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Manchester to ‘reset’ economic plan as city emerges from lockdown

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Manchester City Council is expecting a three-to-five year coronavirus recovery period, with maintaining momentum in the development sector cited as an “essential element” of sustainable growth as the council seeks to bounce back from a £150m loss.

In a report to the council’s executive, which met virtually this week, a report from outgoing development director Eddie Smith outlined the work underway to manage the phased reopening of the city, while planning ahead for the longer term challenges.

Prime minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons yesterday to expect the start of a phased “unlockdown” from Monday. The first stage is not expected to result in dramatic changes, and the widespread encouragement of homeworking and social distancing is expected to be maintained.

The cost of Covid-19

While the council said it is continuing to prioritise keeping its residents healthy, the report highlighted the “very significant impacts that the pandemic has had on the financial position of the council”, and the importance of getting the economy moving again where possible.

The council estimated the current cost of the pandemic as £150m, £126m of which was loss of income. The council has accessed £33m in Government funding. Footfall is down by 90% in the city centre compared to the same time last year, and down by 53% in district centres.

The cost is expected to increase the longer lockdown measures are in place.

Manchester’s plan to return the economy to full strength in the coming years will be guided by a review of its One Manchester Strategy 2015-2025 which “needs to be reset and repositioned to respond to the post Covid-19 challenges the city faces”.

The strategy is divided into five themes around building; a thriving and sustainable city; a highly skilled city; a progressive and equitable city; a liveable and low carbon city; and a connected city. The revised strategy is to be approved in 2021.

Tn Gb Manchester Metrolink Mediacity Tram 04

The Metrolnk has received a support package from Govt amounting to 75% of running costs

Carbon challenge

The report acknowledged one of the key challenges, but also opportunities, when coming out of lockdown is maintaining the drop in carbon emissions seen during lockdown. “The challenge for the recovery phase is how to urgently restart the city’s economy whilst striving to capitalise some of the positive environment benefits enjoyed during the lockdown period.”

The report highlights climate change as a “defining challenge” for the next era, which will see a low carbon approach to economic growth going forward.

A priority for lockdown recovery is “creating the conditions for high quality investment and development” to ensure the property sector does not stall.

The city’s transport strategy will continue a shift towards walking and cycling, encouraging public transport where appropriate, as well as investment in digital infrastructure.

The council wants to “learn from the lessons of the pandemic”, and in the report outlines three phases of recovery, however the council was “unable to give timings given the uncertainty of the situation” and lack of clarity from Government.

Prioritising development 

Alongside continuing work in the areas of health, social care, skills, sustaining “confidence” in the commercial and residential development markets is a priority, “by continuing to encourage pre-planning discussions, progressing planning applications to decision, and concluding the necessary legal arrangements for projects that will drive our growth objectives and have a demonstrable capacity to deliver quickly.”

By continuing to enforce a quality of design and build, as well as placemaking benefits, the council acknowledged “these commitments will have an impact on development appraisals, for example, in terms of planning gain, where it will be far more likely that any gain would have to be contracted around development out-turn rather than captured up front, for example through Section 106 contributions.”

Continuing to encourage investment and development “is an essential element of effective and sustainable recovery, and will also help bolster our tax base going forwards”, the report said.

In the second phase, alongside working with the banks to fund businesses impacted by longer term lockdown measures and looking at labour market interventions, the council said commercial developments need to continue to be brought forward, while in the housing sector a partnership with Homes England would help assist with challenges of delivery.

Tackling transport 

On transport, if social distancing measures continue into the weeks and months, the council said this makes “mass use of public transport impossible”, making it even more important that more journeys can be done by foot or bike. This may include the introduction of bike hire or loan schemes. The city has previously unsuccessfully experimented with a bike hire scheme, with the introduction of Mobikes in 2018.

While the council described a “mass transit conundrum”, balancing the need to keep people healthy with the need to move people to work or into the city to use shops, the council said a solution would need to be found and “increased levels of investment in our transport systems” required.

There is due to be a third phase of coronavirus response, however due to the uncertainties around timings, and the need to measure the impact of the previous phases into 2021, “it is impossible to look further ahead at this juncture”.

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Perhaps time for some decent bike lanes in town then..?


