Cllr Bev Craig took over the post of Manchester City Council Leader from Sir Richard Leese. Credit: Manchester City Council

The Subplot

The Subplot | Bev Craig’s first year, dirty sites, and moving targets


  • Dan Whelan looks at the report card for Manchester City Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig as she nears the end of her first year in post 
  • Elevator pitch: Your weekly rundown of what is going up and what is heading the other way


Out with the old

When Manchester City Council’s pro-development leader Sir Richard Leese retired last year after 25 years at the helm, there were concerns within the property community that his successor would try to change a winning formula.

However, 12 months into her reign as leader, Cllr Bev Craig has done much to assuage those fears. She has guided the city through political and economic uncertainty at a national level, while keeping the wheels of Manchester’s regeneration machine turning.

Rave reviews

Any concerns that the left-leaning leader would make things difficult for the property industry have been quashed, according to Subplot sources.

In a successful debut year, Manchester’s development machine has continued to purr despite political upheaval and economic unrest.

The city council has approved on average 25 major applications per quarter since Craig’s inauguration. This figure is on a par with the previous six quarters, according to government data, and indicates a smooth transition.

“If there was any uncertainty I had around [her ability] to pick up where Sir Richard Leese left off it was not well founded,” says architect Stephen Hodder.

Simon Bedford, partner at Deloitte, praises Craig for being “visible and forthright” during her first year at the helm.

Chris Cheap, Avison Young’s Northern managing director is even more effusive. “Bev has slowly and thoughtfully brought her own perspective to the role of leader with a level of humility and empathy that leads to strong engagement regardless of political persuasion or agenda,” he says.

Evolution not revolution

In her first year in charge, Craig has aimed to strike a balance between maintaining continuity and imposing her own ideas.

“I’m a fan of incremental change. It’s a case of evolution not revolution,” she tells Subplot.

While avoiding saying directly that she is pro-development, Craig has been clear from the outset that she is pro-Manchester.

The leader is keen to see the right things built in the right places as long as they benefit residents and the development community is on board with that.

“We’re asking developers to come into the city and to work towards our long-term vision,” she says. “We’re not in short supply.”

Some may argue that the transition to leader was always going to be smooth.

Labour has a vice-like grip on Manchester, which in turn limits the potential for unrest, while the outgoing leader left things in pretty good shape as far as development goes.

All Craig had to do was avoid becoming the David Moyes to Leese’s Sir Alex Ferguson.

Keeping promises

Speaking to Place North West a year ago, Craig said she was determined to scale up the delivery of affordable housing.

A refreshed housing strategy published earlier this year outlined an ambitious target of building 10,000 new affordable homes in the next decade.

Speaking to Subplot, Craig’s ambition to deliver affordable housing is unwavering. “If there was a change of government, or a significant change in policy, I’d happily up that [target] tomorrow,” she says.

Some 534 affordable homes will complete by the end of the year. There are another 1,285 under construction. Add to that the 3,400 that have planning permission or are at the pre-app stage, and the 10,000 target looks pretty achievable.

The formation of This City, Manchester’s newly formed housing delivery vehicle is perhaps the most tangible indication of Craig’s willingness to tackle the housing crisis.

This City will deliver much-needed homes for people on lower incomes in the city centre and take some of the heat off a local authority that has been accused of letting private sector developers hide behind viability reports to get out of delivering affordable housing.

For more reflections on her first year in the job, read Place North West’s interview with the leader.

Room for improvement

Calls for more and better public space are nothing new in the city centre – the mess that is Piccadilly Gardens regularly attracts the ire of residents – and it is incumbent on Craig to address them.

“The space between buildings needs to be a priority,” says Lucy Gara, principal at environmental planning consultancy LUC.

“The public realm in the city centre needs a lot of love. Mayfield bucks that trend and it is fantastic but we need to build on that and do it more strategically.”

This is not lost on the leader.

“More than 60,000 people live in the city centre. It’s not unreasonable that they should want it somewhere nice to go and sit and have a butty and read a book,” she says.

Manchester’s climate targets are also under the spotlight. The city council is meeting its own sustainability goals but the city at large is way behind where it needs to be.

Two years ago, it was calculated that the city would have to reduce its emissions by 13% every year to 2038 if it was going to hit its target.

This figure has now been revised to 16% annually to account for the lack of progress in the past 24 months.

Buildings account for 64% of Manchester’s direct emissions. A more iron-fisted approach to carbon reduction could be bad news for landlords.

What next?

Craig is hoping to maintain the positive momentum into 2023 so that there are no hiccups when she is up for re-election to her Burnage seat in 2024.

There is plenty on the horizon to look out for from a redevelopment perspective, not least in Wythenshawe, an area firmly in the city council’s regeneration crosshairs.

The much-maligned Strangeways area of the city is also in line for a much-needed overhaul.

