Chris Findley 1
Chris Findley retired this week after serving during a period of dramatic growth for Salford c.Shaping Salford

PROFILE | Findley looks back on 26 years at Salford

Dan Whelan

When Chris Findley, who retired this week after almost three decades as council head of planning, arrived in post, Salford was “still recovering from the huge economic shocks of the ’70s and ’80s”. But developments such as Salford Quays and MediaCityUK ensure he leaves the city in a better state than he found it. 

Speaking to Place North West, Findley said: “When I started in 1994, the city’s economy needed a complete restructure. Salford is now one of the fastest growing places in the North West. It has been a complete turnaround.” 

Salford’s population dropped heavily following the industrial decline of the 1970s. However, its population has grown by around 40,000 people since the early 1990s and continues to do so.

With this comes the need for housing, and Salford has no shortage of pipeline schemes – including Salboy’s plans for 500 homes at the former Castle Irwell Student Village and ForLiving’s 400-apartment Dock 5 development.  

But it wasn’t always that way. Findley, who turns 66 later this year, explained that in the 1990s there were no private sector developers working in central Salford.  

The developer consortium English Cities Fund’s extensive redevelopment of Chapel Street and New Bailey further indicate how far the city has come in boosting its private sector appeal. 

Still, Findley criticised past governments for their “constant tinkering” with the planning system over the years of his tenure.

“Governments are constantly talking about the need to simplify the system but, in doing so, they have made it more complicated over time. The evidence base that has to sit behind plans is now absolutely huge.” 

MediaCityUK is one of the projects of which Findley is most proud

If the system had demanded such a vast amount of evidence in the past, developments like Salford Quays and MediaCityUK would never have happened, he said. 

Following the closure of Manchester Docks in 1988, Salford Quays was an area of derelict dockland and the plans for the site “were based on vision rather than evidence. In effect, anything could have happened to that area,” he said.  

The catalyst for change at the docks was a trip to Baltimore. The former leader of the council, Les Hough, visited the US city, which, during the 1970s and 1980s, had redeveloped its own docklands district. 

“He came back and announced that we were buying the docks. It was very much a council-led project,” Findley said. 

The widescale regeneration of Salford Quays and the creation of MediaCityUK have put Salford back on the map, but Findley’s understanding and passion for the local environment – he is on the board of the Mersey Rivers Trust – colour his memories of 26 years in post. 

Developer Countryside Properties’ New Broughton housing scheme, part of a £500m regeneration of the area since 2006, presented challenges due to its location, Findley said. 

“It was an area that was failing but getting anything to happen there was very difficult because it lies in the floodplain of the River Irwell. Planning with flooding in mind was an enormous challenge. 

“When the big floods happened on Boxing Day in 2015, one of my immediate concerns was about those houses, but none of them were affected.” 

The new RHS gardens at Bridgewater in Worsley, due to open next year, the Mosslands wildlife habitat, the second flood basin at Castle Irwell, and an ongoing project to improve the water quality at the Manchester Ship Canal, are among Findley’s contributions to the conservation of the area. 

Rhs Bridgewater Internal

RHS Bridgewater is due to open next year

“Climate change is a huge agenda” he said. “At the moment, we are all focused on the pandemic but the next series of crises around the corner probably all relate to climate change. That has got to be a focus both locally and nationally.” 

Findley also played a major role in the ongoing creation of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, a statutory document that, once complete, will guide development across the 10 Greater Manchester authorities over the next two decades. 

When asked when the significantly delayed framework would likely be adopted, Findley said: “The average time for any statutory plan to get sign-off is four to five years and here we are dealing with a plan for 2.5 million people across 10 authorities with an elected mayor, so it is bound to take longer. But I think Greater Manchester will get there.” 

Following Findley’s departure, the council has restructured its planning team. Martin Hodgson will lead on development management and building control, while James Shuttleworth will lead on planning policy – in particular Salford’s updated Local Plan, to be published later this year. 

Shuttleworth will also take over from Findley in guiding the Salford’s input to the GMSF.

Findley said he was proud of the planning team at Salford City Council, which always struck him as having a “can-do attitude” and being dedicated to getting things done on the ground. 

“People talk a lot about Manchester being like that, but Salford is no different. The worker bee also features on Salford’s coat of arms,” he said. 

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Sorry but Salford is a mess. Media City is all very well but Chapel Street is a disgrace and the loss of built heritage has been a complete disaster.

By Observer

Very sorry to see Chris retire. He will be missed in Salford and by the planning community generally.