While I applaud the council’s plans to improve walking and cycling, there are two sides to this which need to be kept in mind.
1) Manchester is a wet, spread-out, low density city. This is not an idea city for walking and cycling. We can’t rely on walking and cycling to get people to work unless they work very close to where they live and there needs to be alternatives during the long winter months and the vast number of wet days even in summer. (yes, the weather is lovely now, but seriously, this isn’t the norm)
2) That said, we need huge investment to improve cycleways and they need to be as much as possible segregated from traffic if they are to work. I’ve lived and cycled in many continental European cities where bikes have extensive segregated cycleways and it is a wonderful way to travel, but they generally have a lower rainful than Manchester, high densities (so shorter distances) and well funded infrastructure – in other words, they actually maintain the roads there. Potholes can damage cars, but they can kill cyclists.

Those current cycleways which we currently have that legally allow cars to park on them are absolutely useless. Sure, cars are only supposed to park for short term “emergency” situations, but it’s not policed and it is treated as full time parking.

The real thing that will get people off the roads is not cycling but proper public transport. You know, the sort of thing the rest of the developed (and half developing) world has. Things like metro systems & effective, high frequency suburban rail. These things are expensive, but affordable (and yes, if little cities in tiny countries like Auckland can afford to send their suburban trains underground in the city centre, so can we – the 2nd city in the 5th richest country on the planet). We need to start investing in that now.

* We need to extend our existing Metrolink services and use at least double trams everywhere (being a sardine is not the healthiest way to travel, even when coronovirus is over). Even though trams are nowhere near what we need for a city the size of Manchester, they are all we have now so we should still make the best effective use of them where we can – besides, it will take decades for the next two to be finished.
* We need to start. building underground metro (tube/subway) lines in high density places. Say, under Oxford Rd or from Media City to the city centre. A lot of people would laugh at this prospect, but compare Manchester with most other cities its size around the world and you will see it’s the normal thing to do.
* We need to turn much of our existing heavy rail network into proper, high frequency suburban trains, much like German’s S-bahn, Paris’ RER etc so that we can feed people from further afied into the city centre without having to drive. These need frequencies of 4 an hour or better and they need to be modern, electric and reliable – although to do this we really need HS2 & NPR complete so we can get the express trains off our local lines!

* We need to integrate these all into a single ticketing system with proper interchange stations, well, like most of the rest of the world. What we shouldn’t do is built a Metrolink station 10-15 minutes from a suburban train station but give them the same name like East Didsbury, Eccles or Ashton.

Buses should be regulated at the very least like London and all under the same integrated banner, but perhaps even go as far as many other countries where they are run by councils. Buses shouldn’t be substitutes for trains and metrolink. They should feed them.

Our current public transport is the result of cost cutting and huge compromises. If it was done right, it would reduce the traffic on the streets as more people will see rail as a real alternative. This works for everyone, PT users and car drivers alike as public transport users will have a city-wide integrated system they can use on their single ticket and car drivers who want to stick to cars will have less congestion on the roads.

But we can’t do this if the city and country stops spending on infrastructure because of the coronovirus costs. Spending on infrastructure is one way to kick start the economy and it’s not a new idea.


If MCC want to increase cycling substantially, not only do they need to increase the infrastructure but equally as important, they need to increase security… try cycling down the Fallowfield loop everyday without being mugged !!


I thought I put some thought into my comments but then I read some of EOD’s recent musings…I applaud the detail . Keep it coming!

By Not Sarah

Manchester is too dangerous for cycling, lots of muggers, shocking level of bike thefts (police don’t investigate bike theft, it’s a free for all) and awful awful weather. It’s a car city and always will be.

By Dan

EOD – you need to turn that into a conference paper and get it presented. It would fit quite a broad range of UK conferences out there: built environment / environmental / sustainability / planning and development. Would make a great industry / academic paper.

One that springs to mind is the annual SEEDS conference by Leeds Beckett University (Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design for Society). You’ve missed the call-for-paper for 2020 but aim for 2021.

By North by North-West

The pedestrianisation of Manchester City Centre could be a game changer given the lack of green space compared to other cities.

Combined with widespread tree planting and cycle infrastructure, Manchester has the chance to transform into the city it aspires to be.

Come on Manchester!

By Anonymous

Greater Manchester needs an underground system linking the conurbation, similar size cities across Europe like Milan have great subterranean public transport systems why not us?

By Lenny68