Relationships with the private sector

This account covers the relationships forged by the leadership of the Labour administration with the private sector that enabled significant projects such as the Trafford Centre and Bridgewater Hall to be built. The unwelcome imposition of the Central Manchester Development Corporation by the Conservative government, nevertheless brought government money into the city and actually there was a partnership working to achieve key projects that the Council aspired to and had been working towards. The City Challenge programme, another government funded scheme, enabled the problem area of the Hulme crescents to be redeveloped into low level housing. There were clashes when the principles of the design guide for Hulme were to be applied across the city, which ended in the resignation of the Chief Planning Officer.
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Manchester: A City with Ambition

All the Mancunians I’ve ever met have been passionately proud of their city. Even those who weren’t born and bred in Manchester seem to feel this way about their adopted city. There is no doubt that it has been, and continues to be, one of the great cities of Britain, but for Manchester councillors (both Left and Right) there is a determination to make it into the ‘best’ and the ‘first’ in every possible endeavour – to be a ‘big player’, not just in Britain, but in the world.

Graham Stringer was a driving force in the development of Manchester as a world class city (a drive continued by Richard Leese). He was personally committed to (and closely involved with) working with the private sector to bring in new building projects to the city that would not only create jobs, but also enhance the prosperity of the city. He used to refer to a ‘crane index’[1] as a measure of the city’s prosperity – ie the number of building cranes that could be counted on the skyline.

In 1981, a scheme for regenerating the city centre had been established by the right-wing Labour administration. The slogan was ‘City of Manchester – right at the heart of things’ and a budget of £100,000 was allocated for promoting the city throughout Europe. Posters went up everywhere. The following year, when Bill Egerton was leader of the Council, Christmas lights were put up throughout the centre with big displays in Market Street and 50,000 people turned up to Albert Square for the lights switch-on by stars from TV’s Coronation Street. When the Left took over the Labour administration in 1984, the ‘City Centre’ campaign was continued because encouraging shopping and entertainment was seen as essential to the city’s regeneration, but financial contributions were sought from city centre businesses. Bill Egerton had expected the Left to cut this £100,000 budget when they took over and was very surprised when they didn’t do so. But whilst the Left didn’t intend to stop things already in progress, they wanted to have a more significant impact on the regeneration of the city.

Even before Labour’s general election defeat in 1987, Graham Stringer (and Frances Done) had been prepared to develop relationships with people from the private sector in order to encourage regeneration in the city.

According to the Manchester Evening News journalist Ray King[2] this began in October 1984 with Graham meeting Bob Scott, who had aspirations for Manchester to host the Olympics in 1992[3], and who introduced him to a number of key business people whom Graham wouldn’t otherwise have met. But I think Graham had already developed a fairly close relationship with at least one prominent local businessman – John Whittaker (Chief Executive of Peel Holdings) – through his membership of the Manchester Ship Canal Board, and he knew Alan Cockshaw (AMEC) from the Airport Board.

Paving the Way for the Trafford Centre Development
The history of the ship canal has been well documented and the revenues generated have made a significant contribution to Manchester Council’s budget for decades. In May 1984, the Council still controlled the Ship Canal board by statute (having 11 out of the 21 directorships), but John Whittaker controlled virtually all the shares.

Whittaker wanted to develop land owned by the Ship Canal Company at Dumplington into an out-of-town shopping centre. The development would have been deemed by the government to be in the best interests of the shareholders, but would have had a devastating effect on the retail trade in the city centre. According to Ray King, Graham could see that the Council’s directors would be put in an impossible position and that Whittaker would be able to take legal action to force the directors to co-operate, so he struck a deal with Whittaker. Graham was reputed to have said something along the lines of “Pay us a lot of money to relinquish our directorships – more than they’re worth – because otherwise we’ll be a bloody nuisance within the ship canal company – and we’ll carry out our own interests on behalf of the city council, which are clearly not the same as yours”.

A joint venture company was set up between the Ship Canal Company and the City Council, called ‘Ship Canal Developments’, and was incorporated in October 1987. Whittaker paid the City Council £7 million to relinquish its directorships and invested additional resources and expertise (reckoned to be worth around £3 million) in the joint venture company for investment in East Manchester. The deal enabled Peel Holdings to develop the Trafford Centre at Dumplington.

Manchester City Council and the neighbouring councils still mounted a legal challenge against the development, but this didn’t appear to damage the good personal relationship that Graham Stringer had developed with John Whittaker.

The only other councillor aware of the negotiations with Whittaker (and his close personal relationship with Graham) was Frances Done. As she later said to Ray King[4]:

“at the time, any dealings with the private sector would have been regarded with suspicion … I personally thought his take over of the ship canal company was a good thing because the previous board had not appreciated the potential for jobs and development. It was not a problem dealing with someone who’s got enterprise and initiative in his approach, but it was tricky in that every move of every individual was being scrutinised by the Party… A lot of trust was built up through straight talking behind the scenes with people you wouldn’t normally have a relationship with …. Had it been known, it would have caused an awful lot of trouble within the Labour Party with a few purists who couldn’t see beyond their ideology to the reality that you can really benefit the citizens by behaving in a slightly different way.”

Even before the tensions and splits within the Labour Group in 1987, the left-wing of the Labour Party would have been horrified to think of the Council leadership being friendly with rich developers.

