The government says it is ‘accelerating’ rail upgrades in the North. But is it?
Plus: A homeless man found dead in the Gay Village
Dear readers — today, the government has announced £4bn in funding to improve the Transpennine rail route, famed mostly for the headaches it causes commuters trying to get around it. But while the government says the funding (redirected from the now cancelled HS2 extension to Manchester) will “accelerate” the plans, the completion date remains the same. More on that below.
Over the weekend, Jack gave us the hottest of hot takes: that the Arndale isn’t so bad, actually. He argued the much-maligned shopping centre is in fact a canny reflection of Manchester itself. “If the Arndale appears in your mind as one homogeneous shopping centre squatting on the city centre like a giant toad, you have not been looking closely enough,” he writes. “Parts of it are forgotten; some parts are rich and varied; others are modern but bland… The Arndale doesn’t just exist in the middle of Manchester — it’s a microcosm of the city too.”
In case you missed it: Last week we published two great editions for members. There was an editor’s edition from our founder Joshi — which included a great interview with devolution guru and ex-Downing Street advisor Mike Emmerich (now also available as a podcast, listen here) — and an investigation by Mollie into one of the weirdest companies in Manchester, The Hut Group, where the CEO gave speeches in front of photos of former managers. Their crime? “Complacency.”
Coming up this week: You’re going to be hearing a lot from Mollie, who will be visiting Olympias, a music charity in Longsight that gives free music lessons to disadvantaged kids. Then, she’ll be reporting from Chanel’s huge Metiers D’Arts show, held in the Northern Quarter, a location that has raised eyebrows across the fashion universe, but will raise Manchester’s status as a global city, too. Don’t say she doesn’t put in the hard yards.
🎁 Despite devoting thousands of words to the Arndale this weekend, we know battling with the festive crowds isn’t for everyone. And we know that there are certain highly discerning friends who you need to find something special for: something local and environmentally sustainable; something that connotes intelligence and Mancunian pride. What better gift than a heavily discounted Mill subscription — now available for 25% off on annual subs, meaning giving the gift of quality local journalism costs just £52.50. You can schedule the gift sub to arrive by email on Christmas — hit that button before the sale runs out.
🌦️ This week’s weather
After a very frosty start to the month, our local weatherman Martin Miles says temperatures will climb again this week, but hang on to your umbrellas — it’s going to be rainy.
Tuesday 🌦️ A murky start with patchy light rain and drizzle. Brighter later but feeling cold with a widespread hard frost following overnight. Max 6°C.
Wednesday 🌤️ Dry with long spells of sunshine during the daytime. Turning cloudy and wet from the south west after dark. Max 5°C.
Thursday 🌧️ Wet and windy despite the arrival of milder air. Max 9°C.
Friday 🌦️ Breezy and mostly cloudy with showers. Max 9°C.
Weekend 🌧️ Relatively mild but staying unsettled with spells of rain.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Patagonia, Tony's Chocolonely and Faith in Nature join line up for Better Business Summit
From today’s sponsor: Following a sell-out conference last year, the Better Business Summit is coming back to Manchester in January (Wednesday 17th – Friday 19th). Hundreds of purpose-driven individuals, change-makers, and innovators will be joining the two-day conference on the theme of Radical Utopia — exploring how businesses can be part of building a truly sustainable future. The final day will put words into action, with a choice of nature-based activities.
As well as the big name businesses above, the keynote speakers will include Dr Brett Staniland (slow fashion advocate and ex-Love Island contestant) and Yvonne Cobb (BBC chef, who will be speaking about food waste and demonstrating cooking in British Sign Language). And the best part? Mill readers can get a 20% discount. Buy your tickets here and use the code MILL20 at the checkout.
The big story: The government says it is “accelerating” rail upgrades in the north. But is it?
Top line: Today, the government announced £3.9 billion in funding for plans to upgrade the Transpennine rail network, which connects Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield and York. £3 billion has already been spent on the project, with this latest funding meant to “accelerate” it.
Context: Much like attempting to get somewhere on the Transpennine rail network, progress has been slow. The upgrade was first announced in 2011, and the work has been ongoing since 2021. Part of Northern Powerhouse Rail, the project is meant to mean faster and more frequent trains across the Transpennine route by 2032, according to the 2021 Integrated Rail Plan.
Huw Merriman, the Rail Minister at the Department of Transport, said that today’s funding announcement “demonstrates this government’s commitment to delivering its Network North plan”, the £36 billion package of rail upgrades funded by the savings made from scrapping HS2 to Manchester, which Rishi Sunak announced at the recent Conservative Party Conference in, er, Manchester.
Now, despite today’s announcement pledging to “accelerate” the upgrade, there’s a snag: the delivery date still hasn’t changed. In fact, the government announcement reads: “Once complete in the mid-2030s, the upgrade will offer up to eight trains per hour, hundreds of extra seats and cut journey times between Manchester and York by 10 minutes.”
So, what is the money actually being spent on?
Doubling the number of tracks between Huddersfield and Ravensthorpe from two to four, so electrified trains can overtake, say, slower freight trains, improving journey times.
Integrating Bradford and Hull into Northern Powerhouse Rail. Including a new station in Bradford that will connect to Manchester via Huddersfield.
Currently the Transpennine route is, famously, very bad. Its operator, TransPennine Express, was taken into public ownership earlier this year due to its poor service. The Guardian found that, during the October half term last year, the operator cancelled 30% of its trains. There has been little sign of improvement recently.
And, it’s expected to get worse before it gets better. This month, TransPennine Express will further reduce its timetable in the North West, cutting 20 off-peak trains per day from 10 December. This is meant to improve punctuality and reliability. TransPennine Express’s managing director Chris Jackson told the BBC:
This plan to slightly step back the timetable in December will help to fix the business in the long term and operate a much more stable and reliable timetable for customers. If we are able to, we will reintroduce services through 2024 or if not, we will reintroduce the full timetable in December 2024.
Bottom line: Today’s announcement means a total of £6.9 billion has been allotted to the Transpennine upgrade. It is expected to reach £11 billion before it is completed, making it one of the largest rail upgrades in the UK. But in the meantime, commuters can expect service as usual, or a lack thereof.
Your Mill briefing
🚨 The body of a man thought to be homeless was found in the Gay Village early yesterday. It followed temperatures dropping as low as -6°C. Greater Manchester Police said the cause of the man’s death is unknown, but they are not treating the incident as suspicious. One passer-by told the MEN yesterday: "I spotted him and thought he was sleeping, I've been here since this morning. A couple came out of the car park opposite and went over to him and he didn't flinch or move at all, so they rung the ambulance."
🥴 “Render vs reality” — active travel campaigner Harry Gray posted a comparison between what Stevenson Square, in the Northern Quarter, was intended to look like — after pedestrianisation — and what it looks like now. Gray said: “Over five years of co-consultation and it's basically just a cycle lane through a pedestrian square, with random concrete blocks plonked everywhere. Nobody asked for this”. Perhaps they’d have better luck with the Transpennine team on the job?
❄️ Ice spikes were spotted in the Peak District over the weekend. The spikes form when water comes out of a hole in the surface of ice, then freezes slowly enough that it grows upwards, eventually freezing entirely. Reverse icicles, basically. The conditions were perfect for the phenomenon to take place.
🇯🇵 Greater Manchester has agreed a partnership with the city of Osaka, in Japan. It’s set to “strengthen cooperation in net zero action and boost business links”. It also means Greater Manchester might get a role at EXPO 2025, the international exhibition to be held in Osaka in 2025. Andy Burnham and Bev Craig are also set to hold talks with the likes of Panasonic and Daikin, the world’s largest manufacturer of air-conditioning equipment.
🎧 Speaking of Burnham, he and Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram will have a return fixture of their mayoral DJ battle in Liverpool in February. Last December, the pair battled at Mayfield Depot, home of the Warehouse Project. Jack was there, reporting a profile he was writing about Sacha Lord. Asked to summarise the vibe, he texted: “Imagine being at a family gathering, and most of the guests are gone, and you're stuck with two uncles who have commandeered the music and are just playing their favourite songs and exclaiming "this is proper music!" and won't let you leave until you listen to the next one.” If that’s your thing, keep your eyes peeled for tickets, the proceeds, after all, will go to homelessness charities.
Home of the week
This two bedroom apartment spans the entire top floor of a renovated church in Broughton Park, Salford, which retains a grand central hallway with parquet flooring. It’s on the market for £400,000.
Our favourite reads
Gen Z are being drawn to an unlikely new trend: craft and artisan fairs. The Great Northern Craft Fair was rammed with 4,000 visitors in October, many of them young and diverse, who prefer to support independent and emerging businesses over big online brands. “The feeling I get is that people really want something that can’t be bought from Amazon,” says artisan maker Sinead O’Connor.
One for our resident Hispanophiles. “Unfairly described as boring and gray,” writes Isabel Garcia. “The world's first industrial city is experiencing an architectural, artistic and culinary renewal”. In this report for El Mundo, one of Spain’s biggest newspapers, Garcia makes the case for Manchester as a tourist destination for Spanish readers. The benefits of holidaying in Manchester are many, Garcia contends. And she doesn’t even mention the money saved on SPF 50.
Over at our sister paper in Liverpool, The Post, our culture writer Sophie Atkinson reviews Macbeth at The Depot, a film studio that is showing the play as its inaugural theatre production. The stage is complete with burning cars and the audience traipse to the edge of a wood to find their seats. Its director, Simon Godwin, argues that the play's message “can resonate much more acutely and powerfully in an environment where the audience is not able to quite sit in their comfortable, plush red seats with their gin and tonic and their ice cream”.
Our to do list
🎭 Sour Milk received rave reviews at Manchester Fringe Festival in 2021, telling the twisty tale of two best friends living in a flat above a chippy whose relationship takes an unexpected turn. It’s returning for five nights at the Kings Arms in Salford, get tickets here.
🗣️ Is AI going to be a force for good? Four leading researchers and scientists will be discussing the impact of the new technology at the University of Manchester from 6pm. It’s free to attend.
📸 Contemporary photographer Robert John Watson has a new exhibition at Manchester Central Library that features his portraits of Manchester Pride, alongside studies of Blackpool seascapes. It’s free, just drop in.
🧑🎄 Head to the lovely independent theatre 53Two for a night of festive comedy, drama and music from ExEl, a theatre collective made up of artists from the baby boomer generation. Tickets here.
🎶 Legendary artist Jeff Mills has reworked his techno compositions to be performed with a live symphony orchestra in this unique performance at the Bridgewater Hall. Tickets here.
⛪ Classical singer Russell Watson is performing a rare concert at Gorton Monastery, accompanied by the world-renowned pianist Mike Moran. Tickets here.