How to marry ambitious proposals for Greater Manchester with the demands of social value and sustainability was at the heart of this wide-ranging debate hosted by BWB Consulting.
The “Making Greater Manchester Greater: Delivering Sustainable Town Centre Rejuvenation, Affordable Placemaking and an Integrated Transport Network” roundtable was an opportunity to discuss the challenges that face the region as it continues its mission to be a good place to live, work, invest and visit.
Aiming to both debate and evaluate “the Greater Manchester challenge” as a whole, the roundtable looked holistically at the needs and symbiotic interdependencies which need delivery in unison to make Greater Manchester greater.
The participants were:
- Colette McKune, ForHousing
- Jon Matthews, Jon Matthews Architects
- Joe McCaul, McCauls
- Andrea George, Bruntwood Works
- Max Bentham, Muse Developments
- Tom Fenton, FEC
- Simon Warburton, Transport for Greater Manchester
- Deborah McLaughlin, consultant
- Graham Sant, BWB Consulting
- George Isles, BWB Consulting
The discussion was chaired by Paul Unger, publisher of Place North West.
BWB is a multi-award-winning engineering and environmental consultancy delivering transformative placemaking, sustainable urban development and world-class transportation solutions. BWB is part of the CAF Group, a global leader in the delivery of transportation and mobility solutions.
Talking points from the roundtable:
Max Bentham: “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. If you go to different town centres each has its history, its own merits. We need to get under the skin of that to understand what the right solution is for different town centres.”
Andrea George: “The music to my ears is actually that everybody is talking about community first. In the past everybody was given what every other town centre had. We’ve spent some time unpicking a town centre understanding who the community is – that data capture is really important to understand the consumer behaviours and why somebody might want to go to that town centre.”
Jon Matthews: “I am seeing a lot of identikit thinking and the worry is that town centres are becoming middle-class playgrounds. The debate should be moving on not from ‘should it be retail-led’ but ‘how do we make it more inclusive’.”
Colette McKune: “The quantum of [housing retrofit] spend within Greater Manchester over the coming 20 years is absolutely huge, and if we don’t really think now about how we’re going to do that, how we’re going to collaborate [then it won’t work].”
Joe McCaul: “If there was a local authority involved and the local authority was able to add value by bringing other sites or maybe down to planning if there was a better route for developers that want to be engaged with affordable housing providers [that would help the development market]. We find sometimes that Section 106 is bogged down with strange rules that just stall things.”
George Isles: “Who owns the land, is it local authority or the developers? How do we release that land for development? How do we remediate it? How do we take the risk away from the developer, which is reducing the amount of affordable housing they can accommodate?”
Deborah McLaughlin: “Who is going to hold a stewardship role for some of our town centres once they are regenerating and check in to see how they are performing and ask ‘what can we do’ rather than wait for them to deteriorate which has happened in the past.”
Graham Sant: “We have talked previously through government about levelling up the North-South divide I often wonder whether or not we should be looking at our own internal divide across Greater Manchester. Some areas clearly need more investment than they get and yet they are not seen as a priority. There needs to be more done to equalise that balance to give investors the attraction.”
Tom Fenton: “A food market is not the silver bullet. Altrincham was on its knees when the market was reinvented. I think there’s a place for it without doubt, but equally landlords need to be flexible and more entrepreneurial in their approach to attracting these businesses, taking a long-term view and a partnership in activating the ground floor and what that does for the wider regeneration.”
Simon Warburton: “We’ve got a public transport system that is dependant on its fare book in order to cover costs and we’ve been hiding that for the time being because there had been temporary pandemic management funds in place.
“We now need quite an extensive period of transition between now the middle of the decade to make sure that we don’t pursue a carbon agenda that is actually socially exclusive.”
Jon Matthews: “Now the money is betting on sustainability and I think that’s the biggest sea change in everything. I think we have got to be careful on retrofit. You have to look at it collectively with a clear conscience and a clear mind and sometimes it doesn’t work, it’s not the answer for everything.”