But John Whittaker didn’t get everything his own way. Graham Stringer and Frances Done worked hard to ensure that the top end of the canal didn’t get closed off (see end of Appendix 24A). Graham said:

“It was only because we were so bloody minded in public with John that it didn’t happen. He couldn’t proceed because he knew there’d be a lot of opposition.”

Central Manchester Development Corporation
According to Ray King, shortly after the Tories 3rd General Election victory in 1987, Graham Stringer said he wrote a letter to Nicholas Ridley (Secretary of State for Environment) basically saying “Okay, you win, we’d like to work together with you.” Ridley didn’t reply, but his officials understood the significance of the letter and when Chris Patten replaced Nicholas Ridley, he recognised Manchester Council’s willingness to co-operate with the government.

The clearest manifestation of this willingness to co-operate was in relation to the government’s introduction of an Urban Development Corporation (UDC) in central Manchester, although Graham always made it very clear that the UDC was an undemocratic organisation with no accountability for its expenditure of public funds.

The idea of UDCs originated from Michael Heseltine with the intention of bringing together public and private sectors and acting as a catalyst for change. But the Left in Manchester were hostile to the idea as it was seen as the heavy hand of government descending from on high to impose a strict autocratic framework on the development of the economic and physical environment. It was also seen as a device by government for claiming the credit for the regeneration that was already being carried out by the Council, and for by-passing the Council’s decision-making processes.

The UDC decision was intended to deliberately shut out local left-wing politicians from the regeneration process of a large and important swathe of the city centre and was a clear indication that the Council was not to be trusted despite its apparent new-found willingness, at least on paper, to co-operate. David Trippier became the Minister for Inner Cities and Construction after the 1987 election reshuffle and it was his task to establish central Manchester’s UDC. According to Ray King, Trippier was unaware of Graham’s letter to Ridley and he expected to confront major difficulties from a resentful council.

Trippier had been the Conservative leader of Rochdale Council in the mid 1970s and had had to work with both Labour and Conservative governments. He knew that central and local government needed each other, but that absolutely nothing would happen without the private sector having the confidence to invest. He was also an unqualified supporter of local government.

However, whilst the City Party was expressing its opposition to the UDC (see Appendix 24B for July 1988 resolution), Graham Stringer was doing his best to co-operate with Heseltine and Trippier in order to get the best deal for Manchester.

Trippier was very scathing about Manchester ‘Leftie’ policies from 1984 – 1987 and described it as a ‘banana republic’. But, despite their political differences, Trippier and Stringer had a shared love of Manchester and they were willing to work together to find common ground in order do business.

According to Ray King, they had a number of private meetings – ie without civil servants present (which was unusual) – and apparently after their second get-together Trippier decided ‘this is a man I can do business with’. Trippier wanted Graham Stringer on the UDC board – to be called the Central Manchester Development Corporation (CMDC)[5] – and also Cllr Jack Flanagan, who was Chair of the Airport Board at the time.

It was obviously a great help that the Council had some very intelligent, competent and dedicated officers working in the Chief Executive’s and Planning departments who could turn the aspirations and ideas into reality.

In November 1988, Graham presented a full report to the City Party on the co-operation between the CMDC and the City Council (see Appendix 24A for full text). He indicated that planning applications for development within the designated boundary would be dealt with by the Council, but in fact this was not true as the CMDC had the power to act as its own planning authority. Legally, the City Planning Officer had the right to appear before the Board and make his case if his advice differed from the CMDC planning officers, but the Board didn’t have to take his advice.

Although Graham’s report didn’t go all the way to meeting the ‘demands’ set out in July by the City Party it was enough to pacify Party members and convince them that the Government-imposed body had been ‘tamed’. After that, there were no requests from the City Party for information, and its work was not subject to any democratic accountability, although Graham Stringer did make further reports in June and November 1990 (see Appendix 24C) and continued to stress that the Council should take its share of credit for achievements of the CMDC because they were things that the Council had planned to do but were unable to begin because of government policy.

The initial boundary for the CMDC excluded the Free Trade Hall because, according to Ray King, Trippier felt that its iconic status for Labour as the site of the Peterloo massacre, would be problematic, but Graham wanted it included in order to get money for it as it was in a serious state of disrepair, and he also wanted a new concert hall for the Hallé orchestra. Also at Graham’s request, Trippier included the land opposite Piccadilly Station including the Joshua Hoyle cotton warehouse (transformed into the Malmaison Hotel). Trippier apparently simply rubbed out the line on the map and moved it.

The Great Bridgewater Initiative
The land on which the new concert hall now stands (opposite the G-Mex exhibition centre) was owned by the Council and it was a long-standing policy that it should be reserved for a major civic building that could be a catalyst for the regeneration of the whole area. The council officers also had aspirations to open up the basin of the Bridgewater canal and believed that there would be commercial interest in the site. A ‘development brief’ was started when Brian Parnell was the City Planning Officer but not progressed because of lack of development funding. The private sector wanted it for a car park and so did some councillors, but this was resisted.

Now that the area was within the CMDC’s remit, work began to plan a new concert hall for the Hallé orchestra on this site and this was the first CMDC project to get underway. The officer team, including Penny Boothman (see chapter 5) began informal discussions with potential developers and persuaded big corporate lawyers like Addleshaws and Eversheds to consider moving to one of the offices on the site.

