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The only way is up?

The only way is up?

Stephen Morgan-Hyland 03 Jul 2018
An e-mail confirming Lichfields’ Northern Powerhouse Partner status dropped in to my inbox as I stood surveying the Manchester manor from 2o storeys up; from the delightfully named 20Stories restaurant at No1 Spinningfields. When I moved to Manchester two decades ago, only four buildings in the city topped 20 storeys and you certainly couldn’t enjoy gourmet food with a panoramic view and a raspberry martini; or enjoy living in any of them. I did once take some chips to rooftop of Portland Tower, the building where I plied my planning trade back then, but that was a glamorous as high-rise Manchester got pre-2000. Back to the future, and I stand watching the construction lifts scuttling like children’s toys up and down the façades of Renaker Build/SimpsonHaugh & Partners’ Deansgate Square Towers – the 67th floor of the tallest of four towers will top 200 metres and be the fifth tallest building in the UK – and wonder whether, for the largest city and metropolitan area in the Northern Powerhouse, the only way is indeed up? The Northern Powerhouse is characterised by cities with commonality in land use planning issues, and whilst the focus of this piece is the North West, my 20Stories view affords an outlook of the Pennines and I am acutely aware that beyond those hills the same issues are in play; and the same over t’other way too, in Liverpool. The smart money in the North West is on up, and out; across Greater Manchester. Local election results, amongst other things, have forced back – to ‘later this Summer’ - a consultation on the rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF); now the ‘baby’ of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. The confidence and supply support from Trafford Liberal Democrats to Labour in a minority administration alliance is dependent upon a brownfield first approach to new housing, and seemingly removes from the GMSF the Flixton Station and Timperley Wedge sites put forward for Green Belt release. The two sites might have provided over 4,000 new homes and represent 6% of the residential development potential from Green Belt release sites (some 65,000 homes) across Greater Manchester. It remains to be seen how the rewritten GMSF proposes to redress the short-fall. Trafford’s reticence to embrace its housing shortage may well result in opportunities for additional sites elsewhere, across the combined authority area, but there is clearly a need for significant additional high-density, high-rise urban development and that will be driven by Manchester and Salford-focussed demand.  Lichfields knows that market well, leading the planning process on several 30+ storey towers. There is plenty here about Lichfields’ housing and expertise and insight. One certainty is that Andy Burnham will want the GMSF and a housing strategy for Greater Manchester sorted well in advance of the next Mayoral election in 2020. Back at a 20th storey terrace lunch table – I was at 20Stories as a client celebration on completion of an important regeneration project – I dropped into the conversation the spatial framework; not the Burnham ‘baby’ but the City of Manchester Plan of 1945. Those who know me will recognise that I am a bastion of topical conversation. Chapter 12 Housing Standards starts with quote from once Bishop of Manchester William Temple ‘We need more space, above all more space for and in the homes of people…’; nothing changes. The 1945 Plan includes page-upon-page of guidance on appropriate residential densities, standards for internal living and principles for outdoor amenity space. I read it recently, and I bring to this into the discussion.  Stick with me my lunch guests did.   The 1945 Plan’s relevance to modern day society and policy aspirations, through its references to ensuring that the delivery of residential development is ‘…compatible with a sense of well-being’, achieves a ‘softening…of stark lines’ and contributes to ‘enlivening…arid monotony’ is palpable. It goes on to say that ‘…means must be found to bring back living greenery into our inner residential districts’. Whilst the Manchester Plan was seeking a move away from bare, drab too-closely-built Victorian streets the reference to well-being is as applicable now as it was then. Millennials (born early 80s to mid-90s), often dubbed Generation Rent, are occupying a significant proportion of new-build city apartments across UK towns and cities; Manchester and Salford are no exception. In the past, Baby Boomers who moved ‘out’ to new-build peripheral housing estates often cited isolation and loneliness given an absence of ‘community’ and facilities; a sense of being a long way out from their traditional inner-city residential areas. As we increasingly embrace building up as well as out, and land availability constraints will demand this, land use planning needs to be increasingly minded of those living a long way up. Residential tower blocks have always carried the risk of social isolation, all too often a social failing of our elderly citizens. Such discussions about loneliness typically focus on the elderly, but a recent Study by the Office for National Statistics found that young people (aged 16-24) identified with a feeling being lonely more often than is the case with any other adult age group. If Millennials and those who follow (so called Generation Z) are to populate and make communities out of our high-rise cities then the Northern Powerhouse needs to reflect on the foresight of 1945 to ‘…bring back living greenery into our inner residential districts’. It is not the greenery per se that might guard against that threat of loneliness, rather the opportunity carried by open space for social interaction. Moreover, making something of that potential is down to those potential users; the Fortnite versus real world conundrum. Don’t think either that I’m questioning high-rise, high-quality being delivered in our new vertical cities; that is top drawer. It’s the spaces in between that is of fundamental importance to creating liveable and sustainable environments. Perhaps Yazz –known well by my Generation X cohort – was prophesising about 21st century living when she sang– But if we should be evicted, Huh, from our homes, We'll just move somewhere else, And still carry on – in the 1988 hit The Only Way is Up.   Generation Rent might be residentially peripatetic and upwardly bound, but that footloose sense captured by Yazz will only meet with success if our urban environments delivery a sense of well-being and belonging. Ultimately the Northern Powerhouse, and its success, is all about, and dependent upon, the people of the North. That is, utilising their economic might to drive forward the new Northern agenda. We can only do this if land use planning creates the right foundations for society, and looking after the social well-being of Northern Powerhouse citizens is paramount as our cities grow up as well as grow out.

