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The Tories are coming to Manchester - but is HS2?
Plus: Less than a week to apply for our jobs
Dear Millers — the city is filling up with students again. Thousands of car boots were being emptied in Fallowfield and Withington this weekend and Oxford Road has returned to its bustling best. It’s estimated that more than 120,670 students enrolled at the universities of Greater Manchester last academic year — a very sizeable migration that swells our population and creates a mini-economy of its own. Best of luck for the year ahead to all our student Millers.
Some news: We just hit 2,500 paying subs! We got there after another little surge of new members who wanted to read last Friday’s members-only newsletter, which covered the adult shop that’s been repeatedly attacked in the Gay Village, and also featured a very interesting interview with a senior curator at Manchester Museum about returning objects to where they originally came from. “We need to start having good public conversations about the violence that our collections contain,” she told us.
Next month will see another big migration to Manchester when the Conservative Party descends on the city for its party conference. Perhaps the experience of having to travel via the atrocious Avanti West Coast — a train company whose services arrive late the majority of the time and cost more than return flights to half of the European continent — might focus the minds of ministers on the state of our transport connections. That’s if a highly targeted train drivers’ strike doesn’t force the prime minister to come via helicopter.
In today's edition, we bring you the latest on the growing row over HS2. It looks increasingly like the government has decided that high-speed rail is good enough for the South of England and the Midlands but that they can’t afford to extend it to the North. That’s being welcomed as great news by HS2’s many opponents, but local leaders here — not to mention economists and business figures — think stopping the line at Birmingham would be a disaster.
Bored of that never-ending debate? Ok, well we’ve also got a scoop about the role Sacha Lord wants in the next Labour government, some insight into whether Manchester is about to go bankrupt and some excellent To Dos this week, including a photography exhibition about modernist architecture and some “creepy and kooky” short films.
🚨 Hiring alert: There’s now less than a week left to apply for two of the jobs we are hiring for (the Senior Editor role and the staff Staff Writer role on our sister newsletter in Liverpool, The Post) and less than two weeks for our Head of Commercial role. Do us a huge favour and please send the link to our jobs page to a friend who you think might be a good fit for one of the roles. We rely on our network to find great people — so please enthusiastically spread that link or share our tweet about the jobs.
There are stories that we spend months working on after finding an obscure lead online, and there are ones that take just a few days from someone walking into our office and giving us a piece of information. Our weekend read about Michaela Ali, the heavily pregnant hospital worker who has been living in hotels because her Northern Quarter social-rented flat has been infested by rats, was one of the latter. Michaela’s mother Margaret found her way to our newsroom last week because she felt her daughter wasn’t being listened to by her landlords, Riverside housing association, and she didn’t know what else to do than raise a public alarm. "She's just heartbroken,” Margaret told us.
Riverside, which manages over 75,000 homes across the country, has now apologised for its failure — sustained over the course of a year — to make Michaela’s basement flat habitable. Today we have followed up with the company to ask them for specific details of when the necessary work will be done to the flat and how many other properties they currently have in a similar state. Michaela is due to give birth to her baby in November.
Thanks for your comments and messages about this story, which we will keep you updated about as it develops. Joanne Harding, a senior councillor in Trafford, tweeted: “This is an horrendous story. As a Cllr I am getting more and more casework of this nature. Housing is a human right but not rat infested substandard housing.” The media commentator Sameer Padania tweeted that the outcome of Margaret visiting our newsroom “is what happens when you have journalists and a known public interest outlet in a place.”
As you probably know, we don’t have the resources to investigate most of the stories that come to us. The Mill is still run by a team of four staffers, one of whom is part-time, so we have to be extremely selective about what we cover. Huge thanks to our members, whose subscriptions are the reason we can do this kind of journalism at all.
If you’re not a member yet and you think this city needs more of the kind of journalism we did this weekend, please join up now. As a member, you get an extra eight Mill editions per month and you join our community in the comments and at our live events. And you strengthen local accountability and democracy. All for £7! What a bargain.
🌧️ This week’s weather
Grab your umbrellas, heavy rain is on the way. Our local weatherman Martin Miles says we can expect the weather to turn very autumnal from this week, and cheerily reminds us now is the time to remain “positive and embrace nature’s change, for spring will be here in less than six months”.
Tuesday ⚠️ Windy with spells of heavy rain; yellow weather warning in place for rain. Wind gusts locally between 40-45mph. Max 18C.
Wednesday ⚠️ Another wet day overall with pulses of heavy rain along with strong wind gusts up to 40mph. Max 16C.
