This is an account of continued conflict between Arnold Spencer and Graham Stringer (and also Cath Inchbold). Arnold Spencer as a champion for the environment favouring bikes and pedestrians and wanting clean air. Graham Stringer seeing cars as necessary for a thriving economy and jobs, and so wanting to have improved motor access into the city centre, not restrictions on it. Cath Inchbold as Chair of Highways and Cleansing Committee opposing a scheme that would restrict parking and traffic flow on Wilmslow Road. The battles were inflamed perhaps by press coverage from leaked information. Stringer and Spencer were in agreement in relation to trams, though, and co-operated when putting in place measures to demonstrate that Manchester was working towards an action plan for Local Agenda 21, so that it made a credible host for Global Forum ’94, which was the follow up to the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit.
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Many of the projects that Graham Stringer was most interested in involved transport of one sort or another: buses, aeroplanes, trams, ships and cars – but not bicycles. Some of us in the Labour Group (mostly female) were very dismissive of his interest in these and referred to them as his ‘boys’ toys’. But to be fair, he equated all forms of transport, but particularly cars, with employment opportunities and economic regeneration, and for him creating jobs for Mancunians was always of paramount importance.
Inevitably, this led to clashes with environmental campaigners – and in particular with Arnold Spencer, who was Chair of the Planning and Highways Committee from 1990. The exception was they were in complete agreement on the importance of trams (or light rapid transport, as it was known then), albeit for different reasons. Graham saw the development of trams within the Greater Manchester area as a crucial element in making Manchester a regional centre and a world class city, whereas Arnold saw them as a means of reducing car use in the city.
Graham’s report to the City Party in 1990 said that:
“Although the party rarely discusses transport issues, the council continues to improve directly, and influence indirectly, many of the major strategic transport issues. We have campaigned on Channel Tunnel issues, one of the crucial factors concerning the future of the region. The government has formally agreed with the council to using King’s Cross and not Stratford as the interchange.
“Over half a billion pounds is being spent during the next five years on the second terminal at the airport. We have gained more intercontinental routes. A rail link to the airport is to be built. The light rapid transport system is being built and should be in operation in 18 months time.
“Eighteen months ago the government stated its intent to break up the Greater Manchester Buses as a prelude to privatisation. We have fought a defensive battle but GM buses are in one piece and in public ownership. The inner relief route is being developed, as is the intermediate ring road.”
The cost of the trams project was 50% funded by government grant (and the costs had to be strictly pared down because of this). The rest was funded by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE).
Although introducing trams into Greater Manchester was one of the few policy areas on which Graham Stringer and Arnold Spencer agreed, there were two tram-related issues on which they didn’t agree. One was over Mosley Street. Graham wanted cars to be allowed to use the street, supported by the highways engineers who said that gridlock would ensue if they didn’t. Arnold disagreed and won the argument (and was proved right because gridlock didn’t ensue). The second issue was over the position of the tram stops on Market Street. Graham thought there should be a stop round the corner, on High Street, outside the market entrance to the Arndale Centre, but Arnold didn’t agree. Graham got his own way, but it proved to be a disaster and the stop had to be removed later (to the top of Market Street) at huge expense.
Trams finally appeared on the streets of Manchester in 1992 and the system was officially opened by the Queen in June 1992.
The block was to be on land that had been allocated to the university in Manchester’s Unitary Development Plan to enable it to expand student accommodation, and the proposal had been discussed and approved prior to the application by the Higher Education Precinct Working Group, which was made up of officers from the Council and the university. The university already had a hall of residence over part of the street, which had a route through to Wilmslow Road for pedestrians and cyclists. The planners had negotiated with the university for a similar route through the proposed new block for pedestrians and cyclists, and the City Planning Officer, Ted Kitchen, and Arnold Spencer thought the university had an irrefutable case for the development. It would provide good residential accommodation that would bring students into the city centre and away from family accommodation in the suburbs (always a bone of contention), ensuring pedestrian safety within the campus area and in general being good for the city.
