Dr James Grigor OBE dies at 81

Tributes have been paid to the chairman of the Central Manchester Development Corporation from 1988 to 1996, one of the key catalysts for the city's renaissance.

Grigor became involved with Manchester's regeneration in the mid 1980s when he was running the Trafford Park operations of Ciba Geigy, a multinational chemical group, now part of Novartis.

He promoted improvement to the park and supported the creation of the Trafford Park Development Corporation in 1987 under the Conservative government.

In the same year he was asked by government to help set up the Central Manchester Development Corporation in a wave of more centralised city DCs that included Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield.

Despite initially opposing the development coporation, Graham Stringer, then Labour leader of Manchester City Council and now Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, took a pragmatic view and formed an effective joint venture with the new delivery vehicle.

Stringer said today: "Jimmy Grigor was an unsung hero of the regeneration and renaissance of Manchester which started in the mid to late 1980s. As chairman of the Central Manchester Development Corporation appointed by Nicolas Ridley, in the Thatcher government he refused to toe the Conservative government's line of hostility to Labour-controlled local government, in fact he did the opposite, barely allowing a millimetre of daylight between Manchester City Council's policies and those of the CMDC.

"He threw his weight behind the Olympic bid and supported investment in the Canal Street area in the city centre; a particularly brave decision given the Conservative government's hostility to the gay community.

"He steered the corporation's investment into Castlefield, forming the foundations of the enormous success seen there today.

"Prior to his involvement with the CMDC he helped found the highly imaginative science park. Jimmy was punished for, as the Conservative government saw it 'going native' in Manchester by having the development corporation wound up a year early. Although he received an OBE many thought he should have received a higher honour.

"I am sure Jimmy knew that his real honour lay in the satisfaction of doing his best for Manchester. Jimmy was an honest and honourable man of great integrity and should be recognised as somebody who helped make Manchester a better place."

John Glester, chief executive under Grigor at CMDC, said: "I first met Jimmy in 1986 when I was regional controller of the Department of Environment and he was involved with a group of manufacturers on Trafford Park.

"He was a strong protagonist and one of the more intellectual members of the manufacturing community but it was inappropriate for him to get involved in the Trafford Park development Corporation board as he was conflicted as a local occupier."

That conflict did not exist in the city centre, and he was an effective chairman of the CMDC, a planning authority covering 460 acres of the city fringe, for all its eight years. Most other DC chairmen were replaced after three or six years. CMDC attracted in excess of £500m of mainly private sector investment against a target of £200m.

The corporation's legacy includes the £43m Bridgewater Hall, built to replace the Free Trade Hall, which opened in 1996, in turn attracting a further £100m investment around GMEX, now Manchester Central. The CMDC also secured the relocation of the British Council to Manchester and paid for canals to be repaired years before urban waterways were widely recognised as a fundamental part of regeneration planning.

Glester added: "Jimmy had a first class analytical brain but brought that to bear in quite an assiduous way, holding a firm grip on the board and bringing some big egos around the table together. We made a good team and there was no tension between us as chairman and chief executive which made the board comfortable and positive when it came to securing decisions."

When the CMDC was wound up in 1996, Stringer hosted a dinner in its honour in Manchester Town Hall at which he said the organisation was "in danger of giving quangos a good name."

Grigor was later appointed chairman of the Royal Northern College of Music, chairman of Manchester Science Park and chairman of Manchester Museum of Science & Industry.

Grigor was born in Airdrie, Lanarkshire and graduated from Glasgow University in 1952, staying to gain a PhD in 1955. His career began with ICI, where he spent eight years working on rocket propellant research. He later worked with US naval intelligence developing Polaris missiles and, so that he could travel around the airforce bases freely and request a military flight at short notice, the rank of brigadier general was conferred on him at the age of 28.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease five years ago but, said his daughter Jen Grigor, this did not diminish his sharpness or humour. She said: "Dad always was and always will be a total star."

He is survived by his wife Revie and daughter Jen.

  • The Grigor family would be pleased to see old friends and colleagues at the funeral at 1.45pm on Wednesday 13 July at St Peter's Prestbury, SK10 4DG.

Your Comments

A lovely tribute to a great man. As Stringer says, he was underated by the Tories for going native, but his legacies will have pleased him more.

By Bridgewater fan

Anyone who still believes the regeneration of Manchester began with the IRA Bomb in 1996 should read this. CMDC ended in the same year and had already done much to get the wheels turning. Staggers me why this far more interesting era of Conservative-Labour compromise gets forgotten so often.

