This chapter deals with how the steps in the early 80s in relation to spending and the organisation of the Council impacted upon the economic development and regeneration of Manchester. This covers the policy working parties of the local Labour Party, what was included in the 1984 Manifesto and the early conflict of interest between the environment and transport, or between Graham Stringer and Arnold Spencer, that leads into those covered in chapter 25. There’s mention of the development of the Museum of Science and Industry, the Salford and Manchester partnership, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Manchester Airport, the Council’s opposition to government initiatives of Employment Training and the Youth Training Scheme, plus implementation on the ground of things such as cycle paths and statues.
Jump to Editor’s Comments

Policy and Progress Prior to 1984
It is now widely recognised that to rescue an area from physical and economic decline requires more than just financial investment in the infrastructure or action to create employment opportunities. But traditionally these two elements (together with crime-reduction measures) have been the main focus of government intervention.

In Manchester, as in many other cities, there have been numerous short-term and small-scale initiatives that have had no long-term impact. There have also been major developments, such as Hulme in the 1960s (see chapter 24), with a staggeringly detrimental social impact.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Left activists in Manchester, in common with others around the country, were grappling with a huge number of social problems that needed to be addressed by government. The high levels of unemployment and the vast areas of the city that were derelict or in serious decline desperately needed to be tackled. However, although they are closely linked, policies for housing, job creation and the environment were developed separately by the City Labour Party’s policy working parties.

For the Housing Policy Working Party, there were a multitude of issues to focus on. These included campaigning against the Thatcher government’s ‘right to buy’ scheme (which came into effect in 1980 and was reducing the availability of homes for rent by selling them off at large discounts to sitting council tenants); finding ways of refurbishing council housing stock to a modern standard; tackling private landlords’ exploitation of tenants in houses in multiple occupation; improving the fairness and transparency of the council housing allocation system; and tackling the level of council rents (see chapter 20). In addition, a lot of work was put into developing what was for most local authority landlords the new principle and practice of tenant participation.

The 1984 Manifesto made a large number of commitments to develop the role of tenants and support the establishment of tenants’ groups, and although the underlying principles were similar to those underpinning the Neighbourhood Services initiative, there wasn’t much ‘joined-up’ working between the two working parties. Nor was there any co-ordination with the policy development work going on in the Environment Working Party or the Economic Development Working Party, despite the connections between the physical environment, employment and the development of communities.

Not only were there few, if any, connections made between the development of these policies, but, when it came to their implementation from 1984 onwards, an increasing tension developed in relation to the priority to be given to economic development (job creation) as opposed to environmental improvements. This tension brought about a growing animosity between the two politicians most closely associated with these policy areas – Graham Stringer (in relation to job creation) and Arnold Spencer (in relation to environment and planning). This was exemplified most starkly in the field of transport, as will be seen later (chapter 25). The same sort of conflict continues today between the needs of the economy and the need to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change.

Prior to the change in administration in 1984, the Labour right-wing had also been working hard to address the economic and physical problems of the city. The decline in traditional industrial jobs during the 1960s and 1970s had led to vast areas of the city (particularly in East Manchester) being left derelict, and councillors were obviously keen to address the problems of both unemployment and physical decay.

When Gordon Conquest was the Chair of the Land and Property Committee (1974-1978), the Council began buying up and clearing land in East Manchester, and a private company was commissioned (at a cost of £30,000) to draw up plans for redeveloping the whole area. When Bill Egerton took over as Chair (1978-1982) the then Director of the Land and Property Department, Jack Hadwin, created an Economic Development section within his department[1].

The regeneration of Castlefield and the old Smithfield Market area began around this time. The Old City Hall on Liverpool Road became an Air and Space Museum and the buildings opposite were later taken over by the County Council for the Museum of Science and Industry.