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Momentum behind the Aviation Powerhouse
Since Lichfields’ first blog, momentum behind the Aviation Powerhouse has grown. Manchester displaced Stockholm as it entered Europe’s top 20 airports with 25.9 million passengers for the first time[1]. The Department for Transport (DfT) published a number of aviation consultations, including the draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), the Government has opened consultation on its Northern Powerhouse Strategy[2], whilst Transport for the North[3] and George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership[4] released new think pieces on the Northern Powerhouse. Manchester has also hosted the second Northern Powerhouse conference. DfT’s consultations have focused on the need for runway capacity in the South East and the proposed Heathrow Airport expansion. This places the onus on Heathrow to demonstrate in any future development consent order application how a new runway will support regional connectivity across the UK. The draft NPS and various ministerial statements have made clear the importance of providing better regional access to Heathrow, once Runway 3 is constructed. Direct links between Heathrow and the Northern Powerhouse’s airports will be essential to take advantage of the wider range of destinations offered by Heathrow than are currently served by the existing airports in the north. But this benefit is dependent on providing them with access to Heathrow to enable interlining. The Aviation Powerhouse has untapped capacity and is well-placed to capitalise on greater connectivity to Heathrow. But it is important that once finalised, the NPS does not overlook the Aviation Powerhouse’s recent impressive growth and the role it can play in providing capacity for increased global connectivity. As Charlie Cornish of Manchester Airports Group has pointed out, the Government needs to ask “how we are going to make best use of the runway capacity we have in this country, by improving access to airports with capacity which are now growing significantly”[5]. Transport for the North and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership have been busy promoting the Northern Powerhouse and suggesting ways to strengthen the Aviation Powerhouse. This includes a number of pragmatic steps that DfT should consider. Central to Transport for the North’s Independent International Connectivity Commission Report is that connectivity needs to be a priority for the Northern Powerhouse to harness the economic benefits from internationalisation.  Relying on South East airports for international business travel and freight offers greater international connectivity but increases costs and reduces competitiveness for businesses in the Northern Powerhouse. Transport for the North offers a solution: secure more direct long haul passenger services in the Aviation Powerhouse, with belly hold capacity for freight. Businesses in the Northern Powerhouse would benefit immediately. It would improve their cost competitiveness and give them greater access to new markets. Transport for the North reasons that improving business-related aviation will give the biggest boost to the Northern Powerhouse’s productivity. Akin to our suggestion that the Aviation Powerhouse should be treated as a cluster of airports, Transport for the North suggests that establishing new routes should be coordinated across the Northern Powerhouse. Whilst the aviation market is generally responsive to demand, Transport for the North argues that coordinating new route development should improve the Northern Powerhouse’s competitiveness. For example, creating new complimentary short haul routes from Liverpool and Newcastle, and promoting the growth of long haul routes from Manchester will give Northern Powerhouse businesses much greater access to global markets. Improving connectivity to and from airports within the Aviation Powerhouse has also been promoted by Transport for the North. They recommend a series of ‘surface access’ schemes, such as improving the link road between Newcastle airport and the A1. By improving accessibility to airports, Transport for the North argues that the proposed schemes will generate more demand from businesses in the Northern Powerhouse and extend airport catchment areas (benefiting a larger area). In turn, this will improve the competitiveness of the Aviation Powerhouse and grow demand for increased frequencies and new routes. Given the potential for an additional 60 million air passengers a year[6], the Aviation Powerhouse has significant untapped capacity. This could give a big stimulus to the Northern Powerhouse and UK economies. The currently unused capacity offers great potential in the long term to benefit from Heathrow’s expansion, but it also presents short term opportunities to improve global connectivity to the Northern Powerhouse. The Northern Powerhouse needs to engage with the Government’s aviation consultations to ensure that it maximises the benefits from Heathrow’s proposed expansion. Recent efforts by Transport for the North and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership to promote the strength and potential of the Aviation Powerhouse have been well-received by the business community – capturing the opportunities will reap rewards. The Government recently announced Growth Deal 3 funding of c. £556 million for Northern Powerhouse Local Enterprise Partnerships[7], which could help improve connectivity to Aviation Powerhouse airports. Perhaps DfT could look at building on this existing commitment and play a more active role in supporting the Aviation Powerhouse in using its untapped capacity?   [1] http://www.travelweekly.co.uk/articles/272735/mag-calls-for-manchester-and-stansted-to-form-part-of-aviation-strategy [2] https://northernpowerhouse.gov.uk/2017/02/northern-powerhouse-stakeholder-engagement-launched/ [3] TfN (February 2017) Independent International Connectivity Commission Report [4] NPP (January 2017) First Report [5] http://www.travelweekly.co.uk/articles/272735/mag-calls-for-manchester-and-stansted-to-form-part-of-aviation-strategy [6] TfN (February 2017) Independent International Connectivity Commission Report [7] DBEIS (January 2017) Northern Powerhouse: Growth Deals Image credit: VIEW Pictures Ltd / Alamy  

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