Hancock’s Half Page

MANCHESTER SAFE FROM RETAIL TURMOIL ?

 

 

TOWNS FACE RETAIL CRISIS.

If anyone was in any doubt that our town and suburban retail areas face a massive challenge, the decision of Marks and Spencer to close 100 stores will concentrate minds. M&S are the anchor tenants in so many smaller towns, pulling people in who then shop at other stores. From St Helens and Birkenhead to Bolton and Altrincham some big thinking is going to be needed. Solutions may lie in converting shops to affordable homes and creating community hubs with mini cinemas and meeting spaces.

Meanwhile it looks as if Manchester is going to be immune from all this as I continue my survey of our North West urban economies in the run up to the International Festival of Business next month.

MANCHESTER ON A ROLL

I’ve been listening to the leading people helping to shape the conurbation’s future. People like Manchester’s Strategic Director Eddie Smith who says developers are now giving a much higher priority to the housing needs of potential employees when deciding on location. With some evidence of developer saturation in the South East, Smith points to the area’s 250,000 undergraduates and 50,000 graduates as a big pool of talent.

There are some clouds on Manchester’s horizon. In the area of housing there is growing criticism by some Labour councillors of the lack of affordable homes in the city centre. This is likely to grow as I detect a determination among city planners and the political leadership to capitalise on luxury flats in the city centre and develop affordable homes outside in the suburbs.

In the vital area of broadband, city chiefs privately describe them as “crap”, and the air quality issues are widely known.

SALFORD: CAR PARK NO MORE.

Salford has a vital part to play in the success of the “Manchester” city centre. The Irwell is the unattractive and largely irrelevant boundary between the two cities and Salford is involved in extensive development right up against the river whether it be in The Crescent area or Greengate, the forgotten area between Trinity Way and Manchester Cathedral where two thousand apartments are planned. Better known is the development of Media City where a further billion pounds of investment is planned. In the words of a key officer “the council is determined to end the perception of east Salford’s as a car park for Manchester city centre.”

In the final part of my look at the Manchester economy next week, I’ll be reporting on what some younger developers are up. They have exciting ideas about making office and housing developments interesting and different. I’ll also look at the huge economic engine that is Manchester University.

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MANCHESTER: A YOUNG CITY

 

 

ECONOMIC SURVEY PART 1

 

First, congratulations to all my colleagues, past and present, who have contributed to 15 years of success for Downtown in Business.

In the run up to the International Festival of Business in Liverpool I’m going to be taking an in depth look at the business prospects of our three great cities, Liverpool, Preston and Manchester.

My interest in doing this was stimulated by a report this week claiming that Liverpool’s economy was growing faster than Manchester’s. I read it as I was about to meet with the leading movers and shakers of the Manchester economy. We can reach some conclusions at the end of the series of blogs, but just to say for now, Manchester is buzzing and perhaps the truth is that both of the large cities have a bright future despite Brexit. In Preston’s case we’ll be looking at the “keep it local” model which is attracting national attention.

But first to Manchester where Eddie Smith, the city’s Strategic Director, exudes vision and optimism. He has been in post a long time and remembers the challenges around the turn of the century to deal were to deal with jobs and office e accommodation. Since 2010 the drive has been to make Manchester a place where people want to live because the city is getting younger and there is an imperative to keep the graduates spilling out of the city’s excellent universities.

Future planning for the city, and conurbation more widely, will become clearer this summer with the opening of the review of Manchester’s local plan for the next fifteen years. Transport for Greater Manchester will publish their plans towards 2040. Finally, the Mayor of Greater Manchester will publish his revised spatial plan. The latter sounds dry and dull but is highly controversial as it involves housing and the green belt. When he came into office, Andy Burnham didn’t like the plan he inherited, and we will see what reaction he gets to the revised options.

The major infrastructure issue for the centre of Manchester now is Piccadilly station. It is due to be the hub for HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse rail link to Leeds. In the neglected area around the station, there is the prospect of 60,000 if the whole redevelopment benefits from the sort of central government vision and funding that has been invested in King’s Cross in London. There Eurostar, the London tube, national and local rail services converge in a spectacular station. The area around King’s Cross that was once a haven for sex workers and drug dealers has been transformed. Manchester wants a similar response from government for Piccadilly station, but ministers remain to be convinced.

