UK Building woes, traffic, crime - the city centre residents who've had enough last minute news
MetiNews.Com - The city centre's fast-growing population has found its voice - and they're not always happy
Breaking News ! Big, global cities have big city centre problems. And, for the past twenty years, Manchester has relentlessly pursued the dream of turning a two square mile area within the inner ring road into a global destination. Cranes have been a ever-present feature of the skyline, throwing up tower after tower, remaking old buildings, changing the landscape. Where once there was derelict mills and dodgy back alleys, there are Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury penthouses and corporate headquarters. With an estimated population of 60,000 - set to grow to 100,000 by 2025 - more people now live, work and socialise in Manchester city centre than ever before. The question that's becoming increasingly difficult is; how to keep everyone happy? With average rents for a one-bedroom flat hovering at around £750 a month, many are paying a premium to be here. They are paying for a lifestyle choice - to be able to fall out of bed and walk to the coolest bars and clubs, the fanciest gyms, the best brunch spots. But the more people arrive, the more they rub up against each other, sometimes the wrong way, and the louder the complaints. Traffic on Great Ancoats Street due to a new roadworks scheme (Image: Joel Goodman) Whether its building blunders, traffic gridlock, or crime and anti-social behaviour, the new residents of Manchester city centre are increasingly finding their voice. This presents a challenge for Manchester's leaders, especially in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With Covid-19 set to stay with us for the long-term, many are predicting it could be hugely damaging to city centres. Will people now prefer homes with outside space? Is this the end of office working as we know it? What future is there for the night-time economy? Some of these issues were already present before coronavirus. As the M.E.N has reported previously, city centre dwellers have different priorities from the suburbs. But perhaps the pandemic will mean those priorities are now taken more seriously. 'The council doesn't care' Take this week for example. Developer Property Alliance Group (PAG) caused uproar after discovering a serious problem while constructing a new block of apartments beside Trinity Way called 'Uptown Manchester' (the site is actually in Salford). The 'engineering issue' will require a partial demolition of the concrete core that is currently in place, and on the August Bank Holiday weekend a huge piece of machinery rolled through the streets and began ripping bits of concrete off the top. Homeowners in the Irwell Riverside estate, who only moved in a few years ago, were outraged. They say they were not given forewarning that the demolition work was starting, and that they have not had enough assurances that it is safe and won't cause structural damage to their properties. Video Loading Video Unavailable Click to play Tap to play The video will start in8Cancel Play now While their anger is primarily aimed at Property Alliance Group, they are also furious with Salford Council. When the work started on a Sunday morning, residents told the M.E.N how they frantically tried to work out who they should go to for help. They eventually got through to an out-of-hours contact at the council's building control department but were told there was little they could do, it is claimed. Bizarrely they were advised to call police, residents said. Unsurprisingly, GMP advised that it was not a police matter. The demolition required Trinity Way to be closed off to traffic (Image: Manchester Evening News) Under the Building Act 1984, the local authority has a legal obligation to enforce regulations around demolition. But Salford Council's response to the furore left those complained feeling underwhelmed. When the M.E.N submitted a long list of complaints about how the demolition has been handled for response, the council sent back the following statement via Councillor Derek Antrobus, lead member for planning and sustainable development: “It is the responsibility of any contractor demolishing a building to decide the appropriate method and to carry out the demolition safely, taking all impacts on neighbours, roads and footpaths into account. "That responsibility also includes evacuating residents if required and communicating with people who are directly affected. "In this instance we are aware of residents’ concerns and are supporting them by liaising with the contractors to ensure these are addressed." Residents complained they did not get enough support from Salford Council (Image: Manchester Evening News) "The council don't seem to be engaging," said one resident, who asked not to be named. "We're paying council tax every single month, you would've thought that covers things like this. "The council doesn't care. "Is this demolition safe? For Trinity Way? For residents? For the river? "It's all a bit of a mess." For its part, PAG has apologised to residents for the inconvenience caused, insists no properties are in danger and offered to put residents up in a hotel while the work is ongoing. 'We should throw the book at them' With so many large, complex buildings being built, it is no surprise that construction frequently attracts complaints in Manchester city centre. Noise in the early hours of the morning, late at night, or weekends, dust and rubbish, fencing that blocks roads and pavements - all are regularly reported to Manchester city council. Roads closed around the Angel Gardens tower block after panels fell off in a storm (Image: MEN) But as the Uptown Manchester fiasco proves, sometimes the problems can spread more widely than immediate neighbours. Earlier this year, parts of Rochdale Road, Miller Street and Angel Street were closed for more than two weeks after three panels blew off the facade of Angel Gardens, a 36-storey luxury tower block that opened in the NOMA district last year. Motorists were hit with major delays in the area as a result of the road closures at a key junction in the city centre. Some described battling through traffic jams for more than two hours during rush hour. Building owners Moda Living said they worked 'around the clock' to rectify the problem. But city centre councillors vented their anger that a single building could cause such misery for so many people. The road closures caused severe congestion in the city centre (Image: TfGM) City centre spokesperson Pat Karney tweeted at the time: "Chaos. The road to Harpurhey and north Manchester closed off. "Thousands of residents who work in town totally messed about. The owners need summoning into the Town Hall. "We should throw the book at them." That said a string of high-profile Manchester council roadworks schemes have attracted fierce criticism, particularly around a lack of prior consultation with residents. For more than a year, there were horrendous queues down Regent Road due to a £15million project to improve the junction with the Mancunian Way. The project sparked a political storm when the main contractor Dawnus went bust and sub-contractors walked off site leaving diggers blocking the road in protest at having not been paid. This year, there are two very similar schemes ongoing - one at Great Ancoats Street and another at the Princess Road roundabout. Both are already causing heavy traffic problems that are likely to get worse as more people return to work in town. Another roadworks scheme at Princess Road roundabout is causing traffic chaos (Image: Joel Goodman) On Great Ancoats Street, the council has promised a 'tree-lined, European-style boulevard' that will be more pedestrian-friendly and reduce the noise from traffic. However, it has attracted strong criticism due to the lack of cycle lanes while the M.E.N revealed contractors have run into problems with planting the trees.