Penny says that they had always been clear in their conversations with the Hallé that the Free Trade Hall could never be made into a proper modern, contemporary concert hall and that they were aiming for a completely new, state-of-the-art building. It was to be Britain’s first stand-alone international concert venue since the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1951.

A formal ‘development brief’ was prepared and launched in 1989 – basically saying to potential developers “We want a, b and c on this site, what is your vision? What are your proposals?” The responses were evaluated by the CMDC and a preferred development partner (Beazer) was appointed, but then refinements had to be negotiated in relation to what sort of commercial developments there would be on the site. There were gaps in the necessary funding and the costs kept rising. The whole process took a long time, involving the team of council officers in negotiations for European funding for the environmental aspects to the scheme, and in putting together a complicated package of funding from a range of different sources, which was finally approved by the CMDC Board. Without the work of these council officers this development wouldn’t have happened and the concert hall wouldn’t have been built.

It wasn’t until July 1991 that there were enough agreements in place for a report about the project (The Great Bridgewater Initiative) to be put to the Policy and Resources Committee. At this point the capital costs were projected to be around £40.2 million, coming from three sources – the sale of the land, a grant from the CMDC, and a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) grant.

It was reported to the Council meeting in March 1992 that the Secretary of State for the Environment (Michael Heseltine) had committed the government to making £22 million available for the concert hall project. At this point, the total funding package was secure, with a capital receipt of £7 million from the Manchester Ship Canal Company having been earmarked for it, and £4.9 million of Urban Programme funding.

The Demise of Tommy Duck’s

Historic image of Tommy Duck’s with the Midland Hotel in the background.

A complicating factor threatening to impede the development of the concert hall was a very old and popular public house on the site called Tommy Duck’s. Most of the women on the political left disliked this pub because it had women’s knickers decorating all the ceilings like trophies, which seemed to encourage sexist attitudes and comments amongst the clientele. However, it was part of the city’s heritage and no-one really wanted to see the pub disappear. When the planning proposals became public, the regular customers talked of mounting a campaign to save it, but then, over just one Sunday night, contractors moved in and completely demolished it. There was a huge outcry and of course, everyone blamed the Council (and Graham Stringer).

When the City Planning Officer (Ted Kitchen) arrived for work on the following Monday morning, his staff told him what had happened. Graham called him in to his office and asked him to explain “why he didn’t do anything to stop it.” Ted explained that, firstly, he didn’t know anything about it, and secondly, the Council had no planning powers to stop it. The consent of the City Architect was required for demolitions, but he hadn’t been consulted and no programme of demolitions had been submitted. The building wasn’t listed or in a conservation area, so the only grounds for prosecution might be under the regulations that planning permission was required for demolition of residential accommodation (and the pub had living accommodation upstairs) [6]. But the legal advice was that this was only ancillary to the main business and so the chances of bringing a legal case were small. Graham was shocked, surprised and angry – he saw it as an insult to the Council. A prosecution was taken out against the brewery by the City Architect under the building regulations (failure to inform etc) and they were fined. But the brewery had obviously recognised that the pub was an unprofitable use of a valuable site and the fine was minimal in that context.

Soundproofing and the Radical Bridgewater Design
Another complicating factor from the point of view of the concert hall was the proximity of the proposed tram system. Although the trams weren’t at that point in place, the planned route was fixed, and so the sound-proofing of the hall would have to be good enough to block out all the noise and vibrations from those passing nearby.

Penny Boothman remembers chairing “a very scary meeting” in London at which there were three acousticians – one from the Council, one from the developer and one from the Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA) – having a big debate between them about whether to have springs or pads for the concert hall. A decision had to be made about whether the extra cost for the springs was worth it, but in the end they decided it would be (see later).

Construction didn’t begin until 1993 and it took around three and a half years to build. In November 1993, the Council formally agreed to lease the Concert Hall to a charitable company for a peppercorn rent for 35 years, with the freehold of the land remaining with the council. The charitable company to be set up was to have 11 Directors, with four of them from the public sector (the Council and CMDC).

The Hall was virtually complete at the time of the Manchester bomb in 1996, and inside the hall there was absolutely no sound of the blast at all, which was the best possible proof of the correctness of the acoustics decision.

From the launch of the development brief to the completion of the building took seven years and it is unlikely that this kind of long-term planning and development could ever be carried out without the persistence and commitment of a public body like the Council.

According to the Council’s Chief Executive (Howard Bernstein – cited by Ray King) the development of Barbirolli square (surrounding the concert hall) was radical in a number of ways – not only did it demonstrate that a public body such as the Council could work as an equal partner with the private sector, but also, in effect, moved the commercial centre of the city 500 yards down the road. According to Ted Kitchen, the opportunity to create a new city quarter doesn’t come along very often and this development – the creation of a major new civic space (not just a piece of land with a concert hall on) – is the most important thing the Council has done. Despite the weeks and weeks of his personal time and effort spent on the project, before he resigned as CPO in 1995, Ted wasn’t invited to the opening of the concert hall – about which he is still a little bitter (see later).

Although in public and in the press Stringer and Trippier swapped critical comments and accusations, in private (according to Trippier (cited by Ray King)) they never fell out or let each down and got on together very well. Trippier apparently believes that it was him who pointed Graham in the ‘right’ direction – ie towards co-operating with the private sector, but it is clear that this was already a path that Graham had embarked upon.

