COMMENT | Free Manchester’s doughnut

Mark Slocombe Callison RTKLBring up a map of Manchester’s city centre, and then gradually zoom out. Just as the urban density and gleaming high-rises of the centre give way to lower density housing and industrial uses, stop zooming, writes Mark Slocombe of CallisonRTKL. See that bit of the city that encircles the centre, lying inauspiciously between the leafy suburbs and the urban core? That’s Manchester’s ‘doughnut’, and despite its potentially delectable qualities, it is being woefully ignored by hungry developers.

It’s a tale as old as time. The urban core of a second-tier city is given new life via a combination of favourable economic and political conditions, and energetic local investment. New businesses move in, which in turn drives large-scale commercial development, and contributes to a dramatic increase in the quality of city living. Young people flock to new residential buildings in the city centre, while the remaining city workers commute in via train or car before returning to their pastures greener in the evenings. It’s the path of the modern city. Unfortunately, it’s also the path to long-term inner-city blight and a barrier to future growth.

Like many cities before it, Manchester is currently falling victim to these urban planning pitfalls. Favouring the city centre and established first-ring suburbs, developers and planners are largely ignoring swathes of inner Manchester where there is space, amenity and potential to create vibrant, sustainable and enjoyable family communities for the 21st century. Failing to see the possibilities of this urban belt around the centre core means effectively creating a circular gutter between thriving areas. Rather than provide the amenities and features that promote self-sustaining communities, it serves only to absorb the spill-over of residents and places excluded from the benefits of investment.

How do we prevent this from happening and instead create a city that works for urban and suburban dwellers alike? We can start by overcoming the stigma attached to ‘affordable’ housing. Just in time for a possible forthcoming congestion charge, we can encourage the next generation, not just our dependents, to live within walking distance of the city centre. We can think like our Dutch neighbours and create city-based family homes with access to great schools, healthy spaces for children and a truly sustainable city existence, instead of lazily resorting to the daily motorcar grind. We can embrace the future prospect of migration back into the city by providing now the places where people truly want to live.

It shouldn’t be hard: the doughnut boasts enticing development benefits just waiting to be realised. More affordable than the city centre, the area has the potential to offer new co-working spaces to encourage entrepreneurs right out of school, and promote co-operative investments and community ownership schemes. More spacious than the city centre, it could offer investment hubs for ‘dragons’ to buy talent, short-term commercial spaces to promote pop up retail, or even urban farms. More accessible than the suburbs, it could provide new allotments for self-growers, safe communities for older generations, and self-building, flexible tenures and variable dwelling types that promote city living not just for millennials or privileged high-rise dwellers, but also for working families and pensioners.

The future of Manchester doesn’t have to be plagued by urban voids that feature so heavily in cities across the UK and beyond. Instead, we have the opportunity to turned unloved spaces into new hives of activity, and we can start now. Modest investments in improved cycle infrastructure and pedestrian links that are safe, inviting and outward looking along with flexible, free light rapid transit systems will reconnect these spaces and allow organic development to follow. In other words, let’s get started: free the doughnut.

  • Mark Slocombe is studio director of CallisonRTKL

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In principle this is an excellent idea but Manchester generally is not blessed with beautiful inner city areas which will be a draw for middle class professionals.There are no Islingtons with Georgian terraces ripe for redevelopment as we saw when this happened in London decades ago.I have posted on here before about The Cliff in Salford full of stunning Victorian houses and only a cockstride from Deansgate yet in my whole lifetime it has been run down.In London it would be full of delis and micro pubs.

By Elephant

Good article, the doughnut is starting to be chewed away however with the Manchester Life stuff presumably heading outwards towards the City Stadium and Oxford Road is a bustling link to Withington and Didsbury. As these areas become developed the bits in between will presumably catch up and become developed… ? The area around Brunswick is a prime example of an area that was in ruins but 5 years ago but is a part of the doughnut that is being chewed away from the Upper Brook St end in. Now there are new family homes with price tags of 300k, 400k in this area.

By MancMan

I think this article is very wide of the mark, no matter how well intentioned. It reads like an article from one of my planning text books from 20 years ago, which were probably out of date even then. The writer clearly hasn’t been to Hulme where great things have been happening for 25 years, infilling before one gets to the ‘leafy suburbs’ of Didsbury. East Manchester, where there is now a whole swathe of housing and start up businesses in an area that had been in decline for years. And Salford where there is lots happening on Ordsall Lane, both residential, commercial, gyms and cafes, infilling land that was previously under-utilised before we arrive at the bigger developments of Media City. I think the author needs walk about more rather simply travelling to work the same route each day. There is loads happening in the very areas that he is suggesting nothing is happening. Manchester has been addressing this for decades, but these things do take time and they often take a generation.

By Steve Nichol

In Salford you’ve got New Broughton, developments on and just off Chapel Street (Timekeepers Square, Vimto Gardens, Carpino Place), the Salford University masterplan, proposals for Castle Irwell, towers rising up behind The Crescent, Middlewood Locks is half built and there’s development spilling along Liverpool Street.

All of those sites are beyond the traditional definition of the extent of the city centre.

So… in what sense is the “doughnut” being ignored by developers?

By pixiepie

Totally agree with Steve Nichol’s comments. The article is a solution looking for a problem. There is lots happening. Could it be faster ? Probably. Could it be better? Almost certainly. But there are things happening and to make out that these areas are about to become a forgotten hinterland is plain silly.

By A Developer

Everyone makes a good point here. I would just add that there are huge areas within the boundary of the City Centre that also still need a lot of attention. The City Centre is not as swish and successful as the article suggests.

Only when the majority of these areas are regenerated can the “doughnut” fully benefit from the ripple out effects of city centre regeneration. In the meantime, there is only so much money available for development, and this is likely to go to the safer investments, as you would expect.


At Cheetham Hill, which has the potential to be a Parisian boulevard, one is knee deep in litter. None of the light industrial renters seems to have an ounce of civic responsibility or imagination. Seedy is as seedy does. We don’t all live in Didsbury.

By Tony Heyes

Agree about the Cliff, in Higher Broughton, Salford, ( I live very close by in Higher Broughton ), but it is held back a little due to the Orthodox families not being the richest, and hence unable to maintain a lot of the often very large properties since they are large, old merchants’ houses….Agree too the top of Great Clowes Street would be a lovely village centre ,London style!

By Schwyz

Most landowners in these areas will sit and wait until high rise apartment development becomes viable. The idea that they would sell for ‘affordable’ low density family housing land values seems rather optimistic, especially as local authorities own a lot of the land in these areas.

By UnaPlanner

A crude framework, but raises an important point. It’s not a given that for these areas outside the inner core that a rising tide raises all the boats. To make sure that happens you need a strategy that increases the likelihood they can participate in regeneration, and when they do participate the benefits are more inclusive.

By Rich

Manchester will never develop desirable inner city districts if the planners continue to shrug their shoulders at sub standard design from private house builders: tiny tinpot houses fronting main roads, a fortification of fencing and gates fronting or ground floor flats fronting potential high streets, lack of passive provision for future cycle ways, street trees etc and general lack of green infrastructure.

Time and again we hear pronouncements from MCC about x no housing units delivered or £ investment levered in with no reference to liveability or design quality.

Put simply, bad design guarantees development will be unsustainable in the long term, locking the inner city into cycles of high turnover, blight and blighted lives. Sad to say but Liverpool is streets ahead.

By Laissez faire

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