Salford City Council’s chief executive has set his sights on inclusive growth and a fresh development strategy to address Salford’s “tale of two cities” reputation, having joined the authority earlier this year, writes Dan Whelan.
“In Salford, you have challenge and opportunity in equal measure,” Tom Stannard told Place North West in one of this first media interviews in post.
Before Stannard was appointed to replace outgoing chief executive Jim Taylor earlier this year, the local authority had overseen some of the most dramatic regeneration schemes in Greater Manchester in recent years.
In the latter part of the 20th century, Salford Quays emerged from the dust of the city’s former docklands and MediaCityUK, where the BBC and ITV have regional hubs, followed after the millennium.
More recently, the revival of Chapel Street and the creation of the New Bailey office development, both delivered in partnership with developer consortium English Cities Fund, have further boosted Salford’s reputation as a regeneration powerhouse.
But Salford is a large borough with a population of more than 250,000 people, and many residents outside of the city centre are not feeling the benefits of its development projects.
“There is a good opportunity to build but we need to think about tying [regeneration projects] into a more coherent plan,” Stannard said. “We have towns and neighbourhoods crying out for some of that activity and have got to take [their needs] a bit more seriously.”
Stannard, who joined the city council after two-and-a-half years as Wakefield Council’s regeneration director, said Salford has “big health and poverty divides” but that he is determined to make growth accessible to the whole population.
“It is about connecting the residents of Salford with the opportunities that are still ahead of us,” he said.
Spreading the wealth
Part of his plan is to help level up outlying towns like Little Hulton, where Stannard spent some time after starting in post. The aim is to provide genuinely affordable housing in such areas – something he says the council is “dead serious” about.
In 2019, the city council set up its own social housing division, Dérive, and Stannard envisages that company “taking a bold step into the market” as a registered provider in the coming years.
“The affordability crisis is very real in Salford, which is still one of the most economically challenged cities in the city region. We want to make sure we are making a demonstrable impact in leveraging change in the housing market.”
However, Little Hulton is by no means the only place on which Stannard wants to focus his levelling up efforts: Broughton, Swinton and other neighbourhoods have the potential for meaningful development, he added.
“There is no shortage of opportunities to go at and we need to make sure they form part of our regeneration agenda, as well as the city centre stuff.”
The ‘phenomenal’ Crescent
However, one city centre project in particular is likely to take up a significant amount of Stannard’s time over the coming years, as the council and its development partner ECF look to advance the £2.5bn Salford Cresent masterplan.
“The innovation side of it is phenomenal,” he said. “It could be one of Greater Manchester’s signature schemes in the medium term.”
The Crescent masterplan aims to link up Salford University with MediaCityUK and Salford Royal Hospital to create an ‘innovation triangle’ boosted by the planned extension of the Metrolink.
The development site encompasses 240 acres and is anticipated to deliver 3,000 homes and 2m sq ft of academic and commercial space for the university and for health, automation and robotics businesses.
With a potentially game-changing development like the Crescent in the pipeline, Stannard has been keen to get out and about to meet project partners and familiarise himself with the area and the opportunities it could deliver, but Covid-19 restrictions in the early days of his tenure left him frustrated.
“The big challenge has been trying to do 95% of work virtually,” he said. “I like being out and about. So much about regeneration depends on getting to know the place, getting out and seeing schemes and areas of opportunities as well as meeting developers.”
As well as limiting movement, Covid has brought many local authorities to their knees as they attempt to deal with dwindling budgets and local health crises, but Salford seems to be faring better than most, Stannard notes. “We have a good base to build on,” he says.
‘Open for business’
As well as the council having a fairly healthy bank balance, according to Stannard, Salford is an “investment-ready city” and the chief executive knows the council and its private sector partners – as ambitious as they are – can only get you so far financially.
For that reason, the city council is readying a bid of up to £20m from the Government’s £4bn Levelling Up Fund for a key piece of infrastructure within the Crescent masterplan, as revealed by Place North West earlier this month.
The proposed creation of Salford Rise, a podium over Frederick Road, is aimed at improving connectivity between the University of Salford’s two city centre campuses.
“We will be out there as contenders for that funding and we will be as noisy and competitive as we can be,” Stannard said.
That being said, his own decision to join Salford City Council was based on more than the budding prospect of Government handouts – it was strategically planned. “I said to Salford’s city mayor during the appointment process that I have applied for this job deliberately at the age of 44. I am here for the long-run and am committed to [Salford’s] success in the long-run,” he explained.
Stannard said he has been an admirer of the council and its regeneration track record for “donkeys’ years” but appreciates that the borough’s ongoing transformation has to take all of the residents with it if his reign is to be considered a success in future.
“There is opportunity galore for positive legacy but it has got to be a legacy that is more than just the next set of shiny glass skyscrapers. It has got to be about the legacy for the people who live here.”
Prior to joining Wakefield Council, Stannard spent three years as director of economy and skills at Oldham Council between 2015 and 2018. He said he is keenly aware of the opportunity ahead of him and feels privileged to have been given the chance to embark on a long-term project to take a ‘people-first’ approach to regeneration and addressing issues including the lack of quality affordable homes, widespread economic divide and “a polarised skills profile”.
“I don’t just want to mark my tenure with big shiny schemes,” he said. “I would like to be seen as a familiar face who is around for the long-run and really cares about the future of the city. I want to take regeneration to the next step.”