Are skyscrapers bad for Manchester?
Plus: Salford declares a homelessness crisis and we welcome hundreds of new Millers
Dear readers — the debate around Manchester’s rapidly expanding skyline has gone national. Whether you’re at a lecture on architecture or down the pub — particularly if that pub happens to be the Briton’s Protection — the city’s addiction to glass towers is on the agenda. So today, we’re looking at what the FT describes as Manchester’s “violent binge of skyscraper building”. That’s below.
Over the weekend: we published a great profile of David Moutrey, Manchester’s director of culture. Moutrey has led HOME (and its predecessor the Cornerhouse) for 26 years and is described by one source as “one of the most astoundingly political operators going”. The piece has sparked debate around the “colonisation” of the arts space, with Mill members weighing in with nigh on 1,000-word responses to some of Moutrey’s comments. Do join the conversation.
Some great news to start the week: We now have hundreds of new Millers around the world after Substack (the publishing platform we use) shared Joshi’s end-of-year message about the growth of The Mill. We told you last week that we had passed 40,000 on our free list, and we’ve sauntered to 40,543 over the weekend, with one new Miller saying “reading this gave me a little squidge of hope for humanity” and another posting: “Even though I’m halfway around the world, I appreciate the courage, organization and faith it took to make The Mill work.”
If you’re not a member yet, we’d love you to join today to help us keep this momentum going in 2024. Not only do our members get eight extra editions of high-quality reporting and analysis every month and access to our comments and events, they also allow us to keep providing lots of free journalism to tens of thousands of people who might be less able to afford it. Just hit the button below to join up.
More good news: We’ve been included in the Startup 100 Index for 2024, a list of the UK’s most promising new companies. “Mill Media Co creates long-form, nuanced stories that are written to the same standard as global news,” writes Isobel O’Sullivan. We’re excited to be listed among some very innovative businesses. As O’Sullivan writes: “despite Mill Media Co’s modest team size, the sky appears to be its limit.” And in that same spirit, onwards with today’s newsletter.
Planning an event in 2024?
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⛅️ This week’s weather
We’re in for a cold snap, says our local weatherman Martin Miles, but you can ignore a certain local newspaper’s misleading warnings about snow — this week’s weather will be mostly dry and sunny.
Tuesday ☀️ A dry day with gorgeous sunshine but feeling cold in a bitter north-easterly breeze. Highs of 4°C.
Wednesday ⛅️ Feeling less cold as the breeze eases. However, sunshine will be more limited as cloud drifts in and there will be the risk of a wintry shower. Max 5°C.
Thursday ⛅️ Chilly, breezy and predominantly cloudy with drizzle locally. Temperatures will be milder, but the breeze and lack of sun will offset the difference. Max 7°C.
Friday ⛅️ Still mostly cloudy and chilly, although the majority of the day should be dry. Max 7°C.
Weekend ⛅️ Temperatures are likely to take a dip once again, but precipitation will remain in small amounts as high pressure remains largely in control.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Manchester’s skyscraper addiction
Top line: Manchester’s growing (filling? crowding?) skyline is a big talking point in the city. Some see the multiplying glass towers as shimmering emblems of progress and a rare example of Britain actually building some homes amidst a major housing crisis; others see bland edifices that crowd out our heritage and provide the wrong kind of housing, much of which is unaffordable for lower income workers. One thing that is for sure? There are many more to come.
Context: The FT reports that since 2018, “27 towers have been built in Manchester, accommodating more than 60,000.” Between those under construction and those in the planning system, there are a further 70 in the pipeline.
To give you an idea, this 2022 video from VU.CITY shows how some of these new buildings will look once completed.
The incoming towers promise to remake Manchester as we know it. Deansgate Square will be encircled by the Park Place development and second phase of the Crown Street development. The latter designed by SimpsonHaugh, Manchester’s most prolific architecture practice.
Ian Simpson, who leads SimpsonHaugh with his partner Rachel Haugh, naturally supports Manchester’s high-rise binge. “There can never be too many new towers,” he told the FT.
These towers were mostly confined to the areas around the inner ring road. But Gary Neville’s St Michaels development, a 41-storey tower, managed to get planning permission despite being much more central, set to leave the Town Hall in its shadow.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage — an activist group that pushes for the conservation of historic buildings — released a report last September questioning the way Manchester has developed in recent years, which they say has adversely impacted heritage buildings by crowding them out.
Eamonn Canniffe, a co-author of the report and lecturer at the Manchester School of Architecture, told the FT that the towers: “loom over the middle of the city like a gang of encircling bullies.”
While many of London’s tallest buildings are home to offices for FTSE 100 companies, our towers are virtually all residential. In theory, this is to support the city centre’s growing population (set to hit 100,000 people by 2025). But there is a growing sense these buildings don’t foster community. When The Mill spoke to Deansgate Square residents last year, we found something of a divide between the working professionals who rent there long-term and the transient population of international students, footballers and influencers.
Simpson is adamant that the towers aren’t just tall stacks of hermetic pods but real neighbourhoods where residents are connected not only to each other but also the city at large. He told the FT:
Some people think that what I do is the work of the devil. They think we should be building these towers on streets. But we live in a rough tough city and the towers are a kind of refuge. We are designing them in real places. They are not gated communities.
Urban theme park: Manchester’s rapid development has shown a new appetite for city centre living and is being copied by other cities across the country. But what kind of city is being created? “The result, according to its critics, is the great inversion. A kind of urban theme park for Manchester’s affluent singles,” concludes the FT. “The less affluent are outside the inner ring road, gazing at a spectacle that they can see, but not experience.”
Is that picture accurate? As we reported in our data-led essay about Greater Manchester’s economy last year, there has actually been an increase in the number of people in “elementary occupations” (including cleaners and bar workers) living in the city centre in the past 20 years.
What do you make of the FT’s piece — and the proliferation of towers in the city? Tell us in the comments.
Home of the week
This beautifully decorated Victorian terrace in Ramsbottom has four bedrooms spread over three floors, a modern kitchen and a nice garden. It’s on the market for £425,000.
Your Mill briefing
🏠 A homelessness crisis has been declared in Salford, with the council having to set up blow-up beds and sun loungers in a former school to house rough sleepers, reports the MEN. Mayor Paul Dennett says the government’s commitment to clearing the asylum seeker backlog has led to many being evicted from their accommodation, with nowhere to go, at a rate that local authorities can’t handle.
✡️ The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy apologised for removing an article about how Jewish people in Manchester were affected by the Hamas assault on Israel on 7 October. The piece, entitled “A Community in Traumatic Distress”, was pulled due to “a concern around sensitivities” but is now back online.
📊 An average of 87.95% of Greater Manchester’s mental health beds were occupied last year, over the recommended bed occupancy but still below the England average. The FT reports that high bed occupancy on mental health wards is leading hospitals around the country to outsource care to private suppliers at great cost. If you work in mental health in Greater Manchester and want to get in touch about this, please email Jack.
🏥 Elsewhere in Greater Manchester’s healthcare system: on Friday, waiting times at Royal Bolton Hospital’s A&E reached 13 hours. They have since fallen back to two to four hours, within NHS targets. Royal Bolton said it treated 1,500 patients between New Year’s Day and 5 January.
Our favourite reads
It should be impossible to escape from a high-security prison, but one hot day in June, that’s exactly what Joe Outlaw did. It turned out that wouldn’t be his last rodeo, either — last summer, he scaled the roof of Strangeways (HMP Manchester) by sneaking out of the healthcare unit and crawling through barbed wire. In this rare glimpse into the lives of prisoners by the Guardian’s North of England editor Helen Pidd, we hear from Outlaw himself, who explains that his houdini escape trick aimed to highlight the plights of prisoners serving public protection sentences, which can leave people languishing in jail for years without a clear date set for release.
The Derek Draper I knew was spellbinding, smart — and scandalous — The Sunday Times
A moving and eye-opening obituary to Derek Draper, the political adviser and psychotherapist who died aged 56 last week. Draper was “the most famous name at Manchester University” in the early 1990s after being expelled for pouring tins of paint all over the latest edition of the student newspaper, which carried a report of his “latest tyrannical outrage”. But as much as people seemed to disapprove of him, they were also “spellbound” by him, writes his close friend Decca Aitkenhead. “More importantly, he was quicker-witted, bigger-hearted and more fearless than anyone I knew. By a country mile, he was the cleverest person I had met.”
Britain is stuck. How can we get it moving again? — Daniel Timms’ Substack
Should a new city be built near South Yorkshire? Our data and policy writer Daniel Timms seems to think so. He’s currently on paternity leave but has managed to fit in time between nappy changes to write about what he thinks could fix Britain's chronic productivity problem. He says the new city, which should aim for a population of around 400,000 in 50 years, could be built on land east of Retford, an area which suffers from low productivity now but actually has good transport links and is well placed to capitalise on the UK’s boom industry: logistics. Let him know what you think in the comments.
Our to do list
📚 The Bohman Brothers began their lives as contemporary DJs by coaxing sounds out of unconventional objects, like household items, homemade instruments and niche literary recordings. They’re performing an experimental set in the Northern Quarter bookshop Anywhere Out Of This World, get tickets here.
🌱 Ancient folklore says that during winter solstice festivals, evergreen leaves were woven into a band the shape of the sun to celebrate the return of long days. RHS Bridgewater has created a special sculpture trail around the gardens to mark midwinter and look forward to brighter days ahead. More info here.
🎞️ Bolton Library and Museum puts on free cinema clubs every Wednesday at 2pm. This week, they’re showing Oppenheimer, the critically-acclaimed thriller about the scientist who developed the atomic bomb. More info here.
🌃 Salford Museum and Art Gallery is exhibiting the work of local artist Andrew Alan Matthews, who creates striking paintings of Manchester and Salford at night. It’s free to attend.
🎧 In Ancoats, NAM’s basement sessions return with Sway of the Verses, a DJ specialising in Indian classical music, Punjabi folk and electronic music. As always, it’s free entry.
🍷 The Norah Store, the local fashion brand best known for their playful, vibrant take on clothes, has a monthly pop-up at the natural wine bar Kerb in Ancoats, so you can enjoy a sip of wine as you shop. More info here.