In the late 1970s, prior to the Tories winning the general election in 1979, the Council Leader at the time, Norman Morris, had negotiated with the Labour government an additional £10 million a year in government funding for three years for an inner-city partnership between Manchester and Salford and the government. He said:

“We have the chance to do things which might have taken 50 years. It’s an experiment in government of enormous importance at every level, cutting through red tape and making separate ministries conform to the same overt priority for inner over outer areas.”

It sounds like an early attempt at the ‘joined-up’ government promised by Tony Blair nearly 20 years later.

“This will benefit the whole city, but we have to recognise that it means sacrifices for the outer areas which will be seen to get less,” Norman Morris admitted. Refreshing honesty at least!

The Salford and Manchester partnership was one of a number of government-inspired (but small-scale) initiatives on inner-city regeneration. Each inner-city ward had money allocated for environmental schemes that were jointly controlled by the government and the Council. The aim was to reclaim derelict sites (the plaques are still there), but these kinds of schemes were dismissed by the Left as merely cosmetic. Many on the Left were much more concerned about the damage being done to communities by large-scale projects such as the Hulme housing development and the massive road-building schemes being implemented in the city.

Planning for the 1984 Elections
A number of environmental activists on the left of the Labour Party had been concerned for many years about the proliferation of high rise flats in Hulme and elsewhere, and about the major roads that were cutting great swathes through housing areas and decimating communities. They spent a lot of time and effort in the Planning and Environment Working Party, putting together comprehensive plans for the new administration to implement in 1984.

Two of these activists were Arnold Spencer and Andrew Fender. Arnold was a multi-lingual lecturer in linguistics who was first elected to the City Council in 1971, lost his seat in 1973, and then (after a period of working in the Sudan) was re-elected in 1979. Andrew was a computer professional with expertise that was invaluable in election campaigns before personal computers were in common use. He was elected to the County Council in 1977 and, after its abolition, became a City Councillor in 1986.

Arnold Spencer and Andrew Fender believed that the huge road building programme and the associated high-rise and deck-access housing developments pursued by the Council in the 1960s and 1970s were a serious mistake. These were the issues that drove them to get involved in the City Party in order to change the direction in which things were going.

Most of this road building emanated from a plan drawn up in the 1960s by the City Engineer and Surveyor to supersede the 1945 City of Manchester Plan. The 1960s’ plan catered for the increase in car ownership and vehicle use and meant that half the city’s homes would have to be knocked down to make room for all the roads.

Hulme – described by a local councillor at the time as like a Battenburg cake – was the most visible example. The aim of the 1960s’ plan was to extend the Hulme development all the way down to Alexandra Park and out to the east. If that had been allowed to go ahead, the whole of the inner city would have consisted of deck-access flats completely surrounded by roads. Arnold Spencer and Andrew Fender’s aim was to prevent that happening. They had supported the programme of replacement of the very high-density slums in Hulme, but because they opposed the road-building programme the Labour right-wing accused them of wanting to deny working-class people the right to drive cars and have modern homes.

The 1984 Manifesto included a comprehensive section on the Environment.

“Manchester needs a coherent and forward-looking strategy for the environment. We must avoid repeating the planning mistakes of the past, whilst continuing with the programme of environmental improvements in the city. We must also involve local residents and community groups much more closely in decisions on planning and land use.

“Planning mistakes have contributed to the social and economic problems of the inner city. We look forward to rebuilding areas of planning failure, allowing the pattern of shopping and community facilities to evolve in response to the desires and needs of the community.”

These ‘planning mistakes’ referred to the building of roads and locations of high-rise flats rather than being a criticism of planning officers.

Details of planned tree-planting and pedestrianisation schemes were included in the Manifesto and there were also sections on tackling rubbish removal, cleansing, fly-tipping and dog-fouling. The lack of success in implementing these latter proposals was a source of angst for many years – a failure that was at least partly down to the inability of the Left to tackle the powerful trade unions and their work practices (see chapter 12).

As the responsibility for major road-building schemes and public transport lay with the County Council, and only limited powers were held by the City Council, other proposals in the Manifesto had to be carefully worded.

