Jonathan Schofield hopes this little victory for residents might lead to a bigger idea
Since we wrote about the ‘new Deansgate’ a few weeks ago, the residents of St Mary’s Parsonage can claim a victory. When part of Deansgate was closed to traffic on 16th May, the parallel street they live upon was immediately turned into a rat run, a mini-Deansgate.
The fact the city has applied retrospective consultation (let’s call it that) is good news
The closure and the predictable result was carried out with little prior warning, certainly for the residents. One of the people living in Century Buildings spoke to Confidential at the time. Howard Sharrock said: "Following the sudden closure of part of Deansgate, we woke last Saturday morning to the sound of at least three bus services, the Metroshuttle No 2, the No 8 Service and the X41 Accrington Service using our narrow street, in the St Mary’s Parsonage Conservation Area, as a new unheralded route.
"St Mary’s Parsonage can be a crowded little street at the best times but the addition of articulated lorries and buses makes it an accident waiting to happen. Numerous attempts to contact Manchester City Council have been in vain.
'There has been no consultation, no communication, no consideration."
The free Metroshuttle bus had 60 bus movements a day.
That situation changed and there have been meetings between residents and the City Council and suddenly with a wave of the magic wand the free Metroshuttle buses have leapt the River Irwell and now take a route along Chapel Street in Salford.
Manchester City Council has developed a not entirely unjustified reputation for paying the barest lip service to public consultation. Cities are made by such seemingly small victories as this with the free bus so the fact the city has applied retrospective consultation (let’s call it that) is good news.
The councillor for Manchester's Deansgate ward, Joan Davies, told Confidential: "Something went wrong here. We know there are serious transport changes to be made across the city. We know that consultation and communication as part of the change process is vital. And we already knew that any changes on Deansgate could severely impact nearby residents. There should have been consultation and timely communication. There wasn’t. Residents were let down.
"Fortunately, thanks to the patience of the residents and the hard work of Council staff, some important changes have already been made and a further proposal (see below) is being researched.
"Deansgate Ward Councillors will continue to support residents in making their voice heard. In future this must be before the event rather than after."
Now the residents have suggested pushing things further.
They are saying: What about closing the whole area to vehicles, from Deansgate in the east to the river in the west, and Blackfriars Street in the north to King Street West in the south? Maybe even close the area beyond in the south to what Confidential calls The Square with No Name, that little public space containing Crazy Pedros.
Of course, the vehicles of residents would be allowed to penetrate the area at very low speeds of say, 10mph, while businesses could be given specific delivery times or permits.
Confidential thinks this is a sound suggestion making for an unhindered walk from St Ann’s Square to the little gardens in the former churchyard of St Mary’s church. It’s a discreet area too so will offer minimum disruption to the life of the city around. The attractive area might even attract more retail if the streets were pedestrianised. Indeed it might prove a good test bed for other discreet city centre vehicle exclusion zones. Cannon Ground, a narrow ginnel rather than a street, could become very cute if managed right while losing its status as Bin Alley.
Howard Sharrock again: “We think the suggestion makes sense. Calming the area and turning it into a peaceful oasis centred on a green space would help fulfil the city’s plans for a greener city centre with fresher air.”
Manchester City Council is considering the proposal. We welcome your comments below.
Jonathan Schofield is the editor-at-large of Manchester Confidential, a commentator on the North West and a well-known tour guide. He is running a series of fascinating Zoom tours during lockdown which you can read all about here.