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Revealed: Big, Big Changes Coming In Manchester's Post-Pandemic Recovery Plan

Widespread city centre pedestrianisation, more cycling, no letup on zero-carbon targets, potential financial support for development, work on skills and the visitor economy: All are envisaged in the first outline of Manchester’s post-pandemic economic recovery package.

A report to the city's ruling executive also hints at rapid investment in more public transport infrastructure.

Bisnow unearths the details.

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester City Council has begun to prepare a new economic strategy to cope with between three and five years of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, rejecting the idea of a rapid, V-shaped bounce-back.

Six months of research and consultation will begin now, with a final strategy due for approval in early 2021.

It means potentially big changes to the way the city looks and works.

Property Development

The strategy will “sustain confidence in the residential and commercial development market by continuing to encourage pre-planning discussions, progressing planning applications to decision, and concluding the necessary legal arrangements for projects that will drive our growth objectives and have a demonstrable capacity to deliver quickly" according to the report.

The document said there are commercial development opportunities "that need to be brought forward that should help reposition our economy and be capable of making significant progress in the next five years if prioritised".

The city council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority will consider what support interventions they can make when it becomes clear how strongly investor appetite recovers, and how the government responds.

In the meantime, the council will find ways to ensure planning obligations on building design and zero-carbon development do not damage viability. “We recognise these commitments will have an impact on development appraisals, for example, in terms of planning gain, where it will be far more likely that any gain would have to be contracted around development out-turn rather than captured up front, for example through Section 106 contributions," the report said.

Transport And Planning

Trams manchester metrolink cross street 2017
Trams crossing on Cross Street, Manchester

Lockdown has slashed the number of Metrolink tram and train journeys to about 5% of normal, and bus passengers to around 15% of normal. 

Yet the report revealed that current social distancing rules will make the previous mass use of public transport impossible with just a maximum of 20 people on a bus, and 15 people on an intercity train carriage. This is "not financially viable, and will not move enough people”, the report said. Given that the city’s economy cannot work without hundreds of thousands of people moving into and out of the city centre, the report calls this the “mass transport conundrum”. 

The report speculates that changing working times and shift patterns could help but hints at rapid investment in further public transport, adding that “a solution will almost certainly require some physical interventions which need to be affordable and sustainable in the long-term”.

“The need for increased levels of investment in our local transport system that gives people attractive alternatives to car travel, was self-evident prior to the crisis, and will be even more critical as the city aims to rebuild the economy over the coming years,” the report said. 

The report also dropped a heavy hint about widespread pedestrianisation in the city centre.

“To restore the city to economic growth and job creation in a sustainable way, our two biggest transport priorities are therefore solving the safe mass transit conundrum and increasing provision for pedestrians, thereby ensuring that people feel safe in returning to work,” the report said.

More emphasis will be given to cycling as well as walking, the report said.

Skills Needed

Oxford Road, looking north, Manchester
Oxford Road, looking north

The report said that re-skilling Manchester’s residents to be able to compete in a changed, more digital, local economy will be a fundamental element of the recovery work.

The text revealed concerns that the workforce will not be sufficiently trained, and that large sectors of the city's population will miss out on opportunities.

"Early consideration of new or expanded Labour Market Interventions needs to be advanced along with discussions with Government in terms of possible funding sources," it said. 

The document concluded that Greater Manchester "will need to give serious consideration to what labour market interventions need to be introduced if the Government does not wish to engage. Some form of localised Intermediate Labour Market (ILM) initiative needs to be considered, targeted at those residents who were disadvantaged in the labour market prior to COVID-19 e.g. young people and over 50s who will now be further disadvantaged."

You can read the full document here.