Graham’s analysis of the Public-Private Partnerships was that the Council could help with the planning process and the private sector could get the money for developments. The Council was prepared to give the private sector the freedom that they didn’t get in any other city.

Great Northern (Warehouse) Initiative
This was the last big development that the CMDC had any involvement with before being wound up by the government on 31st March 1996. The site was huge and encompassed the derelict warehouse and the north part of the terrace of shops at the Knott Mill end of Deansgate, with lots of land between – used for years as a big car park.

In the early 1990s a speculative planning application for the site had been received which the City Planning Officer (Ted Kitchen) thought was inappropriate, poorly designed and should be refused. Under the government’s rules for the CMDC, the CPO had the right to appear before the Board and make his case if his advice differed from the CMDC planning officers. This was the first of only two occasions when he exercised that right, but the Board rejected his advice (on the second occasion, they accepted it). The application for the Great Northern site was approved by the CMDC Board, but nothing was built, and the approval blighted the redevelopment for several years.

In September 1995, it was reported to the Council that a very large and complicated partnership had been put together between the City Council, the CMDC, English Partnerships, Gmex Ltd, and a company called Merlin Great Northern Ltd. It was proposed to build a convention centre, a new civic square, an office building on Watson Street, and to completely refurbish the Great Northern Warehouse and the north part of Deansgate Terrace. A three-year plan was proposed, with the total estimated cost for the first phase being £97.5 million (£69.6 million from the private sector and £27.9 million from the public sector[7]) and £47.7 million (£45 million from the private sector) for the second phase.

This was an even bigger development than the Great Bridgewater Initiative and it was estimated that it would create 2,035 additional jobs in the city by the end of phase 1 and 2,144 additional jobs by the end of the three years. The development was extremely successful, with the Beetham Tower at one end of Deansgate Terrace and the new civic square (plus water feature) at the other end.

Hulme and the City Challenge Programme
This willingness to work with the private sector, and the Tory government, gave the Council opportunities to develop things in the city that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible. One example of this is the re-development of the Hulme area of the city.

In the 1960s, the Hulme housing development had been hailed as the greatest advancement in local authority housing in Europe. The development resulted in the demolition of great swathes of traditional houses (although mostly slums) with two new major roads (Princess Parkway and the Mancunian Way) cutting through the old neighbourhoods. Despite being lauded as a wonderful, modern approach to inner-city living (an example of the arrogance of architects following the latest ‘fashion’), it became the best example of the worst kind of modern development, leading to social breakdown and high levels of crime.

Because of the problems, the Council had very quickly moved families out of the notorious deck access flats (the ‘Crescents’) and made them available to anyone without joining a waiting list. This led to a staggering mix of tenants in Hulme – including articulate students and ex-students, drug dealers, bohemians, and people with a range of social and health-related problems.

In 1984, it was clear that the problems in Hulme were not just about bad housing. Hulme needed physical and social redevelopment, and community involvement was needed in order to avoid the mistakes of redevelopment the first time around. Despite this, the redevelopment team (Hulme Project Team) that was established in October 1984, was put under the control of the Housing department and wasn’t a multi-disciplinary team.

A steering group was set up and held 16 meetings between January 1985 and February 1986. Local residents criticised the councillors for their poor attendance[8], which they felt reflected a lack of real concern for the area.

The housing department proposals were to demolish the homes of over 2,000 people, but with no coherent ideas on what would replace those homes having been discussed with tenants. The fear was that people would just be scattered across the city (as had happened during the 1960s with the dispersal of established communities).

A resolution from the ASTMS Trade Union was passed at the City Party in January 1987 expressing – “concern about the narrow ‘bricks and mortar’ approach of the housing department” and calling for:

“local tenants, community workers and others to be involved in the urgent drawing up of a strategy for community and social redevelopment which should form a major part of the redevelopment process in Hulme. …Imminent plans by the Housing department-controlled redevelopment team in Hulme (which are likely to have irreversible effects on the community and social fabric) [should] be amended with reference to the drawing up of such a strategy.”

In February, the Hulme Branch Labour Party sent a long report to the Joint Policy Committee members re-iterating these concerns and calling for a ‘social strategy’ to be developed.

What was happening in Hulme seemed to ignore the ‘good practice’ experiences of the Miles Platting community redevelopment project that had been set up in 1981. This had been an innovative approach with a team of officers from different council departments working under the leadership of the Chief Executive (then called the Town Clerk). Penny Boothman had also been involved in this.

However, because of the particular mix of tenants referred to earlier, many prospective council tenants didn’t want to apply for housing in Hulme and so for the Council, the current residents were part of the problem, and involving them in developing a strategy for the area wouldn’t necessarily achieve a satisfactory outcome.

The tenant representative groups in Hulme had formed themselves into a Hulme Tenants Alliance (HTA) and they were highly articulate (mostly ex-students) people who liked the alternative culture in Hulme and were prepared to challenge the Council at every step. They even employed their own consultants. They were dismissive of the approach taken by the Hulme Project Team and regarded the problem as a failure of political leadership – no-one having established meaningful objectives for the team, or a method for monitoring progress, or a mechanism for enabling local people to participate in planning the redevelopment of their community.

