10th September 2018
I moved from Middlesbrough to Sheffield in 2004. In Sheffield, the buildings were bigger, and the city seemed greener than the large town in which I grew up. In crossing over the Peaks from Sheffield to Manchester it’s immediately apparent that Manchester is in another league in terms of scale, reinforced with the landmark Beetham Tower - the highest building in the UK, outside of London.
It was this scale that struck me so clearly in walking through Manchester City Centre. Looking at a city scape that blended the old and the new, but often twice as high as the buildings of my adopted hometown, in Sheffield. These northern towns and cities may not have been considered the UK’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’, but they have without pomp, or fuss, provided the roots of infrastructure that has underpinned our way of life for generations. The UK Government has committed to investment in the region of £1bn in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with Manchester as its regional capital. New high-speed rail links; new connections; new opportunities.
I think there is a strong claim for Manchester to be recognised as a secondary capital, in our nation. Organisations of national importance have moved to the city in recent years, including the BBC to the Media City on Salford Quays. Prior to that, there have been other developments of national significance, with the Imperial War Museum - North (2002), being among my favourites. We could list the many impressive examples of architectural merit in Manchester, such as the Grade II* Listed Midland Hotel and The Free Trade Hall on Peter Street, or performance spaces, such as Bridgewater Hall. However, there is a collective spirit in Manchester that has arguably eclipsed the importance of specific buildings and has had more widely felt impact, whether through a dedication to two world recognised football teams, one of the UKs most important cricket grounds, or, through a music scene that has contributed more than its fair share to the soundtrack to life in the UK, for decades.
It’s an intriguing counter-point to the decline of industry and employment generally, that musical artists continue to rise up in Manchester and other industrial cities, creating music that resonated with the deepest hopes and disappointments of their audience. The Hollies, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, James, New Order, The Verve, The Happy Mondays, Take That, The Chemical Brothers and Elbow. Anthemic, often heartfelt, sometimes stirring; frequently provocative. Oasis arguably the epitome of the latter. Whether you like or loathe Oasis, there’s something to be said of their attitude capturing the spirit of Manchester. A city built on self-belief, that has not waited for outside sources to grant permission for it to stand up and take the steps necessary to innovate, to prosper and be counted.
Over the next year, industry experts are forecasting property values to increase in central Manchester, at almost double the rate of other cities in the country. City centre living, which saw a steep decline during the recession of 2008 onwards, is now on the increase, with an average two-bedroom apartment costing around £250K. Musical artists come and go, but the city continues to reinvent itself, with the place inspiring the artist and the energy of the artist feeding into the culture and sense of place within the city. Manchester, it would seem, will continue to develop as a centre of growth and pop-culture; it will do so with or without the permission or backing of the rest of the UK.