Around the conurbation there are significant growth points in Salford (more on that next week), and airport city. Smith draws our attention to developments in Wythenshawe. It is already benefitting from the prospect of an HS2 station at the airport with Vodaphone and Virgin Media increasing their investment in an area long associated with unemployment.

In a week when Manchester City paraded their Premiership trophy through the streets, regeneration continues around the Etihad Stadium. The world’s first sports business park is being developed and 15,000 houses are planned out towards Collyhurst.

Next week I’ll be looking at developer interest in Manchester, the Salford story, and young entrepreneurs innovative approach to housing and office development.

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POLITICAL STALEMATE

 

 

After years of political turbulence, the local election results seem to tell us that deadlock has been reached in the nation’s politics.

The Conservatives are seen as the party of Brexit and are gaining support in Leave areas, particularly in the Midlands. Their Brexit credentials have helped protect them from the normal loss of seats that follows a General Election. They are not particularly popular but seem immune for taking a hammering over austerity, social care and housing.

Labour have been unfairly criticised for not making more progress. The fact is that after eight years in opposition they controlled 70% of the seats in the North West after successive gains over the years. On the other hand, it is true that there is no evidence that the party is on course for a majority government in 2022. There are some indications that Jeremy Corbyn’s metropolitan brand of hard left politics and tortuous opportunism on the Brexit issue is not appealing to voters in towns like Bolton and Wigan.

The bright exception for the party was ending Tory rule in Trafford by gaining four wards, but even here it was the loss of two councillors in Altrincham to the Greens that tipped the balance. I wonder what the private reaction of the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester will be to the result. The outgoing Conservative leader Sean Anstee was a key link to the government in respect of the Northern Powerhouse devolution and elected mayors projects.

 

The Conservatives did not do as badly as they deserved to following an election run up that included a fourth Cabinet resignation and the Windrush scandal. But they must not be complacent because they clearly benefitted from the collapse of UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats have begun a patchy climb back. Retaining South Lakeland was important as were the gains in Liverpool. However just across the border in Sefton the Liberal Democrat decline has been spectacular. From holding the council leadership and the parliamentary constituency of Southport, the party now has no MP in the area and is now down to 12 councillors, the lowest total in over thirty years.

The main focus of attention in Lancashire was the Conservatives capture of Pendle by the reinstatement of a councillor who’d been suspended from the party for sharing a foul racist joke on Facebook. The Tory Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, said he would “look at it” but the suspension has been served and the prospect of running the council for the first time since 1979 might prove too tempting. Race has tainted the council for a while as the last BNP councillor in the whole country was to be found here.

It is worth reflecting that 15 years ago the BNP were a real threat in local government winning seven seats on Burnley Council and becoming the official opposition.

On a brighter note Blackburn saw the election of Asian women for the first time, let’s hope that trend continues.

What conclusion do we draw from it all for the immediate political future? It looks as if the nation will settle for a Conservative government with a slim or no majority just if Labour remains hard left. The centre alternative is either trapped in the Labour Party, or in the case of the Lib Dems is still too weak to make a real difference.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

 

 

After years of political turbulence, the local election results seem to tell us that deadlock has been reached in the nation’s politics.

The Conservatives are seen as the party of Brexit and are gaining support in Leave areas, particularly in the Midlands. Their Brexit credentials have helped protect them from the normal loss of seats that follows a General Election. They are not particularly popular but seem immune for taking a hammering over austerity, social care and housing.

Labour have been unfairly criticised for not making more progress. The fact is that after eight years in opposition they controlled 70% of the seats in the North West after successive gains over the years. On the other hand, it is true that there is no evidence that the party is on course for a majority government in 2022. There are some indications that Jeremy Corbyn’s metropolitan brand of hard left politics and tortuous opportunism on the Brexit issue is not appealing to voters in towns like Bolton and Wigan.

The bright exception for the party was ending Tory rule in Trafford by gaining four wards, but even here it was the loss of two councillors in Altrincham to the Greens that tipped the balance. I wonder what the private reaction of the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester will be to the result. The outgoing Conservative leader Sean Anstee was a key link to the government in respect of the Northern Powerhouse devolution and elected mayors projects.

 

The Conservatives did not do as badly as they deserved to following an election run up that included a fourth Cabinet resignation and the Windrush scandal. But they must not be complacent because they clearly benefitted from the collapse of UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats have begun a patchy climb back. Retaining South Lakeland was important as were the gains in Liverpool. However just across the border in Sefton the Liberal Democrat decline has been spectacular. From holding the council leadership and the parliamentary constituency of Southport, the party now has no MP in the area and is now down to 12 councillors, the lowest total in over thirty years.

The main focus of attention in Lancashire was the Conservatives capture of Pendle by the reinstatement of a councillor who’d been suspended from the party for sharing a foul racist joke on Facebook. The Tory Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, said he would “look at it” but the suspension has been served and the prospect of running the council for the first time since 1979 might prove too tempting. Race has tainted the council for a while as the last BNP councillor in the whole country was to be found here.

It is worth reflecting that 15 years ago the BNP were a real threat in local government winning seven seats on Burnley Council and becoming the official opposition.

On a brighter note Blackburn saw the election of Asian women for the first time, let’s hope that trend continues.

What conclusion do we draw from it all for the immediate political future? It looks as if the nation will settle for a Conservative government with a slim or no majority just if Labour remains hard left. The centre alternative is either trapped in the Labour Party, or in the case of the Lib Dems is still too weak to make a real difference.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

OSBORNE: I WAS RIGHT ABOUT BREXIT IMPACT.

 

OSBORNE,CAMERON AND THE REFERENDUM DECISION.

I first met George Osborne on Knutsford Heath 20 years ago when he had just been selected as the Tory candidate for Tatton. Who was this unknown who was tasked with restoring Tory fortunes in this constituency after the defeat of Neil Hamilton?

We found out after he won the seat back for the Conservatives in 2001 that we had a high flyer on our hands. He was David Cameron’s right-hand man in modernising the party and preparing it for Coalition government in 2010. For six years Osborne pursued the twin track of economic austerity and social liberalism until the project came crashing down in the folly of the EU Referendum in 2016.

We met up again this week and he seemed to harden up his revelation of “not being keen” on the referendum to one of opposition. I asked him about his forecasts that the country would need an emergency budget and would face economic gloom if we voted to leave. Despite the lack of a post Brexit crisis, he told me he still felt he was right. He claimed the devaluation of the pound was dramatic, but the public were not generally aware of it. He also pointed to the low growth of the British economy. The first three months of this year were the weakest for five years.

He feels the current government stance is opposed by the Lords, Commons and EU and it would be a mistake to tear up our trading relations with Europe.

This all begs some big questions. How vigorously did he put his opposition to the Prime Minister? He says he wasn’t in the business of undermining his friend. But if he had remotely threatened to resign, surely Cameron would not have made his reckless referendum promise in 2013. So is Osborne overstating his opposition with the benefit of hindsight? After all it remains one of the most stunning features of the current political scene that the two men who led us into the Brexit mess are now voyeurs on the side-lines.

Osborne is still chairman of the Northern Powerhouse (NP) Partnership and is encouraged by the development of Transport for the North. Apart from that there is a feeling that momentum has gone out of the project, although Lord Jim O’Neill is due to produce some fresh thoughts on it shortly. The Prime Minister is also expected to speak at a major NP event this summer. The former Chancellor admits all government energy is being taken up by Brexit. We know who to thank for that don’t we?

THE HIGHER TAX DILEMMA.

Putting those criticisms to one side George Osborne was Chancellor for six years and his views on one of the greatest challenges facing voters and politicians are interesting.

What is the answer to the growing crisis in funding our public services? Osborne agrees we all want better services but don’t want higher taxes. He says he is as annoyed as anyone else about tax evasion but any suggestion that solving that problem will provide the massive funds we need is delusional. VAT, Income Tax and National Insurance (NI) basically fund the state and it would take wacking increases in tax to make a difference, for instance,to the £130bn NHS budget. He feels soaking the rich won’t work either as countries that pursue that policy grind to a halt.

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