“Support for road investment will be limited to traffic management schemes, faster bus operation, industrial access and road safety. Any large schemes must be ground level and at most, dual two-lane. In no circumstances will we support the expenditure of public money for the construction of multi-storey car parks.

“We will design a network of cycle routes using pavements, park paths and traffic lanes, for submission to the county council.”

Arnold Spencer and Graham Stringer clashes
As the newly-elected chair of the Planning Committee in 1984, Arnold Spencer set to work immediately with the City Planning Officer, Brian Parnell, who was very supportive of the new policy commitments, to implement these sections of the Manifesto.

A cycling officer was appointed and work was done on preparing a comprehensive city-wide plan for cycle lanes. However, Arnold was unable to get this agreed by the Labour Group because Graham Stringer opposed it, and in any argument Graham could always muster majority support. Although erudite and intelligent, Arnold lacked the ability to persuade less knowledgeable people to his point of view and he was perceived by some councillors as a little arrogant. There was also an element of antagonism towards anyone perceived as ‘intellectual’ by some members of the Labour Group. Graham Stringer, on the other hand, had the ‘common touch’ and could always put forward plausible arguments. He also commanded a lot of respect from the group members and, even if some had a different viewpoint, they tended to support the leadership position for the sake of unity.

Graham believed that cycle lanes (and cyclists) caused problems for cars and buses and he made it very difficult for Arnold to make progress on this manifesto commitment. He also insisted that there should be no kerb separation for the cycle lanes. Arnold says he had to fight for every 100 yards of cycle lane, which is why we have such a piecemeal system in Manchester today. His measure of success for any scheme was how much it slowed down the traffic in the city, which was the opposite of what Graham wanted.

Arnold was a keen cyclist (as was Richard Leese) and his solution to the problem of pedestrian groups complaining about cyclists using walkways was to re-designate all walkways as ‘cycleways’ with walking allowed.

Another area of conflict between Graham and Arnold was over pedestrianisation. Arnold was keen to get more parts of the city centre pedestrianised. This had already been done in Brazenose Street, leading from the Town Hall down to Deansgate, and Arnold initiated the scheme for pedestrianising Albert Square (in front of the Town Hall), which Graham didn’t oppose. Arnold asked the officers to produce three options – low, medium and high cost – to take to a meeting of the Labour Group officers on the assumption that they would go for the medium cost option, which they did. The decision to narrow Deansgate was taken later by the County Council as the Highways Authority.

The idea of using cobblestone setts for Albert Square came from a councillors’ visit to Europe by Tony Burns, Keith Barnes and Andrew Fender. Frances Done pointed out that cobblestones were a problem for women in high heels, but Sorrel Brookes insisted that it would encourage women to be sensible and wear flat shoes.

Arnold then tried to get a pedestrianisation scheme agreed for Stevenson Square, but Graham opposed it because it would take away parking spaces. He also tried for a scheme for St James Square that was opposed by Graham. Arnold says that at this point, although he had been very friendly with Graham since 1979 (and was a regular member of the group that socialised in the Town Hall Tavern and the City Arms), he started to seriously fall out with him. Both Graham and Arnold are strong characters with a substantial stubborn streak, so it was perhaps inevitable that they would fall out. Andrew Fender was caught in the middle of most of their rows.

Arnold did manage to get approval for a scheme using Egyptian paving and a statue in a small square at the bottom of Bridge Street. But he really wanted a linked pedestrian network in the city with strategically-placed resting places, including statues or artworks to make the ‘rest’ a pleasant experience. He didn’t succeed but did get a number of statues put up. He managed to achieve a lot of environmentally-sound things behind the scenes, until, as he put it, “Graham started noticing and blocking them”. One of the statues that Arnold had erected was of Abraham Lincoln – on Brazenose Street with extracts from the letter he sent to the working people of Manchester thanking them for their support (see below) – and in 1986, a statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln that was erected in 1916 was moved to Platt Fields Park with the following quote:

“This statue commemorates the support that the working people of Manchester gave in the fight for the abolition of slavery during the American civil war. By supporting the Union under president Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states, the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.”

