The news round-up for Manchester this last fortnight, 15-29 January
A regular column charting the changes and news in Greater Manchester, highlighting stories that interest us and will hopefully interest you.
Piccadilly Gardens - the never-ending saga
Sisyphus, in the Ancient Greek legend, is punished by the gods for pride and deceitfulness with a boulder. He has to push this up a steep hill but when he nears the top it rolls back down. This happens every time and he’s condemned to do it for eternity. For Mancunians this is Piccadilly Gardens. Instead of a boulder the city has never-ending discussions and consultations with itself, its citizens and probably those Picc G pigeons who hop along on one leg. These consultations always end back at the bottom of the hill with an anguished cry of: “Can we just please sort out the terrible mess of Piccadilly Gardens?” Then Cllr Pat Karney and Council Leader Sir Richard Leese say something and the boulder rolls again. As it is doing right now.
PG guidance needed
Well, maybe there’s hope of a better outcome this time for Piccadilly Gardens (PG). Maybe. At last the city council are going to consider the whole area, the tram, bus station and the Mosley, Oldham and Portland Street sides. They can do bugger all about the crap ‘Pavilion’, the big part of the concrete wall, because that was foolishly sold off years ago. The Council is working with landscape architects LDA and there’s a decent presentation to which people can add their comments and ideas to help inform decision making before Sunday 21 March.
Council Leader Sir Richard Leese says: “We need to look to the future, not the past. Nor do we have a completely blank canvas – there are things such as tram lines and statues, and the Pavilion building which we do not own, which we have to work around. But we can and will be imaginative and seek to deliver a public space set in a vastly improved streetscape.” Understood. Well said. Now let’s get through this consultation and then get on with things, delivering a space that matches the highest European standards.
(And, by the way, dear Manchester City Council if you put 'top ten European Squares' in Google and tap images, not one, not a single one, has lawns and mud and re-turfing problems - as this magazine has pointed out for fifteen years.)
Pub survives brawls, lock-ins and drunken manager
A Denton pub has survived threatened closure despite multiple naughty moments. One of these involved a mass brawl of up to 20 people during lockdown. This belied the name of the pub, The Jolly Hatters. Nor did it help that Tameside Licensing officers learnt the pub supervisor was ‘regularly found drunk’ whilst on duty. Oh and there were lock-ins too, until 4am, plus loud music booming out at all hours. Still, the licence has not been withdrawn from the pub, instead Tameside Council has told the operators, Ei Group, that the Fighting Hatters will have to close earlier, stop selling cheap drinks and get door staff on for United and City games. It’s reported the Council told the operators they were drinking in the "last chance saloon". Excellent. The world needs more puns from national and local government.
‘Covid is a blessing in disguise’ but timing is everything
JP & Brimelow, the south Manchester estate agent, had a really good idea this past fortnight. The idea was no doubt formulated after a long and difficult day, maybe one that finished off in the Jolly Hatters in Denton for a 4am lock-in and a knees-up. The result was a leaflet entitled: ‘Has Covid been a blessing in disguise for Chorlton and Old Trafford?’ The gist of the message was that while the pandemic has been a bit dodgy for many people, the good news is, whoop, whoop, many average house prices have increased, so sell, sell, sell! The cunning plan was intended to deliver to JP & Brimelow some fat commissions. Social media went predictably mad. The estate agent later released a statement saying: "We got it wrong. We have all lost loved ones due to the pandemic and we acknowledge that the flyer was not representative of the times we are living in." We hear they have decided to shelve the next leaflet in the series titled, ‘Death helps free up rooms for rentals.’
Whalley Range cricket club takes the needle
A strange story appeared in The Guardian on 21 January which was both soothing and troubling. This involved the transformation of the venerable sporting club into a Covid-19 vaccination centre. Apparently, the clubhouse bell was rung every time an inoculated person left the building. A lovely episode was when the son, Anneet Kapoor, a pharmacist, gave a jab to his father Sunil Kapoor.
The troubling side of things, totally missed in the jolly headline, was again all about social media, misinformation and superstition. The report from Helen Pidd, North of England editor of The Guardian, included: ‘Vaccine scepticism is high, with misinformation spread on social media by religious influencers and Covid sceptics. “Naturally there is apprehension in the community. A lot of things in social media don’t always help,” said Kapoor, who had commissioned a videographer to make a short film on Thursday documenting the vaccination process for his nervous customers. False rumours have spread that the vaccine is not halal and contains pork or other animal extracts. “We’ve been able to reassure them that isn’t true.” ' Good work Aneet, here’s hoping.
Hardship fund announced as creative sector continues to buckle
A new £500K hardship fund aimed at freelancers who work in Manchester’s creative and culture sector, and who have been adversely affected by COVID-19, will launch on Monday 1 February. The city council will administer this, but the money comes from local charity The Savannah Wisdom Foundation and B&M Retail PLC. Freelancers will be able to apply for a one-off £1500 grant to help tide them over, as the beleaguered arts and entertainment sector continues to buckle under lockdown venue closures and the prospect of another spring-summer with few live events and a much-diminished festival season - music stalwart Sounds From the Other City is the latest fest to cancel this year, following the trend of heavyweights like Glastonbury and scores of others more locally.
