After over a year in limbo, is the Clean Air Zone coming back?
Plus: Buy a cottage dating back to 1808 in rural Bury
Dear readers — welcome to this week’s briefing, which looks at: the latest development in the story of Greater Manchester’s clean air zone (remember that?), what it would look like if we had London’s tube network, and one of Europe’s best watchmaking schools on an industrial estate in Stockport. All that, plus our weekly to-do list, is below.
But first: Over the weekend we published a brilliant piece of old-school gonzo journalism from Mollie, who managed to get herself in the exclusive after party that followed Chanel’s Metièrs D’Art show in the Northern Quarter. As she writes:
“Wristband?” the security guard demands. Crashing a party is mostly luck, but it’s also about holding your nerve. “I got a late invite, so I don’t actually have one.” It’s possible he has more questions — he looks like he’s about to embark on a cross-examination, but the other security guard waves me past. “It’s fine — let her in.”
We had some lovely comments from readers: “Great writing,” Angela Kelly said, “a dreamy quality that somehow takes us all with you and shares the oddity of this ‘rabbit hole’ experience. Loved the detail, the personalities and the sheer weirdness of the rich and famous off-screen.” Andrew Rosthorn agreed: “I couldn’t stop reading... waiting for the dream-like incursion to be terminated.”
If you’re more of an audiophile, you’re in luck: Mollie and Jack have discussed exactly how she got past the Fort Knox-level security on the doors of Victoria Baths on our latest podcast episode. Plus, what does a luxury fashion house choosing Manchester really say about the city? Listen on your preferred listening platform here.
And in case you missed it: Last week, we published two great members-only pieces. Mollie visited the charity in Longsight making music available to children from all backgrounds, and Jack looked at what local authorities do to get rough sleepers indoors when temperatures drop below zero.
Coming up this week: We’ve got two brilliant freelance writers contributing stories (if you fancy joining them, pitch here). First, Ophira Gottlieb is reviewing Brief Encounter at the Royal Exchange. Then James Gilmour is delving into the old plans for a “Picc-Vic” tunnel, an underground rail line connecting, you guessed it, Piccadilly and Victoria train stations.
🎁 Want to give the gift of journalism this Christmas? We’re now offering heavily discounted Mill subscriptions, available for a limited time only. It’s roughly 25% off the cost of an annual subscription, requires no plastic wrapping and no trips to the Arndale or the Trafford Centre. You can schedule the subscription to arrive by email on Christmas Day, meaning there’s no spoilers for your loved ones. Hit that button below before the sale runs out.
🌧️ This week’s weather
Tuesday 🌧️ Cloudy with showers merging to long spells of rain. Max 9°C.
Wednesday 🌦️ Colder, with a moderate breeze which will drag down isolated showers. Frosty overnight. Max 7°C.
Thursday 🌧️ Cloudy with patchy light rain and drizzle. Max 8°C.
Friday ☁️ Mostly dry with occasional bright spells despite large amounts of cloud cover. Max 8°C.
Weekend ⛅️ Breezy and mostly dry with variable amounts of cloud cover. Temperatures will be at or slightly above average for this time of year.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Ok you loved our recent tram-heavy map of 1920s Manchester so here’s something a bit older: a 1667 map of Lancashire from the Atlas Maior by Joan Blaeu, considered a masterpiece of the golden age of Dutch cartography (yeah, that was new to us too). Anyway: what a map. Salford and Rochdale seem to be much more important than Manchester; Stockport is called Stopford and Didsbury is Diddesbury. Like the other one, it’s on sale in a fantastic online shop operated by one of our members so if you want to get either map — or both! — as a Christmas present you can order online.
The big story: After over a year in limbo, is the Clean Air Zone coming back?
Top line: There will be an update on the future of Greater Manchester’s much-maligned Clean Air Zone next week, with proposals including a non-charging plan set to be shared before a meeting of the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee.
Context: Clean Air Zones, or CAZs, were introduced in the government’s 2019 clean air strategy. They are imposed by local authorities to help reduce emissions in areas with high levels of air pollution. They do this by disincentivising certain, more polluting, vehicles from driving in them, charging a daily rate for doing so.
There are four types of clean air zones — some that charge only buses, private hire vehicles and coaches, and some that charge all vehicles.
In Greater Manchester, the plans for a CAZ have been through a lot. The original idea was to charge vehicles that didn’t meet emission standards up to £60 a day. That was scrapped after intense public backlash (as we covered at the time), and the plans were put on pause in February 2022.
The backlash was in response to both the charges and the size of the CAZ, spanning the entire region. So, the GMCA wanted to put forward a CAZ that doesn’t charge — instead offering drivers of polluting vehicles incentives to switch to cleaner models.
This idea didn’t at the time convince the government, with the then environment secretary George Eustice saying there was “little robust evidence” that switching charges to incentives would help lower pollution levels. He instead suggested the charges remain but the CAZ be reduced in size to only span the city centre, where the air pollution is concentrated.
On that note, Market Street has just been ranked the tenth most polluted high street in the UK in a recent study by sustainable energy firm Grindserve.
Since last February, the scheme has remained in limbo while the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has submitted more evidence to the government to show that its non-charging plan will work. Now, they are backing an “investment led” scheme that would offer funding to drivers of non-compliant vehicles to upgrade to sustainable models.
The majority of the flak for the scheme’s delay and general notoriety has fallen on Andy Burnham, despite CAZs being a government directive. To illustrate how the issue has become a rod to beat Burnham with politically: a key vow of Dan Barker, the Conservative candidate running against Burnham in the next mayoral election, is to take down the cameras that were put in place before the scheme was paused, which he calls “a shameful waste of taxpayers' money”.
