COMMENT | Relax rules to reopen city

As the national conversation moves towards ways to kickstart the economy, writes Jeremy Hinds, director at Savills, it might be useful to explore options Manchester could consider to boost its local economy, and lead a safe way back to enjoying the city.

Restaurants and cafes

The new commentary suggests that outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones. In towns across Europe restaurants are looking to open their outdoor terraces as part of the drive to start trading. For obvious reasons, Manchester does not have a large base of restaurants with outdoor seating areas, but the city has considerable experience in providing such facilities in its streets and open public spaces when large tracts of the centre are given over to the Christmas Markets.

There might be an opportunity for the council to allow existing restaurants use of its squares and certain streets, encouraging owners to open pop-up seating areas, appropriately spaced apart, and covered from the elements. This would encourage economic and social activity in the city, and create a way back to re-opening indoor restaurants at an appropriate time. Much of the Northern Quarter could readily accommodate outdoor eating, as could parts of the core city area around both King Street and Albert Square.

Streets and cars

Whilst considering closing streets that could be taken over by restaurants, the city could nominate a more permanent closure of certain streets to enable long term use by cyclists and pedestrians. Experiments have already been trialled – closing Tib Street for example – but the notion could be extended further. This would allow more space for pedestrian users of the city, enabling social distancing to be more readily achieved. The idea could be coupled with timed opening and closing of streets so that businesses that require deliveries could operate around known opening hours, so that routes that are seen today as key could be easily shut for large parts of the normal working day.

The idea could be aligned with the government’s desire to retain the national interest in cycling and walking by encouraging investment in so-called pop-up cycle lanes announced in recent weeks. The approach would also accord with Mayor Burnham’s transport strategy that places a large focus on cycling across large parts of the Greater Manchester area.

Albert Square Detail Jeremy Hinds

Illustration by Madeleine Poxon


Car parks and cycle parks

Manchester’s experience of cycle renting is not the best – but that is no reason to not revisit the idea. If the city closes some of its streets, it could also close some car parks and convert them to permanent cycle parking areas, with racks and lockable areas for private owners. Perhaps teaming up with companies such as Brompton Bike Hire and providing widespread drop-off and collection points in ground floors of multi-storey car parks will enable operators to ensure that bikes can be cleaned, maintained and repaired in safe and dry surroundings. This might enhance the overall experience of cycling and bicycle hire, leading to the increased welfare of all.

Relaxing the rules

Ideas as above will need new rules and regulations – but temporary provisions can be put in place to enable these things to happen. Some of the ideas are short term measures to prompt economic growth and help people enjoy the city. There will be fewer holidays abroad, and so owners of shops, cafes and restaurants might welcome the ability to meet the needs of a population on a forced staycation. We never know, being able to eat out in pop-up cafés and restaurants and cycling around the city free of cars might in fact feel like being abroad in a European city.

Jeremy Hinds is director, national planning board at Savills.

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