Manchester City has signed a new housing deal with Manchester City! Yes, that’s what we said, where “Manchester City” of course means Manchester City Council and strangely enough (in Manc. English) “Manchester City” also means Manchester City Football Club.
Even stranger, that football club is owned by an investment company the
Abu Dhabi United Group, the personal fiefdom of one Mansoor bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minster of the United Arab Emirates, the federation of small absolute monarchies on the Arabian Peninsular, with innovative social policies such as the use of torture, capital punishment, high levels of labour exploitation, and 14-year prison terms for homosexuality. It is also the country with the world’s highest per capita ecological footprint, although reported to be concerned to reduce it. It is actually with this company that the deal has been signed.
According to the council’s news story:
The partnership will see, as Phase One of the programme, the provision of more than 830 homes in Ancoats and New Islington, bringing significant impetus to both areas and helping to complete their redevelopment. The agreement forms the first phase and foundation of the Manchester Life initiative and builds on the regeneration activity that has been led by Manchester City Council in collaboration with a range of partners over the last 15 years.
The predominantly privately rented homes will strengthen Manchester’s economic growth trajectory by providing much needed residential units, helping the city achieve its Residential Growth Strategy to build tens of thousands of new homes by 2027.
and quoting Richard Leese, it goes on to say:
“Today’s announcement adds another commercial dimension to the already significant investment made by Manchester City Council and ADUG in East Manchester, and in doing so progresses the regeneration story which began in the 1990’s and was accelerated by the 2002 Commonwealth Games and ADUG’s recent development of the Etihad Campus.
“The planned transformation of the eastern edge of the City Centre is the single biggest residential investment Manchester has seen for a generation. Building thousands of quality new homes will be a fundamental part of our growth story and will deliver significant socioeconomic impact. We look forward to working with Abu Dhabi United Group to create a world class exemplar of regeneration.”
Everything else that is available to us public can be found in the report to the Council’s Executive Group this week. Among other things, this gives the background to Manchester’s “Residential Growth Strategy”. There is a further “commercially sensitive” report that we are not allowed to see.
Now, we don’t want to pour cold water on a scheme to provide modern housing in the
desolate areas to the North East of Great Ancoats Street. The Keynesian part of our thinking would also acknowledge the effectiveness of housing construction in facilitating local economic activity, through the multiplier effect of jobs and incomes being created locally. Although the ecological economic part of our thinking would also want to consider how that prosperity could be kept local, instead of leaching out to other economies and to damaging, emission-intense consumption. Moreover, increasing population density in the city could be a good thing, ecologically – although the motives for doing this are as usual tied to the dreary and unimaginative economic growth mantra rather than to any considerations of re-localisation of economic and social activity. But there are some questions that need answers if the Manchester public (and electorate) is to be able to form an informed view about the benefits of the deal.
1) Where is the social housing in the scheme? The documents emphasise the private rented sector. Does a Labour council really want to be encouraging more of this? And are there any plans to follow the example of some of the London boroughs to introduce a mandatory register of private landlords?
2) The documents also talk about stimulating the housing market. Alarm bells ring here for two reasons: firstly, what scoping studies have been done to model the supply and demand for such housing, and what are their assumptions? or are we going to end up with yet more empty properties, as with the boom in office space? Secondly, if the strategy was successful in encouraging a stimulation of the housing market, what would be the consequences for house prices in the city? We know that it is house price inflation that is driving the bubblecovery in GDP in the UK (that and the return to rising personal and household indebtedness). So is the council actually playing with fire here. Wouldn’t affordable rented accommodation in the (now) quasi-public sector (housing associations, housing trusts, arms length management organisations, housing co-operatives) be a better priority?
3) The details of the deal remain completely opaque – to those of us outside the ‘golden circle’ anyway. How much money is the Abu Dhabi company putting in, and what do they expect to get out of it? So can the council assure us that this is what University of Manchester researchers at CRESC call the “social franchise”? That means capturing a share of corporate profits, that owe their existence to the ‘license’ the firms have to operate in the council’s area, something Manchester should be doing with the many companies (especially utilities, supermarkets, and financial institutions) that operate on its territory. Or, is this just another instance of corporate rent-seeking, with the council’s approach being little more than hoping for trickle-down of benefits to the multiply deprived districts of the city? We remain agnostic about this: it could well be a case of the former (social franchise) – but if so the council needs to explicitly state this and explain how the city will benefit. Otherwise we can be forgiven for assuming the latter (rent-seeking).
4) The reports talk about two deals. One is with the Abu Dhabi group. The other is with the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA). This one looks like a pragmatic approach to overcoming the barriers to using the assets from land sales for further housing investment, and to pull in further investment for house building. Again, it would be helpful to know more, and specifically what will the criteria be for:
a) Selecting investors? Can anyone play, or will there be a preferential option, for example, for socially responsible companies, some of which are players in the construction industry?
b) Approving construction proposals? What will be the energy and ecological characteristics of these new housing units?
c) Designing the physical, and most importantly the social dimensions of the new developments? Previous regeneration has emphasised physical regeneration, building, that is, and had little real understanding of how communities work, how they develop, and how real community can be facilitated.
In short, how will this Manchester Place deal secure the maximum social, ecological and economic well-being?
Finally, how will the public interest in these questions be represented?
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