Chasing ambulance rather than ambulance chasing
Chutzpah of the fortnight award goes to a disqualified driver who bought a second-hand ambulance and went shopping with ‘a family’. His destination was ASDA Harpurhey and he got there quickly with the emergency blue lights flashing. The Greater Manchester Traffic Police tweet says of the trip in a very deadpan way: ‘Occupants promptly went inside (ASDA) to do their shopping’. The driver was Blessing Mukaukiwa and one of the offences he has been charged with is ‘using a vehicle with unauthorised blue lights’. Who knew? The whole episode raises questions about which other types of hardware can one procure from the security services. Anyone feel like nipping to Aldi in a Chieftain Tank? Well, it turns out you can get one here (note the website’s name); the £50k example is a ‘runner with activated main gun’. Blue flashing lights, rubbish.
PM Boris Johnson and ‘levelling up’ in the land of the Red Wall
Storm Christoph threatened Didsbury homes on 20 January. So Prime Minister Boris Johnson armed with hi-vis jacket and hi-vis hair jumped into a helicopter to come North and examine the flood defences on the River Mersey. He declared himself satisfied with the sluices and dykes and counter-flood measures. "A huge amount has been done here in Greater Manchester, another £60 million has been put in to protecting the area," he said. "You can see the defences that we have in place to protect people's homes and people's lives.” He declared he wanted more trees planted on higher ground to absorb rainfall. It’s unclear whether this was an example of North/South ‘levelling up’ or just a bit of advice on planting up. At least the PM showed up. Doing his job so to speak. He is the elected leader. Many did not like it in south Manchester and questioned on social media whether this was an 'essential journey'. They did this whilst on their way to M&S to buy their essential third bottle of Rioja Reserva - that day. Some sources say that at one point during the visit they heard Boris say, "Oh spiffing, look there's a comb jollying along on the rum old floodwaters," but Boris's hair immediately muttered, "Ignore it."
Levelling up part two
People in the North got excited when rail funding news was announced last week. ‘East West and Northumberland rail lines get £794m boost’ shouted a BBC headline. At last, it seemed, money would be available for the most logical ‘levelling-up’ infrastructure upgrade in the UK, the east-west line from Leeds through Manchester to Liverpool, connecting in their respective three counties more than 6.5m people (a million more than the population of Scotland). Sadly not, the east west reference was about the line from Cambridge to Oxford. And it gets worse. Out of that £794m boost, the Oxbridge link is to get £760m and the Northumberland line £34m. Spot the difference.
Filthy geographical names
While Facebook is flapping around failing to block vile content of every description it did manage to put the mockers on the name of a lovely part of the city of Plymouth called Plymouth Hoe. A prudish algorithm thought this was an abusive reference to a lady of the night. Facebook has subsequently apologised.
There are a few names up here which may be in trouble too, for instance, the lovely Bolton country park with rich industrial archaeology and Liam Curtin's witty Meccano bridge. This is at Nob End.
The area which probably takes the Greater Manchester biscuit for odd nomenclature is the Pennine hills area of Rochdale. A walk in autumn 2020 started at Fanny Brook close to Syke and proceeded past Brownhouse Wham, Hey Bottom, Dirty Leech, Knack’s Lane and took in the delightful hamlet of Prickshaw. Filth, up there, pure filth.
Boats for a theatrical cause
Culture has had it hard in these dreary COVID-19 days (or is that daze) but something new is being spun under Manchester Central to help raise funds for performance. Independent theatre 53Two is collaborating with artist and sculptor Liam Hopkins of Lazarian Studio to celebrate and commemorate Manchester’s textile traditions. Thus 70 'narrowboat' and 70 'flying shuttle' sculptures will be created by hand and each can be sponsored; very much like the steel plates in the floor of the Royal Exchange. The individual boats and shuttles will be set in the floor of the theatre's bar area, following the movements of narrow boats. This is apt as the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal still lies, inaccessible, a level down, under Manchester Central below where the theatre is located.
Ilkay Gündoğan has pledged to support the hospitality industry in Manchester by auctioning off special prizes via the Charity Stars website. The Manchester City footballer said:
"Until the end of the current season, I will provide very special items and prizes that you can bid on. All proceeds will go to cafes and restaurants in Manchester who are struggling with the effects of the lockdown. Over the last few years, I spent a lot of time in the city's many wonderful cafés and restaurants. During this time, I have met so many great people who tell me how difficult the situation has become for them in the last weeks and months due to the lockdown. I want to use the initiative to support people during this challenging time and at the same time offer fans the opportunity to buy something special at auction."
Prizes include a meet and greet with Gündoğan (presumably after lockdown has finished) for £2,100 and a variety of worn and signed shirts.
Follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield