The Greater Manchester and Liverpool mayors said town centre regeneration plans could take a different course in the wake of the pandemic, and pressed the Government to deliver adequate funding to help the region emerge from lockdown.
Responding during a virtual press conference to a question from Place North West about the future of development in Manchester and Liverpool, Burnham said the disruptive impact of the pandemic on high streets should be viewed positively, as an opportunity to reshape how town centres are developed.
He said: “We might need to accelerate some of our ambitions around town centres being residential centres, rather than retail centres. The high street is going to take a knock but let’s not see it as a negative.
“I can see a new future for our proud outlying towns that is one of modern, possibly modular, affordable housing more closely connected to public transport, and with excellent digital infrastructure. We have been talking a lot about these things and our message today is, let’s do it.”
He added that regional towns could “hit hard times” in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak “if they are allowed to drift” without sufficient funding or focus.
Burnham highlighted the Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation, set up last year to spearhead the regeneration of Stockport town centre, as an example of an effective vehicle to accelerate change.
Meanwhile, Steve Rotheram, metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region, said that design proposals for local regeneration schemes – possibly including beneficiaries of the city region’s £6m package last year to support town centre projects across Liverpool – would have to be revisited after the pandemic.
Rotheram added that he expects more local authorities across the region to appoint a design champion to assist in driving future developments. Former Sterling prize winner Paul Monaghan was appointed as the Liverpool city region’s design champion in 2018.
Rotheram also took aim at central Government during the press conference, labelling its attempts to provide support to local authorities during the pandemic as a “disgrace” and suggesting that under-funding of certain areas could be politically motivated.
He said the the city region is “down £137m” due to an “unsophisticated” national approach to funding, and councils have been put in an “invidious” position.
Said Rotheram: “Councils got the first tranche of funding based on need, which was the right thing to do. But the second tranche was determined per capita, with no scientific thought. That is not ‘levelling up’, it is dragging down.
“It is not only damaging our ability to recover; it is damaging our economy. For councils to have the rug pulled from under their feet is a disgrace. I would hate to think there is a party-political motive to the methodology used to distribute the last tranche of funding.”
Burnham revealed that Whitehall had provided funding for 75% of the cost of the ailing Metrolink network, which is losing out on ticket revenue during lockdown, but said the amount is not enough.