These complaints from the Hulme Labour Party branch and the Hulme Tenants Alliance were not considered by the Joint Policy Committee until 30th September 1987, when the views of the new Chair of the Housing Committee, Sam Darby, were sought. As a result, the views of the Hulme Tenants Alliance were mostly dismissed. The organisation was said to be unrepresentative of tenants, with no constitution, and that it treated councillors appallingly.

The Hulme LP branch took up the cudgels and wrote to Joint Policy members in November (as a result of seeing the minutes of the September meeting) complaining that no other views had been sought apart from Sam Darby’s and that he was not in a position to know what was really going on. The local Hulme councillors did not feel badly treated by the Alliance and in fact worked closely with them and supported them. They were very critical of Sam Darby’s approach, but this only resulted in another critical letter from Sam to the Hulme LP branch

In 1988, the government proposed setting up a Housing Action Trust (HAT) in Hulme, but this received a very hostile reception from tenants. It was also strongly opposed by the Council on the grounds that the government would take over almost all local authority powers for the whole area and the Trust would purchase the stock at its market value, leaving the high levels of debt on the properties having to be repaid from within the HRA (ie borne by other council tenants in the city).

Another consultant’s study was commissioned which concluded that demolition of the notorious Crescents was the best option for the future of Hulme and the Council put in a bid for ‘Estate Action’ money for the demolition. At the Council meeting in April 1991 it was reported that the Department of the Environment (DoE) had turned down the bid, but to mitigate the blow and attempt to establish better relationships with tenants, it was decided to change the Hulme Sub-committee into a working party that would include local residents as well as councillors, and to commission a consultant’s report (from Clive Pickering – later appointed as Director of City Works).

Then, in June 1991, Michael Heseltine launched a national policy initiative called City Challenge which was different from previous government regeneration initiatives in that it recognised the leading role of local authorities, but working in partnership with the private sector and the community. Manchester was one of fifteen cities invited to bid for City Challenge money. £75 million in total was to be available for five years from 1992/93, but this wasn’t ‘new’ money. It was made up of money previously within the Urban programme, Estate Action, and ‘derelict land’ grants. The bidding process for City Challenge was described in Council minutes as “based on similar principles to a beauty contest” and “an inappropriate way to deal with deep and real inner-city problems”. But, despite these comments, it was agreed that a bid should be made since the Council (officers and councillors) had by this time a good relationship with a number of private sector developers and the government’s new approach to recognising local authorities as development partners was to be welcomed.

The aims of the City Challenge programme were not just to regenerate the housing stock and the physical environment, but to strengthen the local economy, improve employment opportunities[9], reduce levels of crime, and tackle social issues, such as poor health and low educational outcomes.

In September 1991, Hulme was one of eleven areas selected nationally to go on to stage 2 of the bidding process, which meant having to provide a more detailed bid by 6th Jan 1992 – not very much time for the amount of work required and much burning of midnight oil by some dedicated council officers. But the work and effort paid off as the bid was won.

The funding from the government was £37.5 million and it was expected that this would ‘lever in’ a further £64 million of public investment and over £100 million investment from the private sector.

It was recognised that in order to increase the possibility of the required private sector investment, things would have to move quickly to turn Hulme around and improve its image, so a new Hulme Sub-committee of the Policy and Resources committee was set up, and given delegated powers to take decisions, except on planning matters, without having to wait for the Council cycle of meetings. The sub-committee met 11 times between 2nd December 1991 and 18th November 1992.

To establish its high profile, Graham Stringer was the Chair, with Dave Lunts (Housing Committee Chair) and Richard Leese (Finance committee Chair and Deputy Leader) as members, together with local Hulme Councillors (Val Dunn, Mike Hood and Peter Dungey) and opposition councillors (Peter Hilton – Tory, and Keith Whitmore – Lib Dem). I tried to persuade Graham Stringer that I should be included in order to ensure that Education would be an integral part of the political deliberations on the redevelopment of Hulme, but he said if I was then other committee Chairs would also want to be on it and then the committee would be too large to be effective[10]. A regeneration company was also set up, called Hulme Regeneration Ltd, which had representatives from the tenants as well as the private sector (AMEC) and the Council (Graham Stringer, Dave Lunts and Richard Leese).

One key feature of the process was the development of a design guide for developers as it was felt that high standards were needed to achieve the overall aims of the City Challenge programme. Dave Lunts (with his responsibility for Community Safety as well as Housing) was very keen on the development of the ‘Secure By Design’ initiatives that the GM Police architects were working on that aimed to reduce crime by creating a sense of space, opportunities for passive surveillance and ‘strong’ corners. These ideas and the wish to increase building density and re-create the traditional street pattern whereby pedestrians and vehicles were not rigidly separated, were incorporated into a ‘Hulme Design Code’.

However, the ideas about ‘permeability’ (ie complete access for cars) that were enthusiastically supported by Graham Stringer were at odds with the principles of ‘Secure by Design’. There is apparently no evidence that permeability helps crime prevention, in fact, according to Ted Kitchen (City Planning Officer at the time), international evidence points in the opposite direction.

The advisory panel (see later) which produced the guide consisted of architects who were passionate believers in ‘new urbanism’ – fashionable in the USA five to ten years before. Some of them had a commercial interest in the developments in Hulme and probably should not have been involved in giving advice. According to Ted Kitchen, the guide wasn’t a product of the ‘meeting of lots of minds’ as was stated, but the assertions of a few passionate believers with no evidence base to support their proposals.

