Response to the “Strategic Plan for Manchester City Centre: 2015-18"
This document is at best a plan. It should not be described as a “strategy” since it lacks any overview of how Manchester City Centre functions and most importantly it lacks an overarching vision for the future of Manchester City Centre. It is also largely a backwards facing document, giving a lot of detail about past developments without properly addressing the plans for the future.
The documents also fail to join up with the forthcoming Manchester City Centre Transport Strategy and the wider transport and statutory plans for the area. The way in which the document lists tiny fragments of the area in separate sections, for example Castlefield is separated from Water Street and St John’s Square which fails to address the horrendous impact that the proposed “Sky” development will have on all these areas. Indeed, the separation of the document into sections covering small areas seems to have lead to some confusion and has resulted in some developments being listed in the wrong area.
The key element that is missing from this document are the people of Manchester. Their experiences of living, working, learning and carrying out daily life in the centre are completely absent. The document is all about “development”, “growth”, “investment”, “marketing” and other financial issues. It says very little about how people experience the city centre. It is as if the people of Manchester don’t matter…
Air Quality and Public Health
Air pollution is a major cause of ill health and early mortality in Manchester City Centre. It is a serious problem for all residents along with those who travel into the city for work or leisure. Tacking air quality should be the number one priority for the City Centre as it a major health issue and will put severe limitations on the growth of the area.
The other health crisis facing the people of the area is physical inactivity. The most important measure for the health of the people of this area will be to ensure that they can travel on foot and/or cycle for most, if not all of their daily journeys. The city centre must proritise walking and cycling as a matter of urgency as this will pay huge dividend for public health, both in reducing obesity and improving air quality
The Public Realm
Nowhere is this clearer than in the references to the public realm.
Take for example the references to St Peter’s Square. This area has suffered from the removal of the green space provided by the Peace Garden and the closure of Library Walk. The Cenotaph has been moved from its central position on the site of St Peter’s church and placed out of the way by the back door of the Council House in order to make space for a major tram station which will dominate the whole area.
Other public spaces suffer similar problems:
Piccadilly Gardens is a poor quality bus station and tram interchange with a small area of green space in the area remaining.
Exchange Square is also now given over to an oversized tram stop.
Albert Square is dominated by traffic on 3 sides and is predominantly used as an event space.
Deansgate is one of the most important public spaces in the city, hosting major events, and yet it is given over to traffic 99% of the time.
The only reasonable quality green space in the city centre are smaller areas like Sackville Gardens, St John’s Gardens and Parsonage Gardens. It is notable that there has been a significant loss of green space in recent years with the loss of the Peace Garden in St John’s Square and the loss of Hardman Square.
The city centre now lacks a major public space that gives the city an iconic location for events. There is a need to identify and carve out public space and prevent the further degradation of the few remaining spaces.
Deansgate should be closed to traffic and become a key piece of public realm all year round. It is a major desire line when travelling by bicycle and on foot.
Whilst the city centre has a desperate need for green spaces it has many large squares which are given over to car parking. In China Town the car park by Nicholas Street is a key location that should become green space, along with the Major Street and Aytoun Street car parks whilst the Bloom Street car park in the Village is a major blot on the landscape that should be converted into a high quality public space.
The contrast with developments in the City of Leicester are striking. Here whole areas of the city centre have been turned into public realm, given over to the movement of people on foot and cycling.
The document admits that the city centre has in excess of 30,000 off road and 2,000 on-street parking spaces. This is a massive over supply of car parking in the city centre and with the impact of free parking on single yellow lines in the evening.
There needs to be a phased plan to halve the number of available parking spaces and increase charging to ensure that there is always space available for essential users.
A major problem for the city centre is severance caused by major roads. Most particularly the Mancunian Way is a major barrier for movement along with much of the inner ring road. The Mancunian Way should be declassified as soon as possible, removing its motorway status and putting a 30mph speed limit in place. The demolition of the Mancunian way would be a major step forward in regenerating the Corridor and surrounding areas.
The provision for cycling in the City Centre is dreadful. Most direct routes involve getting off and walking. There needs to be a complete change of approach integrating cycling into the public realm and making all streets two way for cycling including those where traffic is excluded.
See how Leicester is achieving this: