The council has closed off one of Manchester's main public spaces - we asked them why
A large chunk of Piccadilly Gardens has been closed for around 97% of this year
Dear Millers — for a few days, we’ve been asking Manchester City Council why it has closed off a large section of Piccadilly Gardens, one of the city’s most used (if not necessarily most loved) public spaces. They can’t tell us who made the decision and say our estimate of how many days the gardens will be closed off this year is wrong, but they don’t have an estimate of their own... More on that below.
Plus, an apartment in a beautiful 19th-century villa is up for sale, and we’ve got plenty of Jubilee-themed recommendations for the week ahead.
Coming up this week: We have deep dive on the situation at the Royal Exchange, following our story last week about the cancellation of the theatre’s big summer show. Sources have been telling us about “brutal” layoffs, cratering morale and a sense that the organisation has lost its way. If you have any information to add, please email email@example.com by tomorrow lunchtime. And join us as a member if you want to get all our reporting on this.
On Saturday we published a gripping piece by the Sunday Times’ Northern Editor David Collins. After a tip-off from a source, he delved into the apparent murder-suicides of multiple elderly couples in south Manchester and leafy Wilmslow in the 1990s. Details just didn’t add up — and a local coroner suspected that the deaths were the work of a serial killer that the police had failed to detect. You can also listen to David talking about his reporting on our latest podcast.
This week’s weather
Our local weatherman Martin Miles says there will be a cool and unsettled start to the week but it will improve just in time for the Jubilee weekend.
Tuesday 🌦 Another mixed bag with sunny intervals and heavy, potentially thundery showers. Showers will be more widespread than on Monday. Breezier and still cool. Max 13°c.
Wednesday 🌦 A touch milder but there will still be showers around, especially AM. Most showers will die out PM, allowing for some sunshine. Max 15°c.
Thursday ⛅️ Fair weather likely. Dry conditions will feature with sunny spells during the morning. Patchy cloud will develop and spread out during the afternoon but should then burn back off by evening. Max 18°c.
Friday ⛅️ A similar day to Thursday, with sunny spells most plentiful during the morning. Max 19°c.
Weekend ⛅️ It should be mostly dry with high pressure.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook. Daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Why have we closed off a major public space?
Top Line: For the past six months, a swathe of Piccadilly Gardens has been closed to the public. Last year, a large wooden platform covering around half of the garden’s green space was erected to house Christmas market stalls — and it’s stayed there ever since. Except for short periods during major events, the area is closed to the public behind tall gates and fences.
The council says the platform will stage a program of events while the area’s long-awaited regeneration plans are being finalised. These will include:
This week’s Platinum Jubilee celebration.
The UEFA Women’s European Championships.
The Christmas Markets.
So far this year, the platform has only been used for the St Patrick’s Day weekend, meaning it has been closed for around 97% of the time. Dr Morag Rose, an urban planning expert who highlights the need for public spaces, described that as “absolutely shocking”.
But by our estimate — based on the events the council have said they’re planning — the platform will be inaccessible to the public for around 80% of the year. The council says this is a “wild over-estimation” but a spokesman repeatedly declined to send us their own estimate.
Some readers won’t mourn the semi-closure of the gardens, given their reputation for anti-social behaviour and crime. But as we wrote about last year (“The teenage playground of Piccadilly Gardens”), the area is extremely popular in the summer time, particularly among younger people. On hot days, the section that is currently closed off is often covered in people sitting on the grass and around the fountain.
The council says the platform has “had a really positive effect on antisocial behaviour,” and “has been welcomed by local businesses and GMP and will make the area more welcoming”.
One campaign group has produced proposals for a more community-minded future for the gardens, including a “multipurpose free-to-access community space”.
Perspective: “We desperately need more public space in Manchester, not less,” says Rose, who did her PhD on this very topic and co-founded the Loiterers Resistance Movement, which works to reclaim Manchester’s streets and make them about more than just shopping and commerce. “I think public space has quite an important role for people in a city — to be in space, to feel part of it, to see people who aren't like you,” she told us. “And we now know the value of parks and public spaces for mental wellbeing.”
When we asked her about the wooden platform this weekend, she said:
It's turning it over for consumption and money making. Piccadilly Gardens is always viewed as problematic, and it isn't a brilliantly designed space at the moment, but you only have to walk through on a sunny day to see that people use it. I think there's a subtext about the demonisation of the gardens — and it is about class.
On Friday lunchtime, we took a trip to the gardens and met Luke, who was watching his daughter in the small park behind the Victoria statue. "All my friends that I have now, I've met on Piccadilly Gardens, on that exact spot (where the platform is),” he told us. “I’d turn up, sit down with someone, have a drink and talk."
Luke’s friend, Jordan, said she felt the platform was taking up space that has already become a rare commodity: "It's taking up one of the only places in Manchester where you can come and sit in the city centre.”
Rose agrees, noting that in some areas of the Northern Quarter, public benches have been removed.
Luke says he can also see the benefits of closing off half of a problematic space. "I feel like that being there, as much as it annoys me, is going to bring some kind of stability to the area,” he said. “Because a lot of bad shit goes on. When I was having a drink here last summer, people were getting bottled, punched, fights were breaking out.”
The platform nods to the broader privatisation of Manchester’s public spaces. A third of the gardens were sold to Argent, a developer, in the early 2000s. Since then, that area — which includes One Piccadilly and the Pavilion — has been passed between other private companies and is currently in the hands of Legal and General.
Dr Jon Silver, who lives in Manchester and works as a research fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute, says the platform fits with the council’s “market-knows-best assumptions,” about the city centre.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the city centre spokesman and the Piccadilly councillors trying to flog off the last bits on a reality TV show at some point soon.
What do you think? Hit reply or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home of the week
Set inside this impressive 19th-century villa in Northenden is a 1-bedroom apartment that features lovely high ceilings and an ornate fireplace. It’s on the market for £190,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Missguided, the Manchester-based fashion retailer, is allegedly on the brink of collapse. Last week, the i newspaper revealed that the brand was failing to pay suppliers, some of whom have had to shut down as a result. One supplier called the situation a “train crash” and creditors have applied for the company’s compulsory liquidation. It comes a month after founder Nitin Passi stepped down as CEO to “create space in my life for new challenges”.
At Bury council’s annual general meeting, leader Eamonn O’Brien accused Tory activists of calling Labour candidates “paedophiles” and “corrupt” in the lead up to the local election and on election night. The accusation left candidates in tears, said O’Brien, and Conservative leader Russell Bernstein used his response speech to support O’Brien’s calls for change, saying: "we need to conduct ourselves in a respectful and tolerant manner.”
IT system outages in Greater Manchester hospitals continue to affect testing and other procedures. Some patients of Northern Care Alliance hospitals and patients of GP surgeries that use those hospitals — North Manchester General, Royal Oldham Hospital, Rochdale Infirmary and Fairfield General in particular — are being told that all blood tests booked this week are cancelled, with results for tests already completed expected to be delayed.
Our favourite reads
The trial of Boy A — The Post
Mollie Simpson writes a moving piece about the trial of 14-year-old Boy A, who was found guilty of murdering 12-year-old schoolgirl Ava White in Liverpool last year, the youngest fatal victim of youth knife crime in the UK since Damilola Taylor in 2000. “What else do you need to know?” Mollie writes. “A child went out with her friends to see the city’s Christmas lights being switched on and by midnight she was dead, at the hands of another child.”
My #blessed life as an influencer — The Sunday Times
Sarah Ditum meets Manchester-based influencer Mollie Mae Hague, 23, who shot into the influencer stratosphere after she came second on Love Island in 2019 (she has over 6m followers on Instagram). She’s the daughter of two police officers and has a sister who is in the army. Her detractors call her “Thatcher with the fake tan.” But, as Ditum notes: “Like Thatcher she has a ferocious work ethic. Like Thatcher you suspect she genuinely doesn't understand why other people just can’t be as focused as her. And, like Thatcher, she’s a lower middle-class-girl made good.”
The places, the people and the roots of Brexit — The Financial Times
We enjoyed this review in the FT about Brian Groom’s new book Northerners: A History. “Lancashire — with its Celtic influence — developed a ‘self-image as softer, friendlier and more generous’ than Yorkshire. And possibly funnier. Groom examines the Oldham-born comedian Eric Sykes’s theory that the north-west is ‘where all the good comics come from’.”
Failing our most vulnerable children left a dark shadow over the city — Local Democracy Reporting Service
Local democracy reporter Joseph Timan has written an insightful piece about the poor state of Manchester’s children’s services in 2014, and how it transformed into a “tale of triumph”. He writes: “The city was facing unprecedented challenges. It constantly ranked at the top of child poverty tables and council budgets were being mercilessly slashed. Manchester's failure to care for so many of its own most vulnerable children left a 'shadow' over the town hall — and it damaged the city's reputation.” Within three years its caseload backlog was cleared and the council was no longer in special measures.
I tried to catch a serial killer — The Sunday Times
An accompaniment to our weekend read, David Collins tells the story of the woman who raised the alarm about a possible serial killer in a series of murder-suicides in south Manchester and Cheshire in the 1990s. Christine Hurst, who worked as a coroner’s officer, was first met with scorn — but could now lose her job. “She raised the link with investigators assigned to the Wards case. Once again, it was the same old story. ‘Leave it alone, Miss Marple, it’s all in hand,’ was the attitude of the male detectives.”
Thank you to Steve Curzon for letting us share this great photo. We’ve got a soft spot for street portraits in Manchester, and Steve takes some great ones.
🗣 Your voice matters
As journalists, it’s very important to us that we meet the people and communities we serve and write about. If you have a story or some information you’d like to share in confidence, do come into our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. You can find us at:
The Mill, 537 Royal Exchange, Old Bank Street, Manchester, M2 7DH. We are on the fifth floor.
If the city centre’s too far for a visit, you can email email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or send tip-offs to the address above. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with sensitivity.
Our to do list
🗿 HOME is showing “Intervention”, a collaborative project about the Soviet-era statue of Friedrich Engels. In response to Russia’s invasion of its sovereign neighbour, the project amplifies the voices of Ukrainian writers and activists. Info here.
⛓ The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society is holding a thought-provoking talk about the transatlantic slave trade at the Friends’ Meeting House. Starts 6pm. Book here.
🦇 Blackwell’s Bookshop is kicking off its summer with an evening of Gothic horror and celebrating the release of two debut horror novels, Black Mamba by William Friend and the House of Footsteps by Mathew West. Starts 6.30pm. Book here.
👑 There are plenty of Jubilee events happening in the city centre. On Thursday evening, head over to St Peter’s Square at 9:45pm for a beacon lighting to mark the Queen’s historic Platinum Jubliee. Keep an eye out for the Queen’s Jubilee Trail, Manchester Flower Show, and the all-weekend dance party in Sackville Gardens. Info here.
🎶 Trevor Nelson and his old school Soul Nation party will be playing at Band on the Wall. Expect a night of classic ‘80s, ‘90s and noughties soul, RnB and hip-hop to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend. Starts 11pm. Book here.
🍰 On Saturday, OT Creative Space and St John’s Church have organised community event Ayres Road Festival in Old Trafford. Expect music, dancing and stalls. Info here.
🏘 There’s an interesting exhibition at Forum Library about the people who built Wythenshawe. It tells the forgotten story of Ernest and Shena Simon. Info here.
🎭 The Octagon Theatre in Bolton is showing One Man, Two Guvnors, a delightful play that mixes slapstick comedy and live music. It follows protagonist Francis Henshall after he’s been fired from his skiffle band, and in search of food and romance, he ends up in some hilarious conundrums. Book here.