Speculation is expected when senior members of an organisation leave and this period with Manchester City Council is no different, writes chief executive Joanne Roney.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the personal lives of our staff, in the same way as any other organisation, and strategic director of growth and development Louise Wyman’s decision to leave the council is a personal one for which we respect and support her.
Arrangements are well underway to fill the role and the director of housing position has been filled in an interim capacity. We will be able to announce more details shortly.
However, Louise’s departure – and that of our director of housing Kevin Lowry recently – does not mean the focus of Manchester as a city of growth is derailed. I have championed development and investment in Manchester for the last four years, and in this time we have seen record levels of projects under development and in the pipeline.
Despite the real challenges of the last year, Deloitte’s 2021 Crane Survey showed that Manchester is a city of resilience and there are currently 72 schemes on site, only a few short of the previous year. And 4,914 new homes were completed last year – one of the highest on record for a single year.
This ambition will not change.
For many years, Manchester’s focus has been to attract the highest quality development with placemaking at its heart.
We can go back to early regeneration projects, such as the redevelopment of Hulme, to see that the design and build quality, creating opportunities around public space and infrastructure are prerequisite principles governing development in the city.
The programme of work in Hulme led to the production by Manchester City Council of a Design Guide and the appointment of design champions. The redevelopment of the city centre following the IRA bomb followed an international design competition. And since then, the city has adopted its own Residential Quality Guide in 2016 to set a clear benchmark for housing design in the city.
It is well known that Manchester, through a robust planning process, demands premium quality in development and this is demonstrated across the city centre. The regeneration of Ancoats, private rented sector scheme Kampus, and the ongoing transformation of St John’s are but a few examples of the city’s ambition and scale of development.
This does not stop at the city centre border. Strategic regeneration frameworks have been developed for key areas across the city, each with public space at their heart, and each with quality design and placemaking integral to their success.
In our quest for excellence, we do not limit ourselves by playing favourites. Our city is open for business. As a stand-out growth city, we are always keen to attract new partners who will innovate, bring a fresh perspective, and work collaboratively to develop a Manchester of which we are proud.
The last year has presented many new challenges but also new opportunities. The council’s response to Covid-19 has been informed by listening and reflecting. How will people use the city? How will people interact with the city following the pandemic? How does the city’s infrastructure support resident behaviour – particularly as part of our commitment to becoming a zero carbon city by 2038?
An element of our response is helping existing businesses to operate safely. We have closed several city centre roads and squares, including Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter, to support economic recovery. This is already having a positive impact as footfall is up by nearly 20% on the same week in 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to figures from the Manchester Business Improvement District.
And we are consulting on a range of walking and cycling schemes, such as the Northern and Eastern gateway proposals, which will support our residents in leading lower carbon lives by embedding sustainability as a key tenet of city centre development.
This is all part of our thinking about how to sustain the positive consequences of the pandemic and rethink our city spaces to be greener and more liveable.
Recent development announcements are excellent examples of this core vision. Victoria North (previously known as the Northern Gateway) and Mayfield both put high-quality public realm and green and blue infrastructure at its heart.
Important to both projects is connectivity through walking and cycling routes, linking new development to the rest of the city while supporting our residents to be less car reliant.
The fundamental thread through each of these examples – which have been in the pipeline for some years – is exemplary design and placemaking. Circle Square, New Islington, First Street and St Peter’s Square can celebrate their success because of the city’s determination to design and quality.
This will not stop. Manchester is committed to sustainable growth through considered development – and this will be ever more important as we action our plan for economic recovery following the pandemic. And we are particularly well-placed to recover as a city of enviable investor confidence and a place known for successful collaboration.
Manchester is growing and housing investment has scaled up to meet demand. The city is on track to meet its target of building 32,000 new homes between 2015 and 2025, and at least 20% (6,200) of these homes will be deemed affordable to Manchester people. Despite the pandemic, last year alone, more than 4,200 new homes were built in Manchester across a range on tenures to meet demand, half of which were for market sale.
This all part of our commitment to making Manchester an attractive, liveable place where people want to stay and put down roots.
In the meantime, we look forward to working constructively with the city’s development community to do what we always do following a crisis. We innovate and come back stronger than before.
Joanne Roney OBE is chief executive of Manchester City Council