New East Manchester, 2001 to 2016Transforming Manchester's East End
East Manchester is currently undergoing an extensive programme of regeneration, which is aimed at improving quality of life for residents in 17 neighbourhoods. Two of these areas, Beswick and New Islington have already seen new housing built, and the development partners have been working closely with existing residents to shape the vision of a transformed inner city.
- Using leading architects to work with residents to achieve exciting design
- Recognising the role of education in building a sustainable community
- Building a strong relationship with existing residents
- Successful partnership working between Homes and Communities Agency, Manchester City Council and private developers.
Rebuilding East Manchester
The East of Manchester was severely affected by industrial decline from the early 1970s. Over half the community's manufacturing jobs were lost and house values in the area collapsed, with a fifth of properties standing empty. Gradually those that had been able to move away had done so; the population had declined by over 10 per cent. Those who remained were affected by high levels of poor health, poor educational achievement and crime.
Ambitious plans to regenerate East Manchester were drawn up in 2001, following a process of consultation between public agencies, other stakeholders and the residents of the area. The proposals looked to rejuvenate 17 neighbourhoods in the area, a site of 1,900 hectares. The plans included large scale housing development, boosting local employment opportunities, improving local transport, and raising the education achievement of young people in the area above the city average.
For many years Manchester has had a relatively small population of residents living in the inner-city. Though there has been a wave of development in the city over the past decade, many young people still chose to move to suburban areas once they start families. Almost 3000 new homes are currently being built in the two neighbourhoods of Beswick and New Islington. In both cases Manchester City Council, Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) (initially through English Partnerships) and private developers have been working in partnership to create places where local people will chose to live and will want to stay for the long-term.
The neighbourhood of Beswick had around 250 residents at the time the work to regenerate the area began. Some of these households had bought their council homes under the right-to-buy scheme but had since been affected by a collapse in the housing market and were stuck in negative equity.
In the past, resident satisfaction surveys carried by the New Deal for Communities team had shown that most local people didn't see themselves living in Beswick in five year's time. The area wasn't able to appeal to their aspirations for themselves or their families. Representatives of the Manchester City Council recognised that the area was run down, and felt that this fed a vicious cycle where people living there had become used to it and didn't see how bad it was or that things could be different.
Part of the challenge for the project partners in bringing about change was to engage the existing residents to support the proposed developments. New residents would help to maintain local services, by building a local population big enough to support small businesses and local facilities.
Residents' right to remain
The development plan for Beswick included a right to remain for all the existing residents. For socially renting tenants this translated into new homes in the future development. The situation was more complicated for households that had bought their council homes under the right-to-buy scheme. Manchester City Council agreed to buy these properties from their owners at a market rate. These residents were then able to buy a new home in Beswick with a top-up interest free loan from the Council, which would be returned to the Council when the house was eventually sold.
This scheme, though valuable in offering security to residents, was to some extent a victim of its own success due to rising property values. As each phase of new housing was built the value of nearby properties increased. Houses that the council had bought back in the first phase of development in 2001 were worth around £12,000 but by 2007, homes were worth between £70 and £80,000. Even in the first phase of the development new homes were reaching £140,000, meaning the financial package for existing home owners was extremely expensive.
Many of the 1,100 homes planned for Beswick are now complete and the first families have moved into their new homes. The properties, built by two private developers, Lovells and Gleesons, are notably different in their appearance. Lovell's homes are more European in their design compared to those built by Gleesons, which has opted for traditional-looking houses. Before construction began on site the existing socially renting tenants were offered a choice of which type of house they would like to live in. The majority chose the more traditional-looking homes, but as the houses have been built a number of families have changed their mind, preferring the modern appearance of the Lovell homes.
A key component of the regeneration of Beswick has been an investment in local education. A new primary school has already been finished on site. The school was designed with a particularly large playing field to allow it to expand in the future. An academy, to provide secondary level education in the area is planned to be opened in September 2010. Manchester City Council and HCA have been keen to see investment made in local schools before new residents move in as way of raising aspirations for the community and giving newcomers a reason to settle in the longer term. The local schools in Beswick have already been showing significant improvements and are now achieving results higher than the city's average.
The neighbourhood of New Islington is a flagship of New East Manchester's programme of regeneration. Construction of ‘Chips' is underway, one of the major buildings on the site and two phases of social housing for residents already living in the area have been completed. A new health centre and park have also been built and are now open for public use.
Plans for New Islington outline a vision of an exciting and vibrant neighbourhood, and are notable for their use of modern and, at times, quirky design. Many of the architects working on the project so far have been leading figures in their field, including Alsop Architects, Ian Simpson Architects and FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste). The developer for the site is Urban Splash, well known for its work redeveloping ex-industrial buildings in city centres.
Almost all the new housing will be built for sale or for part ownership. Only socially renting tenants already living on site will have new homes as part of the scheme. This was a result of the project partners' desire to create a mixed tenure neighbourhood in an area of predominantly social housing. However much of the social housing in East Manchester is old and is not in the best condition. Some argue that an opportunity has been missed to provide new high quality social homes for local people.
When planning to redevelop the site began in 2001 there were around 100 occupied houses in the neighbourhood. Residents were offered a choice of a new house in New Islington or the chance to be re-housed elsewhere. Around half the households chose to stay. A steering committee for the project was drawn up involving some of these local residents, who were then involved in selecting the professionals who would work on the development.
Alsop Architects, responsible for the strategic plan for the site, began a process of consultation with local people, meeting regularly at a local pub. During the first two meetings the architects didn't bring any drawings but instead spoke to residents about their needs and aspirations. Most of the responses they received were requests for improvements to windows or doors. When the architects finally began to bring drawings, sketching out some of the possibilities for the area, the residents' views changed rapidly. Very quickly they grasped the scale of the change ahead of them; this was not simply about tweaking the buildings already there; and they were able to engage with the designers about the scope of the project.
Residents were offered a free choice about where they would live in the future. The project partners were expecting residents to pick homes scattered across the development as a whole, but instead the residents came back to them in three distinct, self organised groups. These were neighbours who had grown close to one another, having already built strong social networks with each other and who wanted to preserve those friendships, by choosing to live as neighbours in the future.
Each group of residents were invited to take part in the process of selecting the designers of the new homes. One group, the second to see their new homes built, chose the architecture group FAT, despite the fact they had never designed housing. Instead of presenting residents with images of their proposals, FAT had simply turned up to the selection process without drawings or presentations, and talked to residents about their aspirations.
The residents had been adamant that they wanted traditional homes, but when FAT's designers delved deeper they were able to distil four features that were crucial for residents: they wanted somewhere safe for their cars (understandable in an area that had been blighted by crime), they wanted to be able to see their car from their living rooms, they also wanted a kitchen at the back of their house and a back garden. When FAT was able to guarantee these features, residents were happy to consider innovative design. The houses that have since been built are modern and characterised by quirky design features, borrowing elements from Dutch townhouses. The homes are so unusual that residents are now frequently called upon to guide visiting regeneration professionals and designers around.
Rethinking the site
The New Islington site has seen substantial investment in its landscape. Originally the existing housing had sat in a shallow valley between two canals, making the area feel as though it was under siege. Crime had been a particular problem, with people able to slip down in between the housing almost undetected.
The soil on site was contaminated and had to be cleaned before building work could get underway. A new waterway was created linking the two existing canals and a mixture of decontaminated soil and rubble from the demolished homes was used to build up the level of the ground so it was level with its surroundings. The new waterway is now part of a park already open to the public.
New Islington is notable for the degree to which development of social infrastructure has already taken place before most of the housing has been completed, including the park, a new heath centre and the main boulevard. HCA (initially through English Partnerships) has been a key project partner in the regeneration of New Islington. At the start of the project they, along with Manchester City Council and Urban Splash, identified how much funding they could provide and what infrastructure work they were able to fund. Since that point the three partners have been able to work closely together to make the scheme successful and have avoided any disputes over which partner can fund what segment of the project.
The vision of New Islington is that it will be a neighbourhood where people will want to stay. The new housing under development is a mixture of homes for sale and for part-ownership, and most have already been sold off-plan. Future residents have been keen to attend an annual festival organised by Urban Splash, to see how their future homes are developing. The event has had two main purposes, to give future neighbours a chance to meet and to encourage other people in Manchester to come onto the site and see how much has changed.
How residents will be involved in decision-making in the long term has yet to be decided. Some argued that most of the existing residents have been satisfied with their new homes and their appetite for tackling longer-term governance arrangements has therefore been less keen than it might have otherwise been.
Building a vibrant east end in Manchester
- In both Beswick and New Islington the project partners were able to give the existing residents security, either by offering them a new home for social rent or by offering a financial support package for owner-occupiers. This was expensive, both financially and in terms of staff resources, but helped maintain the community who already lived in those neighbourhoods.
- In both areas existing residents had been initially sceptical about living in modern homes, and yet in both cases when architects and other professionals had worked with them and they were able to have their concerns listened to, or were able to see the final results, they chose to live in modern homes.
- HCA played an important role in the regeneration of East Manchester as one of the partners in the New East Manchester URC. Representatives of HCA were able to outline clearly what they were able fund and what they could not and this transparency from an early stage in the project helped ensure that the project partners were able to concentrate on delivering outcomes.
- Urban Splash's annual festival in New Islington has been a useful opportunity for future residents to meet each other before they move into the neighbourhood. It has also given other people in Manchester a reason to visit the area and see how it is changing.
Significant investment in education in Beswick has already helped raise levels of achievement in the area. Good schools will help encourage new residents to stay in the area in the longer-term.
Challenges still remaining for Manchester
- Plans for New East Manchester have needed to balance the needs of people already living there and people who will live there in the future. Building support for the regeneration among the existing population has relied on making residents an attractive housing offer and highlighting the benefits of encouraging new families into the area.
- Almost all the new housing in Beswick and New Islington is for outright sale or for part ownership. This is part of a strategy to create a more mixed community in the city centre. Some feel that an opportunity to offer better quality homes to more of the socially renting tenants in the city has been missed.
- Residents have been involved in a continuing consultation about the development in New Islington, and some have taken part in a steering group for the project. However plans for this to be translated into continuing involvement in the management of New Islington have not been made.
Transferrable lessons for new communities
A considerable proportion of the housing that has been planned in the UK will be built as extensions of existing urban areas. These areas may be developed on brownfield land, which though not densely populated, may have a small number of residents. In these circumstances there are a range of lessons which could be drawn from the regeneration of New East Manchester:
In East Manchester, consultation with residents was a continuing process. Local people worked with designers and project partners to consider the both the scope of the project and individual development phases. Even where there are small numbers of residents living in an area they should play a full role in developing plans, particularly because they will be the people who know the area best.
Modern design and architecture can provoke strong reactions from some people, but it also has the potential to transform the feel of an area. The experience at New East Manchester shows that working with residents and not imposing a particular aesthetic can lead to exciting design that local people choose for their homes and feel proud of.
A range of agencies will need to work together to deliver a new community. Being open and flexible about what role each agency can take, especially in the case of funders, will ensure that financial plans for projects proceed without misunderstandings over which agency takes responsibility for each element of the scheme.
Using festivals and events to encourage people to come into a new community and meet their new neighbours can help kick-start the process of building social networks between future residents
For more information see: New East Manchester