Report details Manchester’s big dig

Manchester City Council leader Cllr Sir Richard Leese this morning launched a report outlining growth plans for the city centre, much of which is already being delivered.

Manchester: A Growing Success Story, written by regeneration consultants at Ekosgen, details how the city centre is predicted to thrive over the next decade, generating 40,000 additional jobs, 50,000 more residents and playing a major part in a projected £5.5bn increase in Manchester's contribution to the national economy.

Manchester Grow plan

The council expects £1bn to invested in city centre transport and property development between now and 2017. The report's authors compared the current city centre development workload, collectively labelled Grow by the city's authorities, the biggest since that which followed the IRA bomb in 1996.Transport projects under the Grow umbrella include Metrolink's Second City Crossing, the rail renewal and expansion known as Northern Hub, Cross City Bus Corridor and the redevelopment of Victoria Station. Major property projects include Co-operative's NOMA, First Street, Spinningfields and the regeneration of St Peter's Square.

Speaking at this morning's launch of the report, Leese responded to criticism in the Manchester Evening News that the city centre roadworks caused traffic chaos. He said "it is not chaos…it is business as usual. We will keep the city running as normal over the next three years. We managed after the 1996 bomb, we can manage with digging up a few roads."

Leese added in a statement accompanying the report: "Manchester is Britain's fastest-growing city and a place which has a real sense of ambition and momentum. City centre growth means more investment, more jobs and more opportunities.

"But to enable and encourage this growth we need the right infrastructure – whether that's world-class transport links, attractive public spaces or the right office, hotel and commercial accommodation. If you take a look around the city centre now you'll see a huge amount of work already underway, with more to come over the next three years. I recognise that this will inevitably cause some inconvenience in the short term. Some journeys into and out of the city centre may take slightly longer and some parts might not look their best while pavements are dug up.

"However, the ongoing benefits of this co-ordinated work will far outweigh any short term frustrations and we would ask people to bear with us. Most cities would give their right arm for the sort of investment they represent. The works are a visible sign of a thriving Manchester which remains very much open for business while they are being carried out.

"People will understandably ask why all this work is going on at the same time. The answer is that we need to plan to ensure the city centre is ready for a growing business base and population rather than react when it is too late. The funding for the various private and public projects is there now and we need to act now to lay the foundations for future success."

Cllr Andrew Fender, chairman of the TfGM Committee, said: "This is a hugely exciting time for Manchester and the wider city region – we are laying ambitious foundations for a prosperous future.

"With ever more people coming to live, work, play and do business in our city it would be a folly to let our infrastructure fall behind and stifle that growth.

"The time to take action is now and that's why these projects are all so crucial. They are key to unlocking more room on our buses, train and trams – room that helps get thousands more people from A to B every day, spreading the benefits and opportunities of growth in sustainable ways.

"The vision tied intrinsically to the growth we're encouraging is for mass transit without mass emissions and congestion. These projects are cornerstones of that philosophy."

Debbie Francis, route finance director at Network Rail, said: "As part of investment totalling more than £1bn, the Northern Hub will help to meet the growing demands for rail travel and help to stimulate economic growth across the north of England.

"The redevelopment of Manchester Victoria is well underway, and will provide a fitting gateway to the city. Our proposals for the Ordsall Chord will link Piccadilly and Victoria stations for the first time, and we will shortly be consulting on plans to develop the railway at both Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations.

"This level of building and engineering through the centre of Manchester is a significant challenge and we are working with key partners across the city to deliver these vital upgrades while keeping disruption in the city to a minimum."

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I applaud the general strategy but I think that there should be more serious investment in green spaces. Having lost a chunk of Piccadilly Gardens, there is a real shortage of decent non-concreted public space. In my experience, Manchester is amongst the very worst cities in the country in that respect.

By Ian Jones

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