Arnold encouraged the officers to do more on the greening of the river valleys schemes that had begun before 1984. An Environment Officer was appointed whose job was to co-ordinate schemes and publicise what the Council was doing for the Environment. A programme of tree planting had already begun, but Arnold developed links with the Red Rose Forest voluntary project and encouraged officers to work with them to plant more trees in the city.

He also insisted that all landscaping schemes should take into account personal safety, particularly for women, by ensuring that alongside pathways there should be at least a metre of clear space between a path and any bushes or trees to reduce the possibility of people hiding and jumping out. Arnold also insisted that wherever there were steps there should be an alternative route for wheelchair users.

Terry Day, head of the Equal Opportunities Unit, was scornful of these measures as only paying lip service to Equal Opportunities. Despite her scorn, Arnold Spencer did have a major Equal Opportunities success in relation to planning applications. He wanted all new buildings for public use to have disabled-access toilets, but planning officers said there was no legal basis for insisting on this. So when a planning application was received for a public house in East Manchester, Arnold told the officers to refuse permission on the grounds that there were no disabled toilets in the plan, and to make it clear to the applicants that if they went to a formal planning appeal (which they would have won) it would mean bad publicity for them. Arnold was taking a risk, since significant costs would have been awarded against the Council if it lost any appeal. But no developer wants to get into a fight with their local planning authority and jeopardise future working relationships if it can be avoided, so the applicants backed down and included the disabled toilets. From then on, it was established as council policy that disabled toilets should be included in buildings for public use, and was later included in the Unitary Development Plan well before legislation required it.

Planning Department officers did a lot of innovative work on projects to bring disused buildings back into use – particularly on converting disused cotton warehouses into student accommodation or apartments for single people and couples[2]. They would approach developers who already had schemes in progress in the city, suggest possibilities to them and explain how they might access the grants available for bringing listed buildings back into use. A building at the corner of Deansgate and Liverpool Road that had been derelict for many years was bought and developed by the Cervantes Institute, a Spanish language organisation, following a contact with Arnold Spencer through his language teaching and the encouragement of the planning officers.

Although Graham didn’t support cycle lanes, because they impeded the flow of car traffic, he did support, and later championed, the development of trams in the city.

A Greater Manchester Labour Party working group, which included Arnold Spencer, Andrew Fender and Labour Party members employed by the County Council, had been working for many years to bring trams back to Manchester. They were described at the time as a cross between a bus and a train and there were plans to begin operating the network from 1989. The abolition of the County Council in 1986 delayed these plans, but the 1985 Local Government Act created the Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) as a joint board to take over its responsibilities[3].

The Labour Party’s working group got a single-sentence commitment to trams into Manchester’s 1986 Manifesto:

“We also support plans for the tram-style light rapid transport system and building a rail link to the airport.”

There was no dissent on the issue; everyone (including Graham Stringer) thought it was a good idea and the project gathered its own momentum (see chapter 25).

Economic Policy Implementation
The City Party’s development of an Economic Policy in relation to employment was far more difficult and tightly constrained by the Tory government.

There were high levels of unemployment throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in Manchester these were much higher than the national and regional average. The government had introduced a range of job training schemes and Enterprise Zones that were dismissed by the Left as gimmicks for moving jobs around rather than creating new ones.

Although creating local jobs was a key priority for both the right and the left of the Labour Party, the Left was determined to make more progress in this area than had been achieved before. The 1984 Manifesto stated, very ambitiously:

“The council must take a central role in re-building the city’s economy, preparing an industrial strategy, investing in local firms, encouraging co-operatives, promoting genuine training programmes and creating jobs for areas of high unemployment.