Applying the Hulme Design Code Across the City
Graham was very keen that the Hulme Design Code should be implemented across the whole city, even though it was produced specifically for a particular area and hadn’t been adopted as Council policy. At the Policy and Resources Committee in December 1993 his views were spelled out in the minutes:

“We have been trying to reverse the problems of the 1960s and 70s by putting forward new imaginative ideas which will recreate the type of urban environment in which people want to live. The response of the officers has been negative and reluctant but the principles laid down in the Design Code will help create neighbourhoods and a city which reflect the real needs and aspirations of ordinary people rather than the imposed views of professionals. It is essential that the principles of the code are applied in Hulme and throughout the city”.

The issue blew up further at the following Policy and Resources Committee on 24th January 1994 and was picked up by Ray King (Manchester Evening News reporter at the time). The early edition of the Manchester Evening News the following day carried a short piece headed ‘Stringer blasts city’s planners’ and going on to say:

“An astonishing public attack by city council leader Graham Stringer left Manchester’s planners shell-shocked today. He warned they were about to “repeat the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s”. He launched into the tirade against his own professionals as chairman of the powerful policy committee. He accused the planners of ignoring the council’s design code aimed at recreating in Hulme – Europe’s biggest housing disaster area – “a proper urban environment where people want to live”. He claimed that recommendations that the guidelines for the reconstruction of Hulme be adopted city-wide were also being flouted in advice being given by officers to developers. He said design policies aimed at fostering a successful, varied, self-policing community were not being observed. Senior planning staff were reluctant to react to the attack. But one official said: “There is complete acceptance by the planning department of the design codes but some disagreement about interpretation.”

The late edition of the paper carried a longer piece with the headline – “Stringer lashes the Yes Minister planners” with the additional accusation from Graham that:

“It’s like Yes Minister. We tell them what we want and it comes back differently. They are protective of their failed policies. I believe there’s been a concerted effort to undermine political decisions”

Graham Stringer was also quoted as saying that he believed Labour colleagues (ie Arnold Spencer) were failing to “pull the planners up”, but the article gave Arnold a chance to respond with:

“It’s quite wrong for the leader of the council to make generalised accusations in this McCarthyite style without evidence. I deny completely that the planning committee has no control over officers and has not implemented council policies. We would like chapter and verse as to where this has happened.”

I believe it was quite indefensible for Graham to have publicly criticised the planning officers in this way, as council officers were (and still are) unable to defend themselves in committees or publicly. By doing so, he sent out a message to the professional community (including developers) that the CPO’s advice was not to be valued because the Leader of Council didn’t support him. Whilst it was often the case that Planning (and more so, Highways) officers took a fairly narrow professional view in relation to community considerations (perhaps to do with the way they are trained) and couldn’t take into account the issue of ‘design’ when considering individual planning applications, they had to work within national legislation and the agreed Unitary Development Plan (UDP)[11] for the city. The planning officers were not opposed to the Design Code and it was recognised within the UDP that there would need to be more detailed guidelines for areas such as Hulme, but ‘new urbanism’ was a ‘whole neighbourhood’ philosophy and not applicable to the rest of the city.

Three days later, the Manchester Evening News carried another piece by Ray King on the issue, saying that the City Planning Officer was planning to resign over it – with a picture of him and headlined – “Back me or I go, says top planner”. The article claimed that Ted Kitchen had told the Chief Executive (Arthur Sandford) that he would go unless he had the confidence of the Council. Arnold Spencer was reported as saying he would table a motion of confidence at the Labour Group meeting on 8th February, to be seconded by the Deputy Chair of the Planning Committee (Andrew Fender), and that if the motion was passed, Ted Kitchen would not resign. Arnold then circulated every member of the Labour Group with a copy of the article in case anyone had missed it. But then the Liberal opposition councillors got in on the act and demanded that the issue go before the full council. Initially this was resisted by the Chief Executive but eventually (I suspect following legal advice) it was agreed that it would go before the full council on 9th February.

Andrew Fender (yet again) was in the middle of this row between Graham Stringer and Arnold Spencer. He had a lot of sympathy with the ideas in the Design Code that could be applied to the rest of the city (such as communal space having to be useful, not just incidental open space for which no-one feels any responsibility) and he could see some merit in what Graham was putting forward, but he could also see why the planning officers (and Arnold) were digging their heels in.

In the face of all this, Graham had to back down and try to rescue the situation by issuing a press release on 8th February, which he circulated to all members of the Labour Group.

“I am dismayed that events have turned these issues into a debate about personalities rather than policies. My intention was, and is, to raise issues about how the planning process can best contribute to developments, not only in Hulme, but throughout the city, which are in the best interests of the city and its people. It was not my intention to raise any questions about the city’s confidence in the City Planning Officer or any other City Planning Officer. It is clear that this is how my remarks have been interpreted[12] and I welcome the opportunity to allay the concern and upset that has been given by this interpretation of the remarks. …The issues themselves do still need to be addressed and I am anxious that this should be done in a way that emphasises the positive action that the Council should now be taking. …Accordingly, I will be recommending to the city council on 9th February that the Report of the P & R committee on the Hulme Design Code be referred back[13] on the basis of a report from the Chief Executive and the City Planning Officer about the issues it raises”.