By Tony

From Wikipedia: During CMDC’s lifetime 1.5 m sq.ft. of non-housing development and 2,583 housing units were built. Around 4,944 new jobs were created and some £303m of private finance was leveraged in. Circa 86 acres (350,000 m2) of derelict land was reclaimed and 1.3 miles (2.1 km) of new road and footpaths put in place.
Not many will better that. Farewell one of modern Manchester’s great fathers.

By Alan S

Well well well. Had never heard of this guy, but you read this and realise what an enormous debt of gratitude the city owes to this man (I was previously an IRA bomb believer). Is he recognised anywhere in the city? If not, perhaps Place could start a campaign to get a street or park named after him….

By Brutus

One of Manchester’s great unsung heroes. I love the idea of getting something named after him. How about the plaza between the Midland and GMEX?

By Dean Gate

It does frustrate me that so many people seem to subscribe to a shallow populist narrative (like the IRA bomb or ‘Brand Manchester’) to explain very complex and long term processes such as economic development and urban renewal. Even the UDCs are only a small part of a large and complex picture. Indeed similar initiatives can yield very different results and not all UDCs were as successful as Manchester’s. Much depends on the knowledge and skills of the individuals involved and the culture within which they operate and in that respect Grigor was clearly very clever, charismatic, dedicated and selfless individual – what a fascinating article.

By A_Noun

What a fantastic man in so many ways. Hopefully Manchester realize what he did, and he gets recognition for all he done.

By Gill

Hear, hear, public recognition for this great man is woefully overdue – particularly given Grigor’s OBE was awarded for services to industry in 1987, a full year before the Development Corporation came into being. So the reward from the establishment for founding modern day Manchester…absolutely nothing. Time for people power???

By Wayne

I worked for Dr Grigor at CMDC and he was a wonderful chairman and a true gentleman who took a sincere and personal interest in his staff and gave us his full encouragement. His legacy remains in the Bridgewater Hall and the restored Castlefield and canal network, as well as many of the warehouses brought back to life. I would love to see a piece of Manchester named in his honour.

By Janet Kilpatrick

I attended the funeral of Dr Grigor to pay my respects to an ex-boss (Ciba-Geigy 1968-1983).It was a beautiful service, full of stories of his career and achievements, especially with his role in chairing the various regeneration committees.On which their achievements were mighty! as borne out by the other comments published. However, where were the city people at the Funeral? No council attendees, no Science Park delegates, No press, in fact no one from the many public organisations that Dr Grigor represented at a Senior level for many years.Nearly all the attendees at this funeral were ex-colleagues and families from Ciba-Geigy. The City of Manchester fathers should be ashamed today for not sparing time to say Thanks and Cheerio to Dr James Grigor OBE.

By Ian Scanlan

I totally agree with the comments about the lack of attendance by the city fathers – who were all told. Sadly, I too, was unable to attend as I was too ill to attend. But I remember Jimmy with fondness and his contribution to Manchester was quietly immense. Shame on them indeed.

By Jimmy's friend

Jimmy Grigor Plaza. Could PlaceNorthWest with its influential readers help start a campaign to get the area between GMEX, the Midland and the Bridgewater Hall named as the Jimmy Grigor Plaza? I’m sure that the family would support this and it would be an easy and proper reward for what Jimmy did for the city without any recognition from government. He and Graham Stringer were the leaders in public/private partnerships and this is the least our city fathers could/should do. Perhaps you could put an online petition on your site.

By Dean Gate

I was lucky to attend Dr Grigor’s funeral yesterday and what a joyous occasion it was. I agree there was a lack of "political" city fathers but other facets of Jimmy’s Manchester life was represented – a good contingent from the former CMDC, MOSI, RNCM and Manchester Science Park – and the moving service was taken by the Very Reverend Ken Riley, former Dean of Manchester Cathedral. I was also struck by the number of younger people also in attendance – friends of Jimmy’s daughter who were there not just to support her but to pay their tributes to him directly. As we heard in one of the tributes, given by a close friend of his daughter, the Grigors were a tight family unit – to know one was to know all three. Maybe the City Fathers have another way of marking their respect and gratitude for a job superbly and selflessly done????

By Peter

well said Dean, how good would that be. No one deserves this more than Jimmy. What a great man, come on Manchester lets sort this out.

By gill

We knew Jimmy through his daughter Jen. He has been an inspiration to everyone who met him. Even though he loved his work, he always remembered the most important thing in his life was his family.

By Jan and Tommy McKeown

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