“The Labour council will develop an economic strategy for the revival of Manchester. Our new economic development department will encourage and support the involvement of trade unions and community groups in developing new investment strategies. The energies and interest of people living and working in Manchester will be enlisted to halt the collapse of local economies.”

There were no new resources allocated to this task, however, only a re-directing of existing resources.

At the first Policy and Resources Committee meeting of the new administration, a separate Economic Development Committee[4] was formed, to be chaired by Jack Flanagan, one of the five councillors who shifted his allegiance from the Right to the Left. Jack was an experienced councillor with a distinguished background in the trade union movement who represented a ward in Beswick. This part of the city had been the heartland of traditional industries, but with the decline of engineering and manufacturing it now had the highest levels of unemployment in Manchester. Not surprisingly, it also contained high levels of dereliction and decay.

In 1985, the Land and Property Committee was reorganised as a sub-committee of the Policy and Resources Committee, while the Economic Development Department was restructured to give it more status. Establishing an adequate staffing structure was slow and it wasn’t until 1986 that a Deputy Director was appointed – Steve Machin, who had previously worked for Sheffield Council, which was regarded as one of the leading local authorities in terms of its regeneration work.

Government money was available in the form of derelict land and Urban Programme grants and the council already had a system of giving grants and/or loans to local firms. Under the new administration this was more rigorously monitored and used to reinforce the Council’s new policies. To be eligible for grants, firms would have to demonstrate that they had good policies on Health and Safety, trade union rights, non-discrimination and Equal Opportunities. For example, a firm that had dismissed a female employee for trade union activity had its grant offer withdrawn, whereas a firm that employed a high proportion of black and female workers was given a grant even though its application was weak.

The Manchester Co-operative Development Agency (MANCODA) received a grant from the Council, as did the Manchester Engineering Research Group (MERG). MERG was led by Bernard Leach at the Manchester Polytechnic and received strong support from local trade unions, especially the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU).

There was also a manifesto commitment to support trade unions fighting against redundancies and factory closures and to offer them council facilities. The intention was to employ a Trade Union Liaison Officer as a part of the department’s team, but the post was never filled and in practice attempts to support unions fighting redundancies weren’t very successful.

Manchester Steel and Crumpsall Biscuits were just two companies where considerable, but unsuccessful, efforts were made to prevent closure. These highlighted the limitations of Council action, but Jack Flanagan still believed that with earlier information about the situation in a company facing financial difficulties, assistance might have been possible.

The government’s Youth Training Scheme (YTS) was regarded as unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including low living allowances and limited periods of training. But as the new council administration was not in a position to abolish or ignore the scheme, it decided to modify and improve it as far as possible. Top-up allowances were paid to bring a trainee’s income up to just below the level at which tax and National Insurance contributions would have to be paid.

The new administration took a tougher stance on the government’s adult training scheme. Called Employment Training (ET), this only offered a flat rate payment on top of benefits. In spite of intensive pressure from government departments, the City Council never became a managing agent for the scheme and instead supported a national campaign to oppose this ‘work for your dole’ approach. This eventually led to the scheme’s downfall and the abolition of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC).

The Council’s Planning Department gathered regular statistical information, including unemployment data, but carried out little qualitative research or analysis. So the Economic Development Department drew up a contract with the North West Industry Research Unit in the Geography Department at Manchester University to do some research into unemployment patterns in Manchester.

Headed by Peter Lloyd, the unit was doing a lot of MSC-funded work on unemployment and the changing nature of the labour market. Labour activists Dave Carter and Dave Spooner were involved in that research, which was communicated to councillors on a regular basis. According to Dave Carter, the research showed that showed that things were dire:

“the existing levels of unemployment were just the tip of the ice-berg and things were due to get much worse in a ‘second wave’ of restructuring, especially in the engineering sector, where many companies were surviving on short term contracts, which, it was becoming clear, had little longer-term future, especially as production was relocated overseas.”

