Manchester in the 2020s

Thursday, 3rd October 2019

Guest blog by Laurie Mentiplay – Urban Planner, WSP and Transport & Infrastructure Committee member.

With a new decade fast approaching, the latest pro-manchester City Walk looked at some of the big transport and development issues in the 2020s.

We chose the area between Piccadilly Station and the Inner Ring Road to explore the themes of the walk. I’d like to thank everyone who joined us: it was a pleasure to meet you and spend time with you. And thank you to Ilona Alcock for organising everything.

Starting at Piccadilly Station

Introductions done and umbrellas in our bags, we have a brief look at Piccadilly Station. It’s four o’clock and already, the station approach is full of people heading home or coming out for the evening. Piccadilly passenger numbers have increased by a quarter in recent years (to 27 million in 2017/18). Managing this increasing demand as well as concourse, platform and track capacities will provide owners Network Rail with significant challenges over the next decade.

In the city centre, we’re seeing development and growth on a massive scale. Construction stats. for last year show over 14,000 residential units across 48 developments, 2m sq.ft. of office development and 1.1 million sq.ft. of education and research space. The city itself is said to be one of the fastest growing in Europe.

HS2 at Piccadilly

We walk to the other side of Piccadilly and stand on the site of the HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) station. Standing on Sheffield Street, we get a sense of the vast scale of a high speed rail station in this location. The proposed roof is 455-metres long and 60m wide (compare that to the existing, 165m shed) with platforms of 415m. That’s over five minutes walk from one end of the platform to the other!

With the Prime Minister’s Review panel looking at whether and how we proceed with HS2, we will soon find what the implications will be for Manchester, the North and the UK.

A Once in a Century Opportunity

We hope the recommendations will be positive for Manchester and the North. HS2 and NPR are considered essential to the economic future of the city and region. Manchester City Council estimates that HS2 and NPR could generate 40,000 jobs, 8m sq. ft. of office and 17,000 homes next to the station. The Council has called the arrival of HS2 and NPR “a once in a century opportunity to transform the east side of the city centre”.

A New Part of the City Centre: The Piccadilly Regeneration Area

This regeneration site on the east side of the city centre is vast (equivalent to around 260 football pitches). It stretches from the Northern Quarter across to New Islington and the Inner Ring Road. We’re the corner of Adair Street and St Andrews Street facing the site of the Ancoats Goods Yard which served Manchester’s markets.

Looking around, there are business units, a depot, surface car parks and a ‘red-light’ area nearby. It’s ripe for renewal and a logical extension to the city centre.

While the HS2 station, viaduct and construction area take up a large amount of this land, there is strong developer interest beyond the boundary with several planning approvals for hotels and apartments granted this year.

Housing in the 2020s/Crusader Mill

One of the first developments in this area is the historic Crusader Mill, which sits alongside the East Manchester tramway. The restored listed building and new building beside it will provide 201 new apartments for sale.

We talk about the affordability and cost issues facing folks looking to buy a home in the city centre. At Crusader, the developer Capital and Centric has tried to address these issues. In the first phase of development, Capital and Centric gave local people priority and said overseas investors need not apply. Is this a sign of things to come, where responsible developers intervene in the public interest?

We walk on past the impressive Oxygen development. Its concrete core is reaching its 31-storey conclusion and soars above the surrounding buildings.

An eye watering 50,000 new homes are identified for the city centre by 2037. With finite land, more and more buildings in the city centre will be going higher and Oxygen will be the first of several tall buildings in this location.

Clean Air and Climate Change

Oxygen faces onto Great Ancoats Street (the Inner Ring Road). It’s 5pm and its four lanes are completely packed. Cars are going slower than pedestrians and it’s more nitrogen dioxide than oxygen unfortunately. Not only is the road polluted and congested – 37,200 journeys on weekdays – it’s a big physical barrier for pedestrians and cyclists and presents a challenge for policymakers.

One of the first projects to address this is the Great Ancoats Street Improvement Project. Due to start this year, the proposals include wider pavements, better crossing points, over 70 trees and a parallel cycleway. This scheme is part of the Council’s commitment to tackle air quality issues in the city centre and should be commended. But will it reduce traffic and encourage drivers to use the Outer Ring Road instead?

Expanding Eastwards/ It’s Started to Rain

We cross the ring road and we’re in New Islington, where regeneration continues from the likes of Urban Splash and Manchester Life.

New Islington is part of the City Council’s Eastlands Development Framework, which was published for consultation earlier this year. Stretching from Great Ancoats Street to Manchester City and beyond, it builds on a quarter century of investment and renewal in East Manchester.

The framework looks at the 2020s and beyond. Thousands of new homes, a 20,000 capacity indoor arena and 500,000 sq. ft. of telecomms, media and tech sector development on the old Central Retail Park are just some of the eye catching proposals.

Tourism in the 2020’s

Our final stop is outside the Dakota on Ducie Street. I think we’re ready for refreshments.

The city continues to grow as a tourist and business visitor destination. Dakota is one of several new hotels which has increased the number of new rooms by 900 to 2,129 in 2018. This growth is set to continue into the 2020s as the Universities expand, more offices are built and the £1bn transformation of Manchester Airport brings more destinations and flights to the city.

And Here Our Walk Ends

The rain has eased. For now! Off for some refreshments and snacks courtesy of The Grill on New York Street.

Thanks again to our pro-manchester walkers for their questions, thoughts and contributions. I look forward to seeing you on the next City Walk.

Laurie Mentiplay is an Urban Planner with WSP and a member of Pro-manchester’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee.