Discover more from The Mill
Dirty old town: Why we need to pedestrianise the city centre
Plus: Hong Kongers protest on St Peter’s Square - and the rest of your Monday briefing.
Dear Millers — we’ve got a new prime minister: Rishi Sunak is expected to meet the King this afternoon, when he will become the country’s youngest leader since 1812 (he’s 42) and Britain’s first Asian PM. As people start to celebrate Diwali today (a very happy Diwali to all Millers who are celebrating), Sunak becomes our first Hindu prime minister as well.
What does his ascent to the top job mean for this city and the North? One indication will be who he appoints as secretary of state for levelling up, and where the new government chooses to cut budgets in its upcoming fiscal statement. It’s hard to forget Sunak’s jaw-dropping remark to party members in Tunbridge Wells this summer about “undoing” government funding formulas which, in his words, “shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas”. Wigan MP, and shadow levelling up secretary, Lisa Nandy tweeted out that video this weekend, and said it was “an early reminder that Rishi Sunak is not a ‘centrist’, a ‘moderate’ or a ‘grown-up’. The rot runs right through the Tory Party.”
In today’s edition, we’re taking a look at whether Manchester City Council are moving fast enough with pedestrianisation, an agenda that promises to make our city cleaner, greener and much more pleasant to live in. It has become a hot topic since the pandemic, but some think the council aren’t being ambitious enough, especially when compared to other European cities. More on that below.
Over the weekend we published a piece by Jack Dulhanty, who spent six months getting to know Manchester’s private investigators. He heard plenty of stories about adulterous partners, dubious lie detector tests and one oligarch. You can read that here.
This week, we are sending Mill members some fantastic local writing, including Phil Griffin on the re-opening of Wythenshawe Hall, Jack Dulhanty on the state of Chinatown, and a cracking story about problems at one of New Islington’s signature housing developments. To read those stories, if you’re not a member already, join up by clicking the button below.
This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “the thermals can go back in the drawers — for now — low pressure to our west will help to keep the mild-if-not-warm air flowing this week.”
Tuesday 🌥 Risk of early fog then mostly dry and mild for daytime with bright spells. Turning wet after sunset as rain moves up from the south. Max 16°c.
Wednesday 🌦 Warm for the time of year with sunny intervals and the occasional shower. Breezy. Max 18°c.
Thursday 🌦 Warm again but often cloudy and showery, especially prior to the afternoon. Max 18°c.
Friday 🌦 Rain to start then mild with bright or sunny spells. Max 16°c.
Weekend ☁️ Remaining mild and changeable. Turning cooler next week.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Are you a writer? Are you a great writer? Have you got a pocketful of scalding hot cultural takes on the city and its people? Are you sitting on an inside scoop yet to be reported? Have you fallen down a rabbit hole of investigation into a malfunctioning institution, a public figure who is different behind closed doors, or a group of vulnerable people being mistreated? We want to hear from you! We’re taking pitches covering news, culture and opinion. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we like your idea we will agree on a rate and a deadline and you’ll have the joy of working with the North’s finest team in a brutal, unforgiving but ultimately rewarding editorial process.
The big story: Momentum is building behind pedestrianising the city - but why aren’t we moving faster?
Top line: Pedestrianisation has been a hot topic — particularly in the city centre — since the pandemic. There seems to be increasing momentum, both inside and outside the council, for turning more of our streets into pleasant walkways where you don’t fear being run over at any moment or choked on fumes.
Pedestrianisation isn't new — Market Street was made traffic-free in 1981. But the city’s recent focus on active travel (i.e. cycling and walking), as well as our net-zero ambitions and the need for cleaner air, have pushed pedestrianisation higher up the list of priorities.
Recent impetus: Pandemic restrictions spurred the need for outdoor seating, meaning road closures around hospitality venues that the council have since set about making permanent.
The background: Studies show that the increased footfall is better for business, the reduced traffic improves air quality, and having more open spaces makes cities generally more pleasant.
Other European cities get the idea. While the latter half of the 20th century saw huge swathes of public space give way to roads, many cities are now undoing that work, including Bilbao, Amsterdam and Bologna. Twitter is full of before and after shots of cities that have pushed back against the dominance of cars.
State of play: But, back to Manchester. Here are the pedestrianisation projects being pursued by the council at the moment:
Stevenson Square, which was pedestrianised during the pandemic and will now be “three-quarters” pedestrianised, with Lever Street still open to buses as a “compromise” with bus operators.
Multiple streets in the Northern Quarter, including Thomas St and Ducie St, have been pedestrianised.
All roads around Albert Square — except Princess St — are set to be closed when the Town Hall’s renovation is completed.
Cutting Room Square is currently closed to traffic, thanks to an “experimental order”.
While all this is positive, some feel the efforts to cut traffic in the city centre have been unambitious and poorly designed. You don’t need to search for too long on Twitter to find GoPro footage from angry cyclists coming across blocked or too-narrow cycle lanes.
“We’re on the right path with pedestrianisation, but I think it’s still a bit hit and miss” says Harry Gray, a campaigner for Walk Ride Central Salford and a prolific tweeter about active travel. “The main problem is the highways department, they’re living in the 90s, really.”
The highways department is in charge of pedestrianisation in the city. But Gray argues they aren’t best placed to design the public realm: “they're not experts in public realm. They are just people who build roads, basically.”
Activists like Gray say this makes for car-centric schemes where cyclists and pedestrians ultimately come second.
“I don't think that,” says Sam Wheeler, Labour councillor for Piccadilly ward. “I haven't had any experience that they were particularly car centric.”
As we reported last week, Wheeler and the council have just commissioned a feasibility study into pedestrianising streets around the Gay Village, and he’s confident that the proposed streets will have a car-free future.
But pedestrianising the city centre is one thing, cutting traffic in the suburbs is quite another. “The city centre is an easy win for the council to pedestrianise,” says Gray. Most city centre residents don’t rely on cars, so curtailing their use isn’t going to hurt the voter pool.
In suburbs like Burnage, Whalley Range and Levenshulme, where residents are much more likely to own cars than the new, generally younger residents of the city centre, the council have met more resistance.
Bottom line: From our perch on St Ann’s Square, you won’t be surprised to know that we at The Mill think the council should move much faster on pedestrianisation in the city centre — and in other areas where there is local support. Cities where you have to stop every 200 yards to cross a road feel like they are built with cars in mind rather than people. Turning more roads into walkways and cycle paths will make for a more walkable and greener Greater Manchester — let’s get on with it.
Send us your views on where you would like to see roads closed and how it can be done in a way that boosts local businesses.
Home of the week
This property in Bolton has four bedrooms and private landscaped gardens. It was built circa 1872 as a family home, and it retains plenty of original features. It’s on the market for £475,000.
Your Mill briefing
There was a noisy protest on St Peter's Square yesterday following the assault of pro-democracy demonstrator Bob Chan at the Chinese Consulate in Rusholme. Protesters sang the British and Hong Kong national anthems, and videos were played from Hong Kongers abroad who sent personal messages of support. Since the attack on the 16 October, there has been widespread condemnation of consul general Zheng Xiyuan - who was named in the House of Lords for his part in the attack.
An investigation has been launched after a patient died in the back of an ambulance at Fairfield Hospital, in Bury, last Tuesday. The Health Service Journal's Lawrence Dunhill tweeted that the death was reported as a serious incident by paramedics "apparently due to delays in getting patients inside". On that note: North West Ambulance Service workers, who cover Greater Manchester, are now being balloted for strike action alongside 10 other trusts in England and Wales. Their union say the latest pay rise of 4% was a real terms pay cut, and that emergency callouts would not be affected by any action.
Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram - mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region - were late to their press conference on the state of rail services in the North after their train was cancelled this weekend. The irony was not lost on them. "Both [Avanti and Transpennine Express] have a long way to go to win back the trust of passengers in the North," said Burnham. "But they will never do so if they are being hamstrung by the financial constraints imposed on them by Whitehall."
The Charity Commission have now taken over legal control of the Hulme Hippodrome. The grade II listed theatre, which has stood on Preston Street in Hulme for 120 years, has been under the control of Gilbert Deya Ministries since 2003, and has spent the last few years shuttered and in disrepair. Save Hulme Hippodrome, a local group who have been trying to buy the theatre and turn it into a community hub, have written to the Charity Commission asking that they don't let the theatre come under the control of a property developer.
Our favourite reads
This feature tells the story of Hannah, an 18-year-old student at the University of Manchester who is reassessing her ambitions amid spiralling energy costs and high inflation. Because of an undersupply of university accommodation in Manchester, Hannah rents a student house where bills are not included in the rent. “I have no idea how, or if I can control how much I’m spending,” she says.
“We say enough is enough: the north deserves far more than this second-class service. It’s time for action,” write Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram in a joint editorial arguing for “whoever is transport secretary when this Tory game of musical chairs is over” to inject urgent funds into Northern franchises. Less than 70% of TransPennine services ran on time over the last fortnight, and last week a young girl fainted on a packed rush hour train between Liverpool and Manchester.
“Many people could look at Christopher Jackson’s career and assume that racism hasn’t held him back.” In 2015, Jackson became the UK’s only black geoscience professor, and was hired by the University of Manchester as chair in sustainable geoscience last year. But after Jackson called UK science institutionally racist, the university’s vice-president, Martin Schröder, dismissed his claims and said such language was counterproductive. Jackson has since left the university.
Fenced and decked: half of Piccadilly Gardens effectively a private space — Manchester Confidential
Manchester Confidential has joined our ongoing campaign to remove the events platform that has been covering much of Piccadilly Gardens all year. Jonathan Schofield writes: “The council say now: ‘Piccadilly Gardens unfortunately isn't suitable in its current formation.’ Too right, because half of it has been decked, fenced and commercialised.” Here’s what we wrote back in May: ‘The council has closed off one of Manchester’s main public spaces - we asked them why’. We have mentioned the events platform on our podcast many times in recent months, and got into a Twitter conversation with councillor Pat Karney about it on Friday.
Our to do list
📚 Manchester-based writer Reshma Ruia is inviting you to celebrate the launch of her new novel, Still Lives, which follows a struggling businessman in Manchester who starts an affair with the wife of a rival. There will be wine and samosas. Tickets here.
🎭 Contact Young Company, an ensemble of young performers, actors, dancers and musicians based at Contact Theatre, are bringing Halo to the stage this week, which is inspired by a campaign to protect and celebrate black hair and culturally specific hairstyles. It’s described as a “unique, timely and beautiful theatrical celebration of black hair.” Tickets start at £8.
🧟♀️ Disturbing supernatural fiction might not sound like an ideal candidate for the Feel Good Book Club, which takes place every week at the Feel Good Club on Hilton Street, but Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan has been described as finely crafted, beautifully unnerving and earned her comparisons to the gothic writer Angela Carter. Register here.
🎺 Matt and Phreds is a regular fixture in our calendar, and we can’t recommend it enough for any jazz-heads out there — there’s also a good selection of soul and hip-hop. You’ll be able to catch the Neil C. Young Trio, whose original compositions have made Grammy longlists. It’s free entry.
🎞 The 1974 Spanish-Italian zombie film The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, which features two protagonists implicated in murders committed by zombies in the North West countryside, is showing at the Chapeltown Picturehouse in Cheetham Hill as part of their Halloween film season. Tickets here.
✍️ Visit the pop-up art event at Ducie Street Warehouse. Cover the tables in drawings, have a pint and listen to music from Apple Tree, an underground electronic music DJ collective. It’s free.
For our glitteringly well-informed weekend to do list — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.