Dave Carter and Dave Spooner had been active Labour Party members in the early 1980s and were part of the local organising group for the People’s March for Jobs in 1981. Their experiences had been a key factor in convincing them to get more involved with the Economic Development Working Party. Dave Spooner left Manchester in 1983 to work for a section of the international trade union movement based in Hong Kong, but Dave Carter continued to be involved in the working party, which continued to meet after the left-wing takeover of the Council administration in May 1984.

Alongside the work of the Economic Development Committee, an Anti-poverty Strategy was being developed and campaigns were mounted against the government’s attacks on social security. In July 1985, an Anti-poverty Sub-committee of the Policy and Resources Committee was established and submitted a formal response (comprehensive critique) to the government’s green paper on social security and housing benefit.

A Housing Benefit Sub-committee of the Housing Committee was also established, with co-options from the Labour Party’s Housing Benefits Campaign. It was decided that the council officer dealing with housing benefit would need to be a political post with a role in co-ordinating the campaign against government legislation, rather than just administrating the system, and thus was appointed by councillors only.

The Anti-poverty Sub-committee wrestled with the problem of the Council’s own low-paid workers. The trade unions were opposed to measures that eroded pay differentials, so the compromise was that low-paid workers should be paid a wage supplement. But this created another set of anomalies and the whole issue took many years to resolve (see chapter 18).

The Centre for Local Economic Strategies
Another important contributor to the Council’s Economic Development Strategy was the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), which was set up in 1986 by four local authorities – the Greater London Council (GLC), Merseyside County Council, Manchester City Council and Sheffield City Council. The GLC and Merseyside CC were about to be abolished and they were keen to leave some legacy by making a financial contribution to an organisation that would continue to pursue some of their economic objectives.

During negotiations about the establishment of CLES it was decided that it would be based in Manchester (in an office opposite the Town Hall). This decision is widely credited to John Nicholson, Manchester’s Deputy Leader at the time. Of course most national organisations are based in London – the reason cited being that they need to be close to the centre of power – so it was something of a coup to have it based in Manchester, all the more so since Sheffield Council was seen at that time as having a much stronger economic development strategy.

The main functions of CLES (see Appendix 8B) were to provide information, publications and research to assist local authorities in developing economic strategies for their areas in preparation for an expected, incoming Labour government. Regular seminars and conferences were held, but local authorities’ role in economic development was often perceived as merely the provision of land or buildings or advice to developers with little strategic input. This changed significantly after 1987 (see chapter 24).

Prior to the May 1986 elections, reviewing the progress made by the Economic Development Committee over the first two years of the new administration, Jack Flanagan, the Chair from 1984 -1986, pointed out in a paper for the City Party that the lack of resources had hampered achievement of manifesto commitments.

“We must once and for all decide whether we are committed to a much greater level of local involvement in our economic development work, or whether we would prefer to simply continue to redirect our existing resources. If we are able to give that commitment then there will be a chance that we can make significant, rather than token, progress in key areas where we have done no more than scratch the surface… Our record is one of considerable achievement. However, we are at the moment in danger of dabbling in new areas in a way which would be counter-productive if we are not able to demonstrate that we are prepared to give further commitment.”

Despite this plea, no additional resources were allocated, and the subsequent re-election of the Tory government in 1987 made it impossible to make a significant impact on the unemployment levels in Manchester until the change of political direction following from 1989 and the development of public/private partnerships (see chapter 24).

Manchester Airport
By far the most important and strategic economic development for Manchester was (and is) the Ringway Airport. Very few of the left-wingers (me included) had much to do with the airport, and if truth be told, they didn’t understand its economic significance – other than the significant budget contribution made by the annual declared dividend. But Graham Stringer did understand its importance and was passionately committed to it. The impending privatisation legislation (to become the 1986 Airports Act – see later) threatened continuing municipal control as indeed it had been threatened by the proposed nationalisation of airports in the 1950s (see Appendix 8C).