The application was approved by the Planning Committee and was then considered by the Hulme Sub-committee. I’m not sure whether this was a matter of course for all applications within the boundaries of Hulme, or whether Graham Stringer had specifically requested it to be considered there. Either way, neither Arnold nor Ted expected there to be an issue.
To their surprise, the sub-committee rejected the application. Graham wanted cars to be able to drive right through from Hulme, along Stretford Road to Wilmslow Road, and although this wasn’t currently possible because of the existing hall of residence, he didn’t want any more parts of the road closed off. The report had to go back to the Planning Committee. The City Planning Officer, Ted Kitchen, was asked by the Chief Executive, Arthur Sandford, to change his recommendation to rejecting planning application for the scheme. He refused to do so as this was contrary to legal advice.
The Planning Committee approved the application a second time, as per the unchanged recommendation, but Graham insisted on it going to the Policy and Resources Committee ‘in view of its strategic importance to the city’, and put it on the agenda of the Labour Group for debate. He argued that the permission should be refused because it was vital that Stretford Road was opened up in order to ensure ‘permeability’ through to Hulme.
When it came to the debate and vote in the Labour Group, only Andrew Fender supported Arnold Spencer; the rest (including me, I’m ashamed to say) voted with Graham Stringer. In my own defence (and I’m sure many others), I couldn’t decide whether Graham’s arguments were right or not. I was too involved in big issues of my own in Education and hadn’t looked into the detailed pros and cons prior to the meeting. Generally Graham could muster good arguments and the Labour Group usually supported him whatever the issue. Arnold was not so good at putting his case and tended to come across as rather academically lofty and a bit out of touch.
Ted Kitchen was called into the Chief Executive’s office and asked to explain his reason for refusing to comply with the Leader’s wishes. He explained that if the application was refused and the university went to a planning appeal, they would win and costs would be awarded against the Council – which were likely to be a six-figure sum. Ted also knew that if this happened, the money would be taken from his Planning Department budget. Queens Counsel was engaged (which would have been a considerable cost) but gave the same advice.
So, two months after Graham had won the vote in the Labour Group, the issue came back to the Policy and Resources Committee with a recommendation to grant planning permission. The judiciously worded minutes (see below) allowed Graham to save face, although in fact the ‘revised’ planning application had only a few minor amendments that were agreed with the university officers.
“The council had concerns about the original planning application both in terms of the strategic objectives of the Hulme City Challenge programme and the incompatibility of aspects of the design of the building with the development guide for Hulme… We were minded to pursue alternative options for creating circulation/highways routes to increase permeability into and from Hulme… MMU has submitted a revised planning application… [It] has also agreed to provide for a public footpath/cycleway over the development site and over the closed section of Cavendish Street on land belonging to the MMU.
“We are happy that the reservation of the footpath/cycleway together with the creation of the footpath/cycleway over MMU’s existing land achieves in part the council’s objective with regard to Stretford Road, and at the same time enables the development of necessary student accommodation in the interests of both parties.”
For some context this is a map showing the area referred to
A diagram is also available in the preview of Ted Kitchen’s book in Google books.
After the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Prime Minister, John Major, had offered Britain as a future venue for a follow-up conference. Along with local authorities in other major British cities, Manchester received a letter inviting it to bid to host such a conference to be held in 1993. Ted Kitchen, who was at that time the acting Chief Executive, passed the letter on to Graham Stringer, who agreed that the Council should go for it in order to help its Olympic bid and show the world that Manchester could put on a big public event. At the Policy and Resources Committee in November 1992, it was agreed that Manchester should bid to host it.
In April 1993, it was reported to the Policy and Resources Committee that the Prime Minister had announced government support for two initiatives to be held in Manchester. The first was the government conference, Partnerships for Change, to implement Agenda 21 (achieving sustainability for the 21st century), which was to be held in September 1993. The second was a Manchester initiative, a ‘Global Forum’. This was to be an international event on sustainable development and the environment to maximise benefit from the government conference, which would be held in June 1994 and seen as the direct inheritor of the Rio Earth Summit. A new company with charitable status was to be established with a budget of around £2 million. Half of this was to be raised by sponsorship and the rest from the event itself. Part of the core programme was to be a range of activities around the theme of ‘sustainable cities’.