. Crime and anti-social behaviour is a particularly thorny subject. Many of the areas where flats now sell for upwards of £500,000 have historically been associated with the grimmest elements of the city centre - drugs, sex work and homelessness.
The scene in Piccadilly Gardens shortly after a man and his son was stabbed in a shocking attack
Piccadilly Gardens - the city's largest public square - remains a magnet for rough sleepers, begging, drug deals and frequent outbursts of violence. The Arndale shopping centre has also struggled recently with gangs of teenagers visiting the food court and causing mayhem. Sadly, the tension has spilled over into violence and police have dealt with a number of stabbings. A particularly shocking incident happened in February when a father and son were chased down and knifed by a 19-year-old outside Morrisons in Piccadilly Gardens. Both suffered 'potentially fatal' injuries, including a punctured lung. The court heard the attacker, Declan Connolly, carried a knife 'as a matter of routine' and the dispute was sparked because the younger victim had looked at him 'the wrong way' on a tram. Connolly was locked up for 10 years. One resident complained to the M.E.N: "The area has become a lawless no-go area and the problem is steadily getting worse."
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While Ancoats is now becoming known as one of the most up-and-coming neighborhoods in the world, the attention brings with it more scrutiny. Last month, the M.E.N published shocking footage of a mass brawl breaking out in the area that has been closed to traffic to allow pubs and bars to put tables and chairs outside. Young men threw punches and even used the street furniture as weapons. A woman was knocked unconscious after getting caught in the middle of the fight, though fortunately she was not seriously injured. Some residents have complained that Cutting Room Square has attracted a large amount of anti-social behaviour during lockdown, with one even branding it 'the new Piccadilly Gardens'.
Residents have complained that Cutting Room Square has been plagued by anti-social behaviour
While that may be a stretch, the truth is that Ancoats is an inner city neighbourhood with a long history of deprivation. Back in the 1870s, the streets were known for ferocious scraps between gangs of working-class young men known as 'scuttlers'. As recently as the 1970s and 80s, the infamous Quality Street gang that ruled Manchester was led by Ancoats hardmen like Jimmy 'The Weed' Donnelly. Speaking of the present-day issues around Cutting Room Square, one resident said: "It's quite scary at times - on a weekend we have gone outside the square for food and drinks because we didn't want to be involved in that. "It has made me consider moving from Ancoats and that has never crossed my mind before." Another said: "It’s just becoming a notoriously unsafe place to live. "Lots of residents are thinking of moving away from the area due to the change in atmosphere." On the other side of town, in Castlefield, a spate of crime last year led to some residents complaining they felt unsafe at night. Natalie Haries said: "I love Castlefield, I pay an absolute premium, it is is more expensive than other parts of the city centre." "I'm renting long-term from a friend but I would consider moving. "It feels crazy to pay some of the highest rents in the city and not be able to leave the house. "My friend is doing viewings [to move elsewhere] this weekend. "Some people say we're exaggerating. "I grew up in a city, in Birmingham, but for the first time in my life I feel like I can't go out at night. "People are talking about the cost of living, the service charges, the council tax, I pay £130 a month, it's really poor for what you pay. "Now, when we really need the police, we're not getting our money back."
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'People were promised city centre living, not city centre existing' None of these issues is particularly unique to Manchester. They are the growing pains of any city. But Mancunians, homegrown or adopted, have always had a reputation for speaking out against perceived wrongs. The city has a proud tradition of supporting progressive causes from universal suffrage to gay rights and racial justice. An online petition demanding the council build a 'green, community space on the former Central Retail Park instead of offices has gathered thousands of signatures. The roadworks have intensified the demand. Talking about them, one resident, Nick Galpin said: "(They) embody the current city centre. Car-centric, no thought for active travel and not a green leaf to be seen. Such a sad state of affairs." It all points to a resident population that expects a certain quality of life. The pressure on Manchester's leaders is to deliver it.
Sam Wheeler, Labour councillor for the Piccadilly ward, said expectations were always bound to increase as the city centre grows. "At some point it goes from a collection of people in a place, to being a community that makes demands and objects to things," he said. "You can say, 'well there wasn't anyone here before' but you can say that about anywhere. "And we invited them. They were asked to come here. "People were promised city centre living, not city centre existing. "I don't think quality of life is nearly good enough [at the moment]. "I think the whole game was for lots of young, educated employed people to come who would not make any demand on council services but spend lots of money in the area and create an income stream. "But people have demands - there are people who bring up kids in the city centre and if we say that they can't or they shouldn't, why did we flog them a flat?" Cllr Wheeler says his ward has seen an increase of around 5,000 people on the electoral register since he was first elected in 2018. That in itself suggests the calls for change will grow, he says. "As more and more developments come online, the more people will object," he said. "And there's a generational change - I think residents who've been here longer came here out of choice. They are the most pro city centre and least demanding. "Now living in the city centre might not be a choice, it might be the sort of thing you have to do after uni, you've not bought into the idea of city centre living, it's just where you live."