Prior to the 1974 reorganisation of local government, the airport was entirely under the control of the City Council, with an Airport Committee, consisting of aldermen and councillors, reporting to the Council in the same way as every other committee. Subsequently a Joint Committee was established, half of whose 20 members, or directors, were from the City Council and half from the County Council. Although it was a council committee, it operated much more like the board of a company, which the airport was. The chair alternated between City and County Council nominees.

When the Left administration took control in May 1984, it also took control of the majority of the airport directorships. One of the ten City Council directorships was allocated to an opposition councillor and one was to a right-winger[5]. At the Airport annual meeting in June 1984, it was the turn of the city to take the chair and so Keith Barnes was elected.

In December 1984, the airport board adopted an Equal Opportunities Policy and introduced a new Equal Opportunities Officer post. I can only assume that this was as a direct result of the left-wing takeover, since it is difficult to imagine this step being taken by the previously right-wing (and white and male) directors.

In early 1985, the airport board (and the Labour Party) had to consider major changes that were looming in the shape of two pieces of government legislation that would have a major impact on the Airport. The first was the government’s decision that all municipal airports should be operated as Public Limited Companies (plc). The second was the decision to abolish the Greater Manchester County Council.

At the July 1985 board meeting it was agreed to set up ‘Manchester International Airport’ as a plc, with the ten Greater Manchester local authorities (one of which was the City Council) assuming responsibility for the County Council’s 50% interest. The land and buildings occupied by the airport would be leased from the City Council. Shareholders would be created, with the ten local authorities’ holdings being distributed after abolition on the basis of their respective populations[6] and each local authority having the right to nominate a director to the board.

This clever avoidance of privatisation elicited fury from the local Tories on the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. They wrote personally to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, arguing for ‘full commercial input’ and complaining about “manoeuvres of Manchester City Council that would result in Manchester having voting control of 58% of the shares after 31 March 1986”. The reply from the Prime Minister’s office merely stated that the Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley, had to approve all schemes. This obviously infuriated the Chamber of Commerce even more and they wrote back to say they were “amazed at government taking such a feeble attitude to the control of probably the most valuable asset at the centre of the development of the North West.” But the Secretary of State did approve the scheme (it must have been so legally watertight that he had no option) and the airport remained under public control.

On 22 August 1985, sadly, there was a terrible disaster at the airport. A Boeing 737 that was about to take off exploded and burst into flames on the runway, claiming 55 victims. Keith Barnes, as Deputy Chair of the airport board, suddenly had to deal with the world’s press. But he managed to remain calm and collected.

Margaret Thatcher visited the scene. The Manchester Evening News published a letter from a resident (Mr L) criticising councillors for not being at the airport to greet her. Kevan Lim, as a member of the Airport Board, immediately responded, but his letter wasn’t published until 2 November 1985:

“Cllr Gordon Thomas (chair) and Cllr Keith Barnes (deputy chair) spent the whole day from 8am until late evening assisting with urgent work arising from the disaster. Mrs Thatcher was met by the respective leaders of the city and county councils. Other members quite rightly stayed away. In such tragic circumstances, what the airport needs is not vast hordes of dignitaries looking at the disaster, but efficient emergency and support services. The work done by the staff at the airport at all levels on the day was incredible and it would have been more useful if Mr L had written commending the work of the emergency services rather than writing an inaccurate and misleading statement”

The city and other district councils of Greater Manchester set up a Manchester Airport Disaster Relief Fund to help the injured and families and dependants. Within a few weeks, the fund stood at £250,000.

A large section in the City Party’s manifesto for the 1986 local elections was devoted to the airport. Written largely by Graham Stringer, it concentrated almost entirely on Economic Development:

“Public control of Manchester Airport will allow expansion in line with the needs of the local community and give some hope of employment for local unemployed people.

“Manchester Airport has thrived under the joint control of the city and county councils. It is a major source of employment and wealth for the region – 5,000 jobs are directly associated with the airport and thousands more depend on the airport’s activities. Whilst the North West has been hit by recession, Manchester Airport stands as a growth point and is vitally important to the region’s economy.