Thursday 🌦️ A better offering with some sunny spells during the morning followed by sunny spells and showers later. Lighter winds. Max 17C.
Friday 🌦️ Cool and breezy with blustery showers. Max 15C.
Weekend Drier on Saturday with bright spells but turning wet and windy again on Sunday. Increasingly mild and humid despite the unsettled weather.
190 years of high-quality discussion
From today’s sponsor: The Manchester Statistical Society may sound like an exclusive club for mathematicians but fear not — it is in fact a thriving forum for current social and economic issues and one of the city’s longest-running institutions. The society has just celebrated its 190th birthday, having been founded during the Industrial Revolution by a group of friends who were concerned about widespread poverty in Manchester and saw the collection and discussion of statistics as a step towards social reform. There are upcoming talks about the UK's housing shortage, the impact of the pandemic on children, and Greater Manchester's carbon budget — check out the full list of events, and click here to book your place.
The big story: Will HS2 ever reach the North?
Top line: Uncertainty continues to grow around whether high-speed rail will ever reach us here in the North. Last week, it was reported that the chancellor and prime minister were in talks about scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 project. The cost of HS2 is already spiralling, and estimates seen by the Independent show that £34bn could be saved by calling off the northern phase.
Context: HS2 is a vast infrastructure project meant to bring better, high-speed rail connections to the north. Experts always say that speed isn’t really its biggest benefit — it’s mostly about increasing capacity to relieve pressure on our very busy lines, which will consequently allow services to be more frequent and more reliable.
It’s also just a pretty standard feature of a modern economy to have high-speed rail lines. “In capacity terms, it is essential infrastructure,” as the FT put it earlier this year. “Countries such as France, Germany or Spain with shiny and extensive high-speed rail networks may look with bafflement across the Channel to the agonies in Britain over building anything similar.”
This isn’t the first time HS2’s progress to us here in Manchester has been delayed or downgraded.
High speed trains to Manchester had already been delayed a further two years, making their potential deployment a decade later than originally planned.
There’s been a long-running row over whether the government will build a cheaper overground station at Piccadilly or an underground one with better connectivity.
Response: Longtime opponents of HS2 are delighted by the prospect of a further u-turn, saying the project has become much too expensive. But one Conservative told The Times:
Politically it’s madness. It’s hard to see how you’re going to win many votes by promising to scrap HS2 while Labour will jump on it accusing us of abandoning the North.
Will Labour jump on it? Not so far. Yesterday, the party’s campaign coordinator Pat McFadden told Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC: "I want to see what this costs and we'll make those decisions when it comes to the manifesto.” That comment is likely to have infuriated Labour leaders in these parts. Andy Burnham today told the media: “As I understand it, there is no change in Labour policy – I've had that confirmed.”
In the commons today, when Stretford and Urmston MP Andrew Western asked when his constituents will be able to board a high-speed train from Manchester to London, transport minister Richard Holden was pretty vague in response: “The government will update the house, as it has done consistently, regarding HS2.”
Bottom line: Whatever this current government decides about HS2 may not end up mattering all that much if they are turfed out at the next general election, as the polls currently suggest they will be. Labour has a lot more voters to keep happy in the North and would be under massive pressure from the likes of Burnham to fund the project, and probably to resuscitate the leg to Leeds and Sheffield as well. But every delay adds to the costs and pushes the moment when this country will have a decent modern railway network further into the future.
Home of the week
This lovely two bedroom period terrace is just a short walk from Levenshulme’s flourishing high street, with generous sized bedrooms and a beautiful garden. It’s on the market for £230,000.
Your Mill briefing
Manchester will not be Birmingham, at least as far as equal pay claims are concerned. Last week we told you that senior council figures were reviewing major IT projects after massive overspends helped to send Birmingham City Council towards bankruptcy. But the biggest cost in Brum was a £760 million bill to settle equal pay claims, a problem that won’t be repeated in Manchester, we’re told. “We have managed long-running equal pay claims and the Council pursued a strategy of settling the cases,” a spokesperson says, with the last tranche of claims received in 2013 and all now resolved. “The strategy of settling claims, working with key stakeholders including Trade Unions, was effective and there is not an ongoing liability,” the council tells us. We’ve got a members-only piece about council finances coming up — do get in touch if you can help.
Sacha Lord, the founder of the Warehouse Project and nighttime economy advisor to Mayor Andy Burnham, will present a “5 Point Plan to save Hospitality” at the Labour Party Conference next month. Despite speculation that Lord wants to succeed Burnham as mayor, The Mill understands Lord’s real ambition is to become the nighttime economy advisor to the next Labour government. Read our two-part profile of Lord here.