Global Forum was formally launched in Manchester on 3 June 1993, with a core theme of ‘cities and sustainable development’ and Manchester Airport as the principal sponsor. A board of directors was appointed, including public and private sector representatives from the city and the North West region. The acting Chief Executive, Ted Kitchen, was asked to take the lead in developing green initiatives with a small number of officers seconded to the team and Arnold Spencer was asked to play a co-ordinating role. Both Ted and Arnold thought it was a great opportunity and they put together a philosophical basis for the initiatives.
The feedback from the Rio Forum was positive about the event, but negative about the city of Rio de Janeiro, which was not a good example of sustainability. Graham Stringer knew Manchester had to avoid this criticism and was therefore (uncharacteristically) supportive of the green initiatives.
Arnold Spencer developed links with, and offered Council support to, voluntary and community groups in the city that were working on environmental issues. These included voluntary groups working on organic and recycling projects and the Red Rose Community Forest Scheme bringing green spaces into built up areas. The Council also adopted a range of initiatives such as Local Agenda 21 (making Manchester sustainable for the 21st century), using only recycled paper within the Council and establishing an annual ‘Environment Week’. The bid to host the Global Forum was successful, partly because of the number of environmental initiatives involving the City Council.
However, the organisation set up to deliver the forum, GF94, was not well managed and the budget spiralled out of control. The plans for the event were scaled down drastically and in October 1993, in a report to the Labour Group, Graham slated it as ‘a junket for eco-professionals’. He went on say that:
“at the time the bid was agreed, we didn’t know the cost implications. Consultants were employed at end of July … Lots of ideas, but no worked out plan or budget. By end of August, projected deficit was £1.5 million … now projected at £950,000. Cost to date is £150,000-£175.000. But, if we abort now, it will damage our reputation in Europe and the world and therefore will cost the city more in the long term … Will review again at end of November”.
In February 1994, the GF94 Chief Executive, Warren Lindner, resigned and went to the press saying that Global Forum was becoming more of a festival and less of a serious debating space for environmental issues. Arnold, who was Deputy Chair of GF94, refuted this and was confident that it would achieve its objectives.
None of the green initiatives were included in the manifesto for the 1994 local elections, which was a politically very narrow document. Dominated by the interests of Graham Stringer, it covered only jobs, crime and high quality services. The narrowness of its scope reflected the much less effective nature of the City Labour Party by this time.
Despite the problems, Global Forum ’94 was a tremendous success – at least it was reported as such to the Policy and Resources Committee in July 1994 – and only cost the Council £500,000, which had been agreed as a grant. One of the most successful events was the Local Government Forum, chaired by the mayor of Heidleberg. But most importantly, Manchester didn’t get the criticism that Rio de Janeiro had received. A HMSO publication about Global Forum came out in 1995 and it was noted that the EU had agreed to make a grant of £1.6 million to execute a follow up project.
The summer of 1994 saw another big row involving Arnold, although this time with Cath Inchbold, the Chair of the Highways and Cleansing Committee at the time. The row was over the Wilmslow Road Corridor Highways Scheme. Wilmslow Road is one of the busiest stretches of road in the whole of Manchester, providing the main route south from the city centre, past both universities and the hospital, and through the centres of Rusholme (and the ‘curry mile’), Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury.
The scheme, which involved a range of physical measures such as bus priority lanes, cycle lanes and pavement widening, was intended to encourage a switch from car use to public transport and to reduce the number of accidents, which were 2.5 times greater than the city average. As the Labour Group’s green champion, Arnold was a big supporter of the scheme, but Cath Inchbold was not.
When a report on the scheme showing a 54% increase in forecast costs for the sections not yet completed went before the Highways and Cleansing Committee in July 1994, Cath and the committee wanted to pull the plug on it. Cath was a strong ally of Graham Stringer in the pro-car and jobs lobby and very antagonistic towards Arnold Spencer. There was also a feeling among councillors representing wards in the north of the city that the scheme was an example of the leafy, middle-class south getting more of the Council’s resources than the deprived north.