“It is Britain’s major international airport outside the South East. In conjunction with other councils in the north of England, Manchester’s City Council has campaigned against government policies to expand Stansted. There is no justification for subsidising development of Stansted when regional airports are starved of public funds for investment and passengers are forced to use London airports through lack of alternatives.

“The greatest threat to Manchester Airport is the combined effect of the Tories’ Abolition Act and their privatisation plans for local authority airports. To counter these asset-stripping policies, the city council, together with district councils in Greater Manchester, have set up an airport plc with 100% local authority shareholding and directors who are elected councillors. Manchester will have a majority shareholding and, as a local authority controlled company, the airport can continue to operate for the benefit of the region’s economy and avoid the worst effects of privatisation.

“The constitution of the new company commits the shareholders to environmental and employment policies which safeguard the interests of Manchester residents and airport employees. Labour’s representatives on the airport company board will ensure that the airport continues to pursue these objectives and will oppose government attempts to introduce further privatisation or to develop south-eastern airports at the expense of the regions.”

This company, which had been set up in July 1985, was disestablished in March 1986 after the airport had been granted ‘designated status’ under the 1985 Airports Act and the threat of privatisation had receded. A joint venture company, Ringway Developments, was then established with the private sector. One of the partners in this company was AMEC (a major construction company) and its CEO, Sir Alan Cockshaw, had a place on the board and developed a friendship with Graham Stringer (see chapter 24).

Apart from its success with the airport, the Council’s regeneration efforts in relation to employment, housing and the physical environment were severely hampered by central government and further economic and legislative problems following the 1987 general election made things even worse.


Previous Chapter Contents list Next Chapter

Editor’s Comments

The editing has involved typographical and layout changes and addition of sub-headings. I found this chapter hard work. It seems to jump about and also covers a lot of the same ground that is in chapters 24 and 25, or rather is a precursor to those chapters but has overlap. It‘s too difficult to unpick without a complete structural rewrite, so I have left it intact. Appendix 8A seems unnecessary and Appendix 8C too detailed, but I am including both anyway.


[1] In 1982, Mick Moore (who had for many years been Deputy to Brian Parnell in the Planning Department) was made Director of Economic Development. According to Bill Egerton, Jack Hadwin was one of the chief officers forced out when the Left took over in 1984. Mick Moore reported directly to the Land and Property Committee and Brian Eaton (Director of City Estates) did so on city valuation issues.

[2] In the mid-1980s, the Assistant City Planning Officer, Ted Kitchen, wrote a report for the Planning Committee about housing in the city centre and estimated that by the year 2000, the population would be around 10,000 (as opposed to the few hundred at the time). Graham thought Ted was mad, but in fact it was just over 10,000 by the year 2000. His report also said that thought would have to be given to the social consequences of this, including the later need for family facilities.

[3] The membership of the PTA was made up of representatives from the 10 Greater Manchester districts: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan.

[4] See Appendix 8A for list of chairs and deputies of the Economic Development Committee.

[5] Bill Egerton took this place, with Sid Silverman as his deputy. The other eight directors were Keith Barnes (to take over as deputy chair from Gordon Conquest until the annual meeting in June), Tony Burns, Nick Harris (replaced in June by Helen Johnson), Kevan Lim, Winnie Smith, Graham Stringer, Chris Tucker and Niel Warren. The opposition place was taken by David Sandiford (Lib Dem), with Harold Tucker (Tory) as his deputy.

[6] The city council thus took 29,300 shares altogether, consisting of its own 50% of the total plus 4,300 from the county council’s 50% holding. The other shares were allocated to Bolton – 2,500; Bury – 1,700; Oldham – 2,100; Rochdale – 2,000; Salford – 2,300; Stockport – 2,300; Tameside – 2,100; Trafford – 2,200; and Wigan – 3,000.

Previous Chapter Contents list Next Chapter

Further Reading

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *