Manchester: build a home, not a house

Manchester City Council has this week launched the consultation on its draft Manchester Residential Quality Guidance. The Council’s aim is to help in driving “design excellence in all new housing built in the city.” The first few paragraphs in the document highlight the ambitious strategy Manchester is pursuing: to be in the “top flight of world class cities by 2025, playing its full part in limiting the impacts of climate change and a place where residents from all backgrounds feel safe, can aspire, succeed and live well.”

The guidance will surely be welcomed by developers as they seek to play their part in helping the city become of the “best in the world”, but it can also allow the benefits of a scheme, within the wider context of Manchester’s future strategy, to be highlighted to the right people.

The draft guidance itself has been pulled together in conjunction with a sounding board made up of different stakeholders from across the city, including architects, developers and city councillors. The plans are split into nine different components, ranging from the need to respect the character of Manchester, to practicality and future proofing against the impacts of climate change. Some may be sceptical over such prescriptive guidelines from a Council, but it is said in the document that “this guidance is not drafted as a substitution for design talent and does not intend to impose any architectural styles or particular tastes. Equally this guidance should not replace or stifle innovation.”

While the draft guidance is clearly meant to help with regards to planning, it also provides the opportunity to consolidate key messages during public consultation and stakeholder engagement. Any proposed new development in Manchester can use the guidelines in communication material to draw attention to specific aspects that would contribute to the wider vision for Manchester.

It could also be effective in publicising the Council’s vision for the city, which would be helpful for all parties involved, both in the long- and short-term. Ensuring councillors are aware the guidance has been considered when pulling together a proposal can help local representatives to see the rationale behind a scheme, and helps to build constructive relationships early on in the process.

The fact that city councillors have also been involved in drawing up the guidance further emphasises the advantage of communicating how it has been incorporated into any plans. Only this week, Allied London has unveiled modified plans for Trinity Islands, after public consultation found a desire for more of an ‘X factor’. As recently as April, we saw the consultation for the Great Northern framework put on hold after draft designs were criticised by residents and councillors, who clearly felt prospective developers’ aesthetic aspirations were at odds with their own.

These episodes make the case for a clear guide, codifying the public and civic consensus about what we want our buildings to look like. A common starting point can help to avoid the need for drastic changes halfway through a process. If you have a vision for how Manchester should look, make sure you respond to the consultation by 2 October. If you want to know how best to get your message across, we’re here to help.

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