On 9th June 1994, the Chief Executive (Arthur Sandford) presented a report to the Urban Policy Sub-committee (chaired by Graham Stringer) entitled “Hulme Design Guide – Application for the remainder [sic] of the City”. But Graham was obviously not happy with it and the minutes record:

“Whilst this [report] covers some of the points in relation to housing design, it does not address the wider issues and tends to concentrate on the problems of implementation rather than examining the ways in which the tools the council has at its disposal can be used to bring about the application of good design … These tools include not just planning, but roads, use of capital assets and access to grant regimes etc.”

The minutes also include a statement that demonstrates how close Graham had become to private sector organisations and, in my view, blur ‘conflict of interest’ considerations:

“It would also be helpful if the architects who advised Hulme Regeneration Ltd had a part to play in consultations on individual development.”

A further report in July shows a much more conciliatory tone (extracts below) it is clear that Graham intended to ensure that the views of Arnold Spencer on any large scale developments in the City were neutralised.

“We have received a report on the way in which the principles behind the Hulme Development Guide and the experiences which the Council and its partners gained in development of the Guide can be built on to form a development strategy and development guide for the whole of the City.

“We recognise that development opportunities will differ throughout the City and we will be looking to promote choice and diversity …Work on the Guide and strategy will be co-ordinated by the Chief Executive in consultation with all relevant departments… will be ready for consideration by the end of the year. In the interim period the Hulme Design Guide will be adopted as the starting point for briefs on all council-owned land over one acre and on sites where council support is requested in connection with the need to obtain external funding. The principles of the Guide will also be positively marketed for all developments in the City and whilst recognising the need to ensure that the legal requirements placed on the council are fully observed, all non-council sponsors of planning applications will be encouraged to consider application of the principles and to justify why local circumstances should be treated as an exception if they feel them to be the case… In future, all development briefs issued in relation to council owned land will be submitted to our committee as well as the Land and Property committee, Environmental Planning committee and those committees with an interest in the land.”

An ‘independent’ advisory panel was appointed which produced a draft ‘Urban Design Code’ for the Policy and Resources Committee on 5th December 1994.

“At our meeting in July we agreed a strategy and action plan for the development of an Urban Design Guide which would seek to apply the standards which have been developed in Hulme, across the city. The officers have reported to us on progress… a comprehensive report with detailed proposals for implementation will be submitted to our meeting in January 1995”.

On the back of this report in January, it was reported that there would be a seminar for elected Members and a trip round the city to look at examples of good and bad design. The revised draft Design Code was to be submitted to the Environmental Planning, Highways and Cleansing, Housing and Environment, and Children’s committees for consultation between January and August 1995.

The Chief Planning Officer Resigned
In the spring of 1995, Ted Kitchen decided he’d had enough and submitted his resignation, giving the statutory three months notice, without another job to go to. This was unprecedented in local government circles, but he felt he had no choice since the Leader of the Council wasn’t open to advice that challenged what he believed. He saw Graham Stringer as surrounded by council officers who told him what (they thought) he wanted to hear and saw their role as ‘delivering for Graham’. After years of working with officers in the Chief Executive’s department as professional colleagues, he found it difficult to accept that they had become ‘Mr Fixits’ for the leader rather than colleagues. He was allowed to work out his three months notice on ‘sabbatical leave’ at the University and then secured a professorship at Sheffield Hallam University.

A glossy, full-colour brochure entitled ‘draft City Development Guide’ was produced by the advisory panel and, in October 1995 the seminar on it was held in the Town Hall. It was later claimed by Graham that all Labour councillors had been invited to this seminar, but they weren’t. I found out about it by chance and decided to gate-crash. There were six working groups looking at different aspects of the guide – Crime Safety and Security; Roads and Traffic; Density, mixed use/integration and open space; City Centre; Quality; Investment. A whole range of people attended (mostly professionals) and on the ‘top table’ were Cllr Dave Lunts and an all-male (and white) panel of council officers. Most of those attending the seminar were also male, which I found disturbing. I made notes of the comments made by the working groups reporting to the plenary (see Appendix 24D) and sent these to the Labour Group Officers and a number of other Labour councillors who I knew were interested in the issue, with a covering letter about the scarcity of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people attending the seminar. A very interesting comment made by a consultant at the seminar was that – “the council should pay attention to the quality of the advice given by its own officers rather than consultants!”

I got no response from Graham of course, but then in November 1995, the Policy and Resources Committee received a report on the consultation and noted that the advisory panel was to be widened to include women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and local residents. The extended panel amended the guide in the light of the consultation and reported to Policy and Resources Committee in January 1996.

As a result of this whole debacle, the Council ended up in the position of having contradictory policies and procedures by being in favour of both ‘Secure by Design’ and ‘permeability’ (although not in the revised UDP, which was adopted in the summer of 1995, following extensive consultation).

At the time I couldn’t understand why Graham didn’t convene meetings (or a working party) between the relevant committee chairs and deputies and Chief Officers to discuss the best way of progressing the design guide issues. Even though the relationship between himself and Arnold Spencer had irretrievably broken down there were other politicians who could have been included (ie Andrew Fender, Dave Lunts and Richard Leese) to act as moderators and peacemakers. In Education, we (Chairs and Deputies) would always see major reports in draft before they appeared on an agenda, or pull ones that were not satisfactory. I know that Graham didn’t agree with this method of operating as he believed the reports were the province of the officers to be criticised or accepted by politicians, but to have got into the situation of public slanging matches over the design guide via committee reports and minutes, and to have lost a competent Chief Officer on the back of it, seems even more inconceivable to me now than it did at the time.