Craig reveals to Subplot that the city council has recently made a fresh appeal “with vigour” to the Ministry of Justice to relocate the prison. If this happens, it could be game-changing for the area.

News on one of Manchester’s largest eyesore sites is also imminent. The city council acquired the former Central Retail Park site for £37m in 2017 and little has happened since then.

Craig keeps her cards close to her chest on details of the impending announcement but says to expect something “exciting” to break the inertia very soon.

Building a legacy

Change is sometimes tough to take. In her first year in charge, Craig has convinced many in property that she has what it takes, not only to keep Manchester on an even keel – but to take the city to the next level.

For the leader, 2022 was all about laying the foundations. Attention now turns to the future.

“I’m looking forward to 2023,” she says. “For me, it will be the year that we are able to get delivery done with the right strategies and tools in place.”


Going up, or going down? This week’s movers

Liverpool is counting the cost of a big pile of rubbish while more than a few MPs bury their heads in the sand over the housing crisis.

Brownfield ambitions

The Green Belt has been politicised to such an extent that some local authorities have binned off the idea of trying to release even small amounts for development. See the approach both Wirral and Stockport councils are taking in their emerging local plans.

This means that brownfield land is doing more heavy lifting than it otherwise might. Building on previously developed, regularly contaminated, and sometimes downright dirty sites requires cash to make the schemes viable.

The government last week awarded £35m of brownfield funding to 41 local authorities aimed at cleaning up sites for the delivery of homes.

This is welcome news but nowhere near enough. Especially when you consider that the remediation of one 22-acre former landfill site in Liverpool has cost £60m before a single house has been built.

Liverpool City Council is footing the bill for a £7m increase in the cost of getting part of the former Festival Gardens site ready for 1,500 homes, after underestimating just how deep it would have to go to remove all that rubbish.

Housing targets

Theresa Villiers MP’s bid to scrap housing targets and the five-year housing land supply rule for local authorities is gathering support.

The member for Chipping Barnet has managed to corral 58 of her parliamentary colleagues – up from 15 two weeks ago – to support the proposed amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

If passed, the amendment would disarm developers of one of their most potent weapons.

For years, homebuilders have been able to secure planning permission – often by appeal – if a local authority is unable to show how it intends to meet its housing targets.

If a council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, it puts it at a distinct disadvantage when defending its position on a proposal it may not like.

Just ask Bolton. Bellway has won five appeals for various phases of its 600-home redevelopment of Westhoughton Golf Course this way. Each application was rejected by the council’s planning committee but approved by the Planning Inspectorate because of the borough’s housing land supply position.

All that could be about to change, which seems counter-intuitive given that we are in the midst of a housing crisis.

Get in touch with Place North West news@placenorthwest.co.uk

The Subplot is brought to you in association with Oppidan Life.

Your Comments

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Ancoats retail announcement has been imminent for a while, we need some news. The residents have spoken with the election of the lib dem councillor no car park.

By Anonymous

The remediation of the Festival Gardens site in Liverpool may not be a good reference for costs for this type of work, but it may be useful as a warning for the future in making sure that initial surveys are a lot more accurate, as whoever carried out this work has seriously underestimated the amount of waste materials that needed processing.
Maybe if Homes England had not been involved this project might not have been considered,anyway it is a great location and hopefully the quality and design of the homes produced are of a high standard and raise the profile of the area.

By Anonymous

Nothing on sorting out the depressing mess that is the Arndale Centre and Market Street? This building is every much a blight on the city centre as is Piccadilly Gardens. You simply can’t have a huge inward looking mega mall in a modern city centre that cuts off so many streets. It’s a truly grim place and set of surrounding streets.

By Arndale hater

Arndale Hater is correct. It screams provisional. Unfortunately we are stuck with it.

By Elephant

@Arndale hater you’re spot on, this mess needs sorting out.

By Michael

I am also an Arndal hater however the council has limited power to do much about it.

By Monty

I have wished from the day I watched the Arndale being built back in ‘74 ish that someone would just remove it , tower and all. The cost of doing so and those pesky ESG targets means there is limited scope to do much except put lipstick on it. You can though do a lot with the streets around it and a lot still needs to be done. This like Piccadilly gardens remain amongst the top of Manchesters Blight list. Sort these out Bev and especially the building of many more ‘affordable’ and decent homes and you would continue to win friends in many places.

By Jon Jones

I don’t see why MCC can’t propose a planning framework that prohibits any investment that doesn’t align with an objective to reintroduce 24 hr pedestrian streets through the Arndale centre. The owners will hate it and likely object when such a framework is put out to consultation but I don’t see why as planning authority they couldn’t investigate powers as statutory authority to mould the Arndale centre that way, using planning frameworks, over time.

There are really sound and powerful Public Good arguments for doing so. In its current form the Arndale centre is toxic to the vitality of the city centre and arguably makes the surrounding streets and spaces less safe, particularly after dark when the entire block is closed off.

By Public Good - Arndale Bad

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