A 14-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Harpurhey on Friday. Nathaniel Shani, who has been described as kind and caring, was found in Tavistock Square after witnesses heard fighting and screaming. Two boys, aged 13 and 14, were arrested on suspicion of murder. Today, a 14-year-old boy has been charged with Shani’s murder.
A new food hall opened last week on Salford Quays. Central Bay is the latest in a procession of multi-operator eating spaces opening in Greater Manchester. We recently asked whether the food hall model is sustainable after multiple traders were given a month to relocate from the popular food village, Hatch, whose landlord was selling to another operator.
Our favourite reads
“A slow-motion emergency”: inside Britain’s failing police forces — The New Statesman
“When did policing in Britain become so broken, and who is to blame?” asks Anoosh Chakelian. This deeply researched investigation by the New Statesman is based on months of reporting and dozens of interviews with police chiefs, serving police officers and criminologists, to understand what’s behind Britain’s failing police forces. A former Greater Manchester Police officer describes some of the prejudices he encountered in the police force, saying he felt he had to hide his sexuality from his colleagues. When they found out he had a boyfriend, he was labelled a “diversity hire” and received homophobic abuse. “Now, if I see police officers coming towards me, I cross the road.”
The Game of Their Lives — The New York Times
A fascinating story about a group of former professional footballers who gather on an “unremarkable synthetic field” in Manchester each week to play mildly-competitive football, including Manchester City legends Joleon Lescott and Stephen Ireland and Manchester United midfielder Ravel Morrison. Between them all, they have scored over 100 goals in the Premier League and made 1,000 professional appearances. “They wear their fame relatively lightly. There are no replica jerseys bearing their names. Only a couple go as far as to use shorts emblazoned with club crests. Watch them play for a few minutes, though, and it is clear this game is hardly ordinary.”
Repeat after me: building any new homes reduces housing costs for all — The Financial Times
The FT’s data star John Burn-Murdoch debunks what he calls the “leftwing supply scepticism movement,” whose advocates “argue against new market-rate housing developments on the basis that they may increase rents and prices locally.” The piece cites evidence from across the world that this isn’t what happens when you build more housing — even if that housing attracts higher earners into a neighbourhood. “If you want to improve housing availability and affordability for all, the good news is that any new housing will help,” he concludes, an argument you might be familiar with from reading our own piece — “The billion pound Manchester question” — a couple of months ago.
The Edinburgh Castle, Manchester: ‘A great place to eat’ — The Guardian
The Guardian’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner makes another visit to Ancoats, which he describes as “a fast-developing district of boozy and edible promise,” where “you’ll never want for a negroni or a chilli-spiked Gordal olive”. The Edinburgh Castle prides itself on high quality, locally sourced ingredients, sometimes to its detriment: the chef does not use pepper, because pepper doesn’t grow in the UK (Rayner muses that a grind of black pepper on the steaks wouldn’t have gone amiss). Nevertheless, he describes it as a “great place to eat”, with a “deftness, solidity and wit to the cooking, utilising ingredients of quality”.
Our to do list
🎭 Our theatre highlight this week comes from local playwright Micky Dacks, who has written an autobiographical story about an 18-year-old boy discovering his talent for music and trying to leave his troubled past behind him. It’s showing at the Lowry until Saturday. Tickets here.
📷 A new photography exhibition at Peste, the independent bookshop and cafe on Oldham Road that’s a spin-off from Salford venue The White Hotel, takes aim at the modernist architecture of Milton Keynes, exploring the town as a “dystopia” during COVID lockdowns that carried reminders of “a plagued space and time”. It’s showing until 5 October and it’s free to visit.
✍️ The first autumn edition of the Northern Poets Society’s open mic night is focussing on the theme of — you guessed it — autumn. Audience members are invited to write their own poems to perform on the night, with drinks and snacks provided by the lovely Salford Museum and Art Gallery. Tickets are £5.
📚 British playwright Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of Great Expectations, set in 19th century India, is showing at the Royal Exchange this week. A recent Guardian review described it as “a cultural hybrid of Dickens’s masterpiece” with “no lack of energy from a buoyant cast”. Tickets here.
🎞️ Café Blah in Withington is hosting a free evening of “creepy and kooky” experimental short films, which includes a free raffle with a mystery prize. More here.
🎻 The Hallé is performing Mahler’s Symphony No.9 , an energetic, bittersweet symphony about suffering and grief, at Bridgewater Hall. It’s conducted by Sir Mark Elder, and the concert marks his final season as the Hallé’s music director. Tickets here.
Looking further ahead? Members get our unmissable weekend to do list in their inboxes every Thursday morning.