On Reflection
In relation to the re-development of Hulme, the City Challenge Programme ended in 1997 and it was regarded as one of the key achievements of the Labour Council in the 1990s. Despite criticism within the Labour Group about the centralisation of the project, enormous amounts of time, effort and dedication were committed to Hulme by the three leading Councillors involved – Graham Stringer, Dave Lunts and Richard Leese. But in 2002, the evaluation of the programme’s outcomes were not as positive as had been hoped[14]. Whereas the housing aims in general were met (although with limited development of family accommodation) and the quality of the physical environment had improved, there were still high levels of crime and unemployment, and low levels of educational achievement.

Apart from the major developments described above, there are many other examples in the city of successful co-operation between the council, the Tory government and the private sector, culminating in the redevelopment of the whole city centre following the IRA bomb (see chapter 27). According to Bill Egerton, Michael Heseltine has done more for Manchester than local Labour politicians, but I don’t agree. I think the credit has to go to Graham Stringer (followed by Richard Leese) and their pragmatic approach to politics and also to the calibre and public service ethos of many dedicated council officers.


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Editor’s Comments

The sub-headings have been added and the title of the chapter has been changed. Additional information has been added about Tommy Duck’s pub being demolished. I’ve read something in Ted Kitchen’s book about how he felt about Graham Stringer going to the press and not being able as an officer to defend himself or even reply, but I can’t find it so need to come back to add it when I do. The Appendices ordering has been changed to reflect the order they are referred to in the text.


[1] I don’t know whether he invented this phrase or picked it up from one of his developer contacts.

[2] Already referenced in chapter 11: ‘Detonation: Rebirth of a City’ by Ray King, Published by Clear Publications Limited, 2006

[3] See chapter 26

[4] Editors note: All ‘according to Ray King’ quotes are from his book given in the Bibliography.

[5] The CMDC Board was a very powerful and influential body of (mostly) men. It was chaired by Dr James Grigor (seconded from Ciba-Geigy) and its Chief Executive was John Glester (a senior civil servant from GONW). Glester kept assuring the government that the Councillors were not loonies. Bob Scott was also a member of the board and was no doubt influential in persuading the Board to put in money to support the 1996 Olympic bid (see chapter 25).

[6] Editor’s note: A different version of events is in various places online including (viewed 13/12/2015) that the owning brewery, Greenalls, were keen to sell but “local drinkers had persuaded the city council to put a temporary preservation order on the building, which had to be regularly renewed. By a sad quirk of fate one of the orders lapsed on a Sunday. Since all the council offices were closed for the weekend the order couldn’t be renewed until Monday morning, and thus it was that in the early hours of a Sunday morning in February 1993, Tommy Ducks was reduced to a pile of rubble.” If that account is correct, it would be referring to a Building Preservation Notice (BPN): A notice served under Section 3 of the Planning (Listed Building & Conservation Areas) Act 1990 that affords temporary protection to a building as if it were a listed building whilst it is considered for listing as a building of special architectural or historic interest.

[7] The public sector contribution being £12.1 million from ERDF and a Regional Challenge bid; £10.728 million from English Partnerships; £120,000 from CMDC, and £7.02 million from the Council (including £4 million capital receipts from the Free Trade Hall and £2.895 million for road works from a 2 year bid against the Highways programme).

[8] John Nicholson (Chair of Housing) attended 3; Ken Strath (Deputy Chair of Housing until May 1985) attended 2; Sam Darby (Deputy Chair of Housing from May 1985) attended 9; Basil Curley and Kath Robinson only attended the 1st meeting; Pete Keenlyside (as local Cllr) attended 10.

[9] In 1991 Hulme was one of the four wards in the city with the highest levels of unemployment and almost 50% of the tenants had been in their current tenancies for less than two years.

[10] In June 1994 he finally relented and agreed to my being a member, but most of the decisions had already been made by then and I had very little opportunity to make an impact.

[11] The legally required document for development in the city that was drafted in 1990, subjected to full city-wide consultation and formally agreed in February 1992.

[12] Kath says: how could they have been otherwise?

[13] ‘referring back’ was a device for retracting minutes, although they remain on the record.

[14] During the period of the City Challenge programme, monitoring and evaluation was carried out by the European Institute of Economic Affairs (EIEF) at Liverpool John Moores University. The reports by EIEF were supplemented by a report ‘Hulme, Ten Years On’ by the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional futures at Salford University (SURF) in 2002. The lead person involved in both reports was Professor Alan Harding who had moved from Liverpool to Salford between 1997 and 2002 (see Appendix 24E).

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Further Reading

King, Ray; ‘Detonation: Rebirth of a City’, Clear Publications Limited; United Kingdom, 1 May 2006 (on Amazon)

Kitchen, Ted*; ‘People, Politics, Policies and Plans: The city planning process in contemporary Britain’, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, United Kingdon, 1997 (on Google Books)

The Demolition of Tommy Duck’s pub is also mentioned in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Roy Dutton (Extract on Google Books)

Information about the history of the Bridgewater Hall on their website.

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