underpinned by strategic investment and positioning of land, diversification of employment markets, harnessing Manchester’s strength in key sectors, creating partnerships to drive delivery and perseverance through difficult times. Sir Howard Bernstein had a key role to play in all of the above and those responsible for continuing his legacy must ensure the city continues to deliver on its key priorities.
Sir Howard’s appointment as Chief Executive in 1998 followed the 1996 IRA bomb; a challenge borne out of a crisis that retrospectively formed a landmark moment for the revitalisation of this part of the city centre. The resulting development that occurred, driven by Sir Howard and Manchester Millennium Ltd, provided the impetus for regeneration across the city region and sparked the rebirth of Manchester. Rejuvenation of the Arndale Centre was quickly followed by the award and delivery of the Commonwealth Games in 2002 to further enhance Manchester’s credentials as a hub for sporting excellence in the UK, which continues today as the world renowned Etihad Campus.
Manchester’s diverse employment base allowed the city to continue to meet strategic objectives even whilst the recession halted progress elsewhere. Led by Sir Howard, the City Council’s long-term support for Manchester’s Higher Education institutions and research facilities in Corridor Manchester have provided the platform for world-class research and development; science and innovation projects such as GEIC, NGI, Manchester Science Parks, The Sir Henry Royce Institute and MEDC, totalling over £1.5bn worth of investment, are testament to this. Elsewhere, Spinningfields has driven relocation of large corporates and enhanced the professional services economy in the city, whilst the strength of the creative industries is exemplified by the recent approval and imminent delivery of the £110m cultural venue, Factory: Manchester.
Creating these conditions for growth had to be underpinned by a strong housing market and our Manchester Crane Survey 2017 states that just under 7,000 units are currently being delivered in the city centre alone, with a further 20,000 in the pipeline with planning permission. This level of activity started with the City Council’s planned regeneration of Hulme and Piccadilly Basin in the early 1990’s and, while national and international investment now fuels the Build-to-Rent sector, recent initiatives to create delivery vehicles and partnerships such as Manchester Place and the GM Housing Investment Fund has been equally as instrumental to this success. Acknowledged as important for increasing housing supply in the recent white paper, the build-to-rent market caters predominantly for the all-important post-University age group that fuels economic growth, ensures a strong talent pool, and creates vibrant neighbourhoods of choice through their increased expendable income and lifestyle choices.
Linking the city together is the transport infrastructure that Sir Howard has also been influential in delivering: he sat on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee that created the Metrolink and regional connectivity; coordinated the Northern Hub project that will connect the North through the Ordsall Chord, amongst others; and he thrusted Manchester onto the international destination list by inducing the current £1bn airport expansion following the establishment of Manchester Airport as plc in mid-1980s.
That being said, the success of Sir Howard’s legacy and Manchester’s sustained urban renaissance is predicated on the success of the future. The adoption of a positively planned Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is crucial, but this will only work with the integration and collaboration of the 10 local authorities and our new Mayor. Joanne Roney certainly has a tough act to follow, but her enthusiasm and track-record for transforming public services and delivering major regeneration projects puts her, and Manchester, in a fantastic position to build on Sir Howard’s success.