The City Engineer was asked to consider whether the scheme was meeting the objectives set and the report was sent on to the Policy and Resources Committee. His assessment – which wasn’t reported in detail to the committee – included the fact that in Rusholme there had been an average of 25 accidents per year prior to the scheme’s introduction. An extrapolation from its first three months of operation there suggested that these would be reduced to an average of 12 per year. Total annual savings from reduced accidents, along with bus and general traffic savings, were estimated at £530,345. In cost/benefit terms, a 50% annual rate of return (ie payback on a scheme’s cost within two years) was considered to be very good. Rusholme showed a rate of return of 70%, while in Withington South it was 35%.
When the issue came to the Policy and Resources Committee, only 12 members (including Arnold) were present at the Labour Group pre-meeting and there was no majority for or against continuing with the scheme. It was agreed that the issue would be debated at the full Labour Group and that in the meantime the report’s recommendations would be ‘nodded through’ in the knowledge that they could be amended at the Council meeting. There were seven recommendations in all, two of which were:
“Not to proceed further with the Wilmslow Road Corridor scheme until a full review has been carried out, including comprehensive monitoring of the direct and indirect effects of the scheme; the need for the proposals to contribute positively to the permeability of the urban road network … [and]
“Request the highways and cleansing committee to utilise the remainder of the ring-fenced allocation for 1994/95 for local safety measures along the Wilmslow Road which do not pre-empt the outcome of the review and which are consistent with council policies for highways in urban areas.”
At the Policy and Resources Committee, the Liberals moved an amendment to (in effect) continue with the scheme. Labour members voted against – apart from Arnold Spencer, who abstained. Graham Stringer referred him to the Labour whips for this and Cath Inchbold wrote a formal letter to the group officers. This seems to me to have been an extraordinary over-reaction, but was really a reflection of the escalating animosity felt by Graham towards Arnold.
Graham, Cath and Arnold each circulated information to all Labour councillors in preparation for the debate. Cath pointed out that the scheme’s budget was overspent by £121,000 on the sections completed and that the estimates for rest had ‘rocketed’. The total cost was supposed to be £1.8 million but the latest estimate was £2.9 million. She presented four issues that questioned whether the scheme was meeting its objectives.
- Rusholme parking restrictions were proving ‘unworkable’, with the traders’ association reporting 30-50% loss of business. The police had issued more than 850 parking tickets between January and June, which she said was straining relationships – “less resources going into catching criminals in Moss Side and Longsight” was how she put it.
- Traffic flows had not improved, with congestion and pollution being caused by a proliferation of buses since the government’s deregulation of services.
- Doubt about whether the university section was compatible with the Council’s policy objectives in relation to linking Hulme to the higher education precinct (referring to the Stretford Road row detailed above).
- Doubt about whether the scheme represented value for money.
Cath Inchbold also pointed out that a cycle scheme was underway on Yew Tree Road, which ran parallel with Wilmslow Road; and that the different sections of the scheme were free-standing and not completing the remaining sections (particularly the university section) wouldn’t undermine the rest.
Arnold Spencer’s paper included the City Engineer’s conclusions and accused Cath and Graham of implying that the scheme wasn’t a legitimate use of ‘local safety scheme’ resources. He claimed it wasn’t an overspending issue, since increased estimates were typical of all such schemes. He pointed out that the costs for the Mancunian Way/A6 junction had risen from an estimated £10.5 million to £16 million, but that this was never challenged. He reiterated that £200,000 of local safety scheme money was used because the Wilmslow Road accident rate was 2.5 times greater than the city average. Finally, he pointed out that the scheme had full and unqualified support from the Manchester Health Authority, the community health councils, Friends of the Earth, the Greater Manchester Transport Action Group, the Greater Manchester Transport Consultative Committee, the Pedestrians Association, the Cycle Project North West and the Withington Civic Society, as well as Labour Party branches and the Labour environment campaign group SERA.
