Posted by Will Lewis

Posted 8 September, 2015 OBI BLOG

Will 1It’s always best to have a plan, and Manchester has a new plan. The Manchester Leaders Forum has worked up a draft Manchester Strategy (out for consultation until the end of September) that will cover the years 2016 to 2025. Taking over from the Manchester Partnership’s  existing Community Strategy, the Manchester Strategy aims to establish Manchester in “the top flight of world class cities”.

As the consultation document says, the city’s in a different place to the last time it went through this exercise, back in 2006 – governance has moved on, with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, a Local Enterprise Partnership and an interim mayor now in place. All this, says the report, gives the city the flexibility to determine a future direction with more clarity.

In a way, there are no great surprises in here. The city will be looking to be build on its strengths in areas such as financial and professional services and the creative and digital sectors, while there’s plenty to say on building the science story – more R&D, advanced materials, Corridor Manchester and the exploitation of graphene are to the fore. Every city has its science parks and universities of course, but this is an area where Manchester has a genuine edge, so to put it centre stage looks a smart move.

From the purely property point of view, there’s talk about planning the city’s growth in a sustainable way: Airport City, Spinningfields and Piccadilly are all specifically mentioned, along with the St John’s Quarter. The property industry trusts Manchester to get it right in this area.

What the document does is map out different areas of focus, with measures for success in each area, a mix of the specific – “cycling up by 10 per cent” and more general goals. While some might argue that more specific targets need to be set than, say, “Significantly increase the number of jobs in the city” is there any point in getting bogged down in detail at this stage?

It’s the section on a liveable and low-carbon city that’s of most interest, possibly because this is an area where so much (in a national, rather than Manchester sense) over the years has been somewhat wishy-washy. There seems to be a real recognition here of the need for more emphasis on community-building, with the voluntary sector to the fore.

Social and health issues are often area we in the property industry overlook, but the points made here are striking and give a hint as to how Manchester’s new-found ability to make its own decisions could make a difference. The report talks of using the city’s research strengths to  test new drugs and therapies to improve health outcomes, which seems to be joining things up in a way that hasn’t happened. Despite its gains over the last 20 years, Manchester still has huge social and health issues, and now it seems to be saying “we think we can tackle this better than central government”.

There’s also a lot here on housing, and “an accelerated supply of well-designed homes for market sale or rent” is one of the measures of success. The Manchester Place housing plan, backed by Abu Dhabi (also one of the key international relationships highlighted in the strategy) is something that could be a big differentiator for it as a city.

It’s a huge opportunity too. London for all it’s success looks to be pricing people out. Wouldn’t it be something to be the city that offers a genuinely strong alternative both to ambitious young professionals and those growing up in the city itself? When asked at a property conference last year which was England’s second city, Sir Howard Bernstein quipped “London”. Obviously that’s tongue in cheek, but you’ve got to aim high.

One of the phrases that leaps out towards the end of the document is “We will position the city at the centre of first class networks, locally , nationally and internationally”. Manchester has transport advantages, particularly with its airport, and it’s aware of the importance of digital infrastructure too, as well as growing strategic international relationships.

The networks theme is important. Manchester knows how business works, and what the Manchester Strategy does is provide a framework for its ambitions, setting targets for its leadership and public bodies. But more importantly, it simply sends out the message that the city knows what it’s doing. That’s what people want to hear.