By Depressed Latic

Yes. Salford is now a booming city. gone are the images of burnt out cars, scallywags on every corner, teenage girls with prams, unemployed people queuing outside the dole office. We now have a city to be proud of, we have a league 2 football club owned by football legends, we also have a 5star hotel, the Lowry, we have “media city” which is in Salford, we have lots of new tower blocks being built for the yuppies to live in around greengate and chapel Street and the quays, we have lots of new house’s being built everywhere and lots of new job opportunities, yep, the city of Salford is booming.

By Darren born bred Salford

No mention of Peel’s influence in the regeneration of Salford at all in this article. Locally, they are always criticised but they’ve helped transform Salford (and Trafford).

By Manccy

And please let’s also recognise and applaud the tremendous investment by Peel to develop MediaCity. A strong relationship built on trust with Salford council and Peel still owning and running it today, showing real commitment.

By Positive

Peel only make one way bets. With a pre-let tenant with a covenant as strong as the BBC, there was nothing particularly bold or innovative about Peel’s involvement at MediaCityUK.

On planning, both Peel and SCC must take their share of the blame for some of the dire planning decisions taken over the years which include:
1. The hostile pedestrian environment in large parts of Salford Quays, dominated by roads, surface car parking and tall metal fencing, the lack of local shops, services and street life. The ugly outlet mall and car park.
2. The tall metal fencing encircling apartment blocks at Lower Broughton and ideal and the failure to establish a high street along Great Clowes Street – this could’ve been Hulme Mk II but ended up looking and feeling a bit like a suburban housing estate in parts with the shops clustered in the wrong place.
3. The almost complete destruction of central Salford’s physical heritage
4. Chapel Wharf
5. The public money sunk into Salford Stadium and the Peel’s bait-and-switch “Port“ Salford project
6. The deal with English Cities Fund / Muse which continues to produce rubbish architecture and poor public realm
7. The dumping of a variety of architectural landfill along the city centre riverfront, the lack of public realm and the missed opportunity to reserve space for a wide, permanent riverside promenade / cycle way.

I could go on.

There are successes of course – it would be churlish to deny the progress that’s been made in pulling Salford up by its bootstraps but there have certainly been mistakes along the way too.

By Salford lad

Sad that developers such as Peel aren’t even mentioned. The Investment of in excess of £1bn isn’t recognised.

The RHS for Salford were secured by a Peel Director, they were off to Trentham Gardens

By TJ

Salford’s built environment has improved measurably in the last 5 years, let alone the last 25.

I’m not saying it’s been perfectly and cohesively remodelled…but it’s significantly better than it was.

I remember not too long ago when it was a post-industrial shell of its former self…in the early 1990s Salford Quays still looked similar to the Isle of Dogs in London in the 1980s.

Let’s not forget that the feel of Salford has changed by the sterling efforts of GMP and partner agencies in removing criminal gangs and associates.

By North by North-West

Chris has done sterling work at Salford over many years. He has been diplomatic, quietly getting things done and always looking at the bigger picture. It has been a pleasure to work with him and the team at Salford.

By Nick

Success !!!!!!!! Success ?? Ha Langworthy twenty years on and 120 million quid later looks like it did before the work started just less houses and more redundant open space presumably earmarked for development that never took place and one of the remaining Salford communities of around 10 ,000 souls scattered to the four winds with nowt to show for it. As for the docks time will tell that media city was needlessly and wrongly located on Salfords waterfront. becauset the studios could have been built anywhere within the city where there was access and space
.Such a sight was already up and running in Little Hulton I believe before the government grant machine kicked in to deliver the Quays which conversely is the only place within Salford you can bring shipping of up to 12 000 tonnes the heart of a conurbation and industrial centre and distribution hub ie Tafford Park
If the council had given more strategic thought to that we could have retained a modernised port and had a media centre as well. Oh but I forgot we have a modern port at Boysnope in the new multi modal hub that is PORT SALFORD, except ten years after inception and 17 million in grants to Peel Holding via Peel Ports not one ship has discharged its cargo. Plently of activity on the ship canal though from Ellesmere Port to Cargill Wharf at Eccles Just nothing at NICE NEW SHINY PORT SALFORD i WONDER WHY? and when you dare to enquire from Salford Council What is happening you are referred to Peel Ports who refer you to some sub office in Glasgow that refers you back to Manchester it is a joke. Could be a great mystery thriller for the lowry theatre up river the port with no cargo like a land based version of the Flying Dutchman Except the expensive white elephant is real enough there for all to see in situ and on the balance sheets.

By Anonymous