At the full Labour Group, after a long and fraught debate, it was agreed that the Policy and Resources Committee resolution would be withdrawn and replaced with a recommendation that: “There should be no overspend on the scheme and no transfer of money from other schemes.” The scheme did eventually go ahead.
Although Andrew Fender generally supported Arnold on most issues, he disagreed with him over part of this scheme. The traffic engineers proposed to introduce ‘no waiting’ restrictions on all the side roads in Didsbury village and there had been a huge local campaign against this proposal with lots of letters to Graham Stringer. Arnold supported the traffic engineers, but Andrew thought he was wrong. Arnold dug his heels in, asking: “Are you going to have it on your conscience if someone dies in a fire because there’s no access for fire engines?” Arnold lost this argument.
For some context this is a map showing the area referred to
It was clear from scientific reports that the levels of pollution in Manchester made it one of the worst cities (if not the worst) in the country. Arnold says that when he brought these warnings to the attention of the group officers he was ignored. Nor could he persuade Graham to take the figures seriously, so he leaked them to a Manchester Evening News reporter who was spearheading a ‘Pollution Patrol’ campaign for the paper. In August 1994 an article appeared under the headline ‘You Must Be Choking: City stifled by pollution from traffic’, followed by the killer statistics showing that only one site in the city centre met European air quality standards. Friends of the Earth accused the Council of having no strategy to cut car traffic – and the pollution caused by exhaust gases – and called for more measures to encourage walking and cycling.
Of course Graham was livid. He accused Arnold of betraying the Party and the Council. He was convinced that car use was essential to the economy of the city and closely linked to employment – and jobs would always come before the environment as far as he was concerned.
But Arnold was not deterred and in February 1995, following recent government announcements on the role of local authorities in air quality management, the City Planning Officer produced a report to the Environmental Planning Committee on air quality in the city. The committee resolved that:
- The officers be requested to initiate preparatory work on the development of an air quality management plan for Manchester.
- The Chief Planning Officer be requested to undertake an urgent review of policy for car parking provision within new development proposals in the city centre in view of the significant pollution levels in the city centre caused by vehicle emissions and in the light of developments in government policy on this matter.
In the same month, the Highways and Cleansing Committee considered a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, but simply ‘noted’ that the City Council was already taking action in respect of some of the recommendations. However, it was agreed to hold a seminar for the members of the three relevant committees (Highways and Cleansing, Environmental Planning, and the City Centre Sub-committee) to enable members to consider various city centre transport issues. These included bus deregulation and pollution, future strategy in relation to the inner relief route and car restraint. On the same committee agenda was a report about the government’s proposal to transfer parking enforcement powers to local authorities from the police. This had the potential to both raise revenue and make some changes in relation to car use in the city centre.
In the May 1995 Council election, when Arnold was up for re-election, the ‘Fresh Air Now’ campaign put up a candidate against him. He not only retained his seat easily, but obtained the largest Labour majority the Old Moat ward had ever had, not least because the electorate knew he was a strong environmental champion. During the election campaign period, a Council newsletter was distributed advertising ‘Environment Week’ (19-29 May 1995). In addition to covering all the green and sustainable things the Council was doing, it featured Arnold next to the new recycling bins. It also featured the Council’s decision to place a high-tech smog detector in Piccadilly Gardens and an article about CO2 pollution and global warming, which would have exacerbated Graham’s animosity. The newsletter, entitled Manchester Planet, was issued by the Planning and Environmental Health Department and should never have gone out in the run up to an election.
After the election, however, Arnold failed to get the nomination for re-election as the Chair of the Environmental Planning Committee. Graham had persuaded Ken Franklin to stand against him and he got the support of the trade union and other delegates on the City Party. Andrew Fender continued as Deputy (and in effect did the job of Chair), which Arnold regarded as “stabbing him [Arnold] in the back”.
In June 1995, the Manchester Evening News carried a full page article by Andrew Grimes featuring Arnold Spencer. Headlined ‘The red and the green’, it was a very sympathetic portrayal, giving Arnold full rein to put his point of view. When asked if he was ‘bitter’ about being ‘ousted from his job as Manchester’s planning chieftain’, Arnold said he was:
“sad rather than bitter … What we have now is a city council far to the right of even the Conservative government. John Gummer, the Tory minister, is far more radical, to the left of the council leadership on these issues.”
Arnold cited as examples of Graham Stringer’s attitude his refusal to allow a feasibility study into easing traffic congestion in Cross Street, which would have only cost £25,000, and the fact that there had been no pedestrianisation schemes in the city centre for two years.
“Stringer has actually said that congestion is a sign of economic growth… People are gasping with asthma, but Manchester is doing well…”
In the face of the overwhelming evidence on pollution, though, the Council had to take some action. So in July 1995 Graham set up a members and officers working party. Unsurprisingly, he refused to let Arnold be a member of this ‘Pollution Task Force’, although he did invite Andrew Fender and a few other Labour councillors, including me, to be on it. But it was completely ineffective – an empty gesture – and achieved very little.
During that year Andrew Fender had his own rows with Graham over another part of the Wilmslow corridor scheme. A small pedestrianisation scheme next to the Withington library involving the closure of the side street onto Wilmslow Road had been agreed for commencement in 1998. Andrew had a tip off that the money was going to be re-allocated, at Graham’s behest, to another scheme. They had a massive row, but the allocation stayed put and the scheme went ahead.
It wasn’t until Richard Leese became Leader of the Council in May 1996 (see chapter 27) that environmental issues became much more high profile. However, Arnold was no great supporter of Richard – he thought he was “just as bad as Graham” – and in May 1997 Arnold Spencer resigned as a councillor.
This chapter has been an annoyance to me and it still needs some work, but I’m putting it up in this state and might come back to it another time. I think the annoyance is because it’s a subject area that I know a lot more about, because in the period 1990-97 I worked in the Planning and Transportation Department of Northamptonshire County Council, as Recycling Officer and Public Transport Development Manager amongst other roles. I was involved in leading Local Agenda 21 and Green Transport initiatives. I feel the chapter is weak on how those issues are covered. Perhaps also I think I just find it annoying reading about all the clashes and arguing. I’ve chopped some bits that didn’t seem to add anything and I added the sub-headings.
There is a much better account of these topics, albeit from the officer perspective, in Ted Kitchen’s book (see Further Reading).
I wonder if this was a chapter that wasn’t quite finished or wasn’t really given enough attention. There is an appendix which is a list of chairs and deputies of committees, but it isn’t referred to in the text, so for now I have not included it. Also unlike other chapters there were no footnotes in this one. I have added all of the footnotes that you see – 2, 3 and 5 taking bits from the body of text that interrupted the flow and 1 and 4 for clarification.
 Although the service now actually runs from St Pancras adjacent to King’s Cross.
 chapter 8
 See chapter 22.
 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992
 There is more detail about this on page 189 in Ted Kitchen’s book (listed in the Further Reading) which explains that the Global Forum was intended to be in September 1993 when the invitation letter was sent out, but it soon became clear that there was insufficient time to organise such a large event. So instead the government conference was hosted in Manchester in September 1993 and the Global Forum was postponed to June 1994. As a result the government put its funding into the Partnerships for Change conference and didn’t support GF94 financially or by a significant presence.
 The outcome of the whips’ interview, which didn’t take place until March 1995, was that Arnold was to be removed from his position as Chair of the Environmental Planning Committee.
- Problems with the political leadership: the Stretford Road case pages 159-165
- Chapter 9 Sustainability and Local Agenda 21 pages 186-206 (partial preview on Google Books)
About Red Rose Forest – “Red Rose Forest is the Community Forest for central and western Greater Manchester. Red Rose Forest is made up of green spaces across Greater Manchester. Since 1991 Red Rose Forest has been creating new areas of woodland, helping to improve existing green spaces and encouraging thousands of people every year to visit their local park, woodland, nature reserve or community garden – discovering the countryside that is right on your doorstep.”