And, in recent comments to parliament, ministers said Burnham was failing to take action with regards to the CAZ, with the current environment secretary Steve Barclay saying his position on the issue “lacked clarity”.
Bottom line: By next Wednesday, that should no longer be the case. As a Clean Air GM spokesperson told the MEN: "An update on Greater Manchester's proposals, including the preferred option for an investment-led, non-charging plan that does not harm livelihoods, jobs and businesses, will be set out next week ahead of a meeting of the Air Quality Administration Committee.” However, if the past tells us anything, the story of Greater Manchester’s clean air zone still has a few twists and turns in it yet.
If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
We’re publishing a big piece about life inside Manchester’s prison systems and we’re keen to speak to anyone who has knowledge of working in this area. Please email Jack if you can help.
We’d like to speak to anyone who has knowledge of Greater Manchester Police for a piece we’ve got in the works about police misconduct. Any insights would be greatly appreciated, please email Mollie.
Your Mill briefing
🚌 Two men were injured in separate bus crashes on Portland Street in the city centre over the weekend. One 54-year-old man, hit at around 23:30 on Saturday, suffered serious injuries, and a 40-year-old man was then hit just over an hour later, suffering serious leg injuries. No arrests have been made, police are appealing for anyone with information.
🚇 What would a Greater Manchester Underground system look like? This overlay of London’s tube system on the region might be the closest we ever get to knowing. Put together by transport enthusiast Ed Howe, you’d be able to get from West Beswick to Blackrod without changing, never mind the tram, train and bus it’d take currently.
⚠️ Flood warnings were in place across Greater Manchester over the weekend as two storms hit in quick succession. Storms Elin and Fergus put areas across Bury, Bolton and Oldham at risk of flooding, and up until this morning, an “act now” warning was in place for residents of Pearl Brook in Horwich.
🇬🇧 A new report by centre-right think-tank The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has found that the UK is at risk of becoming as socially divided as it was in the Victorian era. Greater Manchester Police, local authorities and charities in GM contributed to the research. "For too many Britain is broken and the gap between the haves and have-nots is in danger of becoming a chasm," the CSJ writes.
😂 Peter Kay, currently on a three-year nationwide arena tour, took a break to perform three shows in his hometown of Bolton, at the 390-seat Octagon Theatre. The shows raised £80,000 for the Octagon, giving the venue's coffers a “big boost” its chief executive, Roddy Gauld, said.
Home of the week
This three bedroom stone cottage in Bury was built sometime around 1808 and is surrounded by lovely countryside. It’s on the market for £474,950.
Our favourite reads
The UK school building local knowledge of watchmaking — The Financial Times
One of the best colleges in Europe for watchmaking happens to be in the middle of an industrial estate in Stockport. The British School of Watchmaking has an illustrious reputation among the Swiss masters and turns out eight graduates annually, from a two-year course that includes gruelling three day exams where students must painstakingly service three watches, plus ensure a dust free environment and clean the workshop top to bottom. “I thought I was going to go down the [software] developer route,” Lyndon Jones, a student at the school, told the FT. “The puzzle side drew me to it, but I was more of a physical person. Watchmaking definitely fills that niche.”
For Jews in East Germany, a Life of Contradictions — The New York Times
When Cathy Gelbin, a film historian and cultural scholar now living in Manchester, turned 14, she asked her mother for a Star of David necklace. But this was 1970s East Germany, and “no symbol of Jewish faith could be found”. This long read traces the legacy of antisemitism in post-war Germany, and the attempts to revive Jewish culture as the GDR tried to rebuild a new society in the East.
Though Chanel is often seen as one of the most cutting-edge luxury fashion houses, its Métiers d’art show in Manchester did the opposite. Peter Saville, of Unknown Pleasures graphic design fame, did the branding, the teaser video was soundtracked by New Order and the promotional video featured images of Hulme Crescents, a housing estate demolished in 1995. “Regardless of this wave of increasingly tedious nostalgia, Manchester does have a proper buzz, aptly for a city with the worker bee as its civic symbol,” writes Helen Pidd. “But if I hear Blue Monday play one more time, I’m moving to Leeds.”
Our to do list
🐅 The West End and Broadway production of Yann Martel’s bestselling epic Life of Pi is coming to the Lowry Theatre for one month only. Tickets here.
🎭 There’s a stage performance of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women opening at HOME this week. Beginning at a gloomy war-time Christmas, this adaptation promises to take you on a bittersweet and joyful journey that lifts your spirits and makes you laugh and cry. Until 23rd December. Tickets here.
🎶 Chetham’s Chamber Choir are performing a festive carol concert at the Stoller Hall, starting from 7.30pm. Tickets are £6.50.
🍜 In the Christmas party haze of December, it’s easy to forget to nourish yourself. So thank goodness for Pho Manchester, who are offering 50 free bowls of Pho on a first-come, first-served basis all day Wednesday — an ideal hangover cure. More info here.
🍲 The Edinburgh Castle has a delightful festive menu, with all ingredients sourced as locally as possible, including beef & horseradish crème fraiche, slabs of Pollen sourdough, Lancashire butter pie & onion gravy, and — of course — plenty of pigs in blankets. Book a table here.
Join local disco DJ collective Supernature for a festive dance at Aviva Studios from 5pm onwards. It’s free to attend and you can enjoy special discounts on the winter cocktail menu. More here.