David Adamson asks businesses and councillors about the future of Deansgate
8 minute read
If you’ve ever crossed Deansgate to get your lunch from one of a couple of Sainsburys located there, chances are you’ve had to contend with more than a few passing cars. Admittedly the thought of yet another meal deal may make you consider stepping into traffic, but the daily ordeal does take the shine off what should be an enjoyable street to walk down.
It’s good making Deansgate more attractive but if the people who nearby have choking traffic fumes that’s the price of the amenity you’re gaining on Deansgate
A particular nightmare is that junction with Peter Street. This can be wild with traffic congestion on match days and when people are going home: air quality dips steeply as vehicle engines idle and spit out fumes. It's not only the traffic you have to contend with along Deansgate but also an excess of plastic obstruction in the form of barriers and cones.
This is all a pity. Deansgate has lots to offer. Grand buildings cover almost two hundred years of architectural history with the best example the spectacular John Rylands Library. There's a the odd surprising slice of open sky and fairly idiot-proof access into the many hidden treats on each side.
So what is the future of this key city centre artery?
The city council’s City Centre Growth and Infrastructure Team may just have been splashed by one puddle too many as they have now begun the consultation phase of proposed changes to Deansgate.
In a recent release it said: “We’re running a consultation to gather views on the future of this major city centre location, with a look to transforming it from a traffic-dominated environment to one that puts those using sustainable transport modes first.
“We’ll be looking at how to create improved space to walk, wheel and cycle, space for businesses to use, a safer night-time environment, improved air quality and how to support regeneration.
“We’ll also be thinking about different access requirements, how different junctions work, and different solutions for different sections of Deansgate.”
As a staple of the street since 2001, Evuna Spanish and Tapas restaurant owner Jane Dowler is particularly aware of both the potential and the pitfalls of such change.
“I think, in principle, it would be absolutely fantastic if Deansgate were more pedestrianised and we got more outside space,” said Jane. “Businesses are really busy in the city centre and I think Manchester has recovered extremely well from the pandemic.
“Since the Deansgate Square towers have opened the street’s become a lot busier in the daytime as well. So, in principle to have it pedestrianised and a bit more of an attractive area alongside Great Northern would be good, but I fear that a pedestrianised street would be a nightmare operationally.
“I’ve been through this before with the cycle path outside our restaurant on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter. At the time I must have given up hours and hours on consultation meetings about how the council can find extra space. We didn't get any and instead got a strange dog-leg cycle lane where everyone keeps crashing. Pedestrians have been falling over all the time outside the restaurant.
“Anything that happens with Deansgate just needs to be really considered, because it’s the practicalities, isn’t it? We don't really know how it's going to work. If it’s thought through properly I like the idea but having the experience of the Northern Quarter has been a nightmare, to the point where I’ve had contractors refusing to come in.”
Deansgate stalwart Forsyth Music has weathered every issue of the day in its 166 years, from the ‘organic waste products’ left behind by horse-drawn carts to the acrid cloud of the first motor cars, and manager Emma Loat seems to treat the latest change with a similar eye for accommodating the needs of the near-future.
“We get a hell of a lot of pedestrian traffic up and down Deansgate already,” said Emma. “And I think having less motorised traffic will encourage that more - it's all about making it a more appealing environment for pedestrians.
“I don't think it would do us any harm, because being able to drive past the front of our shop is neither here nor there. If we have more people noticing us on foot then it's got to be better.
“But it has to be done in a way which is encouraging people to think they could still come and shop here, that it's not just a night-time economy for people to come down to a nice café. That’s the way it begins to feel, that it’s becoming a destination for going out in the evening rather than for shopping.
“Our main concern of course is that we still need decent motorised access on Southgate for deliveries.”
Southgate is the narrow street parallel to Deansgate.
Emma continues, “The nature of our business is such that not everyone could just walk away with what they buy here given we sell everything up the size of a grand piano.
“They have to be practical about the reality - this isn't a vehicle free economy, you need to have the deliveries both coming in and going out, but I think changes can be made on Deansgate that encourage people into the city centre. I’m generally positive about it.”
The thoughts of Labour councillor for the Deansgate ward, Cllr Joan Davies, have shades of the old adage ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’, and while we in Manchester love a bit of leisure, there will be a consequence to limiting vehicles on Deansgate, or even banishing them entirely.
“All over the country and, in fact, all over the world there are programmes like this to try and reduce traffic in city centres, give more space to people and to improve air quality, all those laudable aims which at a basic level you can't really disagree with,” she said. “I just tend to feel that we're going a bit too fast too soon.
“We need to look at the particular nature of the city centre and Greater Manchester as a whole because every area is different, every city is different, and I have some concerns about the speed of this and the potential impact on the life and economy of the city.
“Why has Deansgate been chosen?” continues Joan. “I think partly because it's a good-looking street. There’s no denying it would look wonderful as a pedestrianised route, but I am concerned about the lack of alternative or parallel routes.
“In many of the examples where a road has been almost entirely pedestrianised, there are parallel roads which haven’t. We don't have those parallel roads or we have very few of them, and those have seen interventions or they are quite highly residential, such as the ones around St John’s Gardens. Where else will the traffic go? It’s good making Deansgate more attractive, but if the people who live on parallel roads have choking traffic fumes for hours on end, then that’s the price of the amenity you’re gaining on Deansgate.”
Councillor Tracey Rawlins, Executive Member for Environment and Transport said: “Deansgate is a hugely important Manchester landmark. It’s not only a hub for business and the night-time economy, but it is a vital link that connects our city’s neighbourhoods.
“Through previous consultations and engagement with the public we know that Deansgate can be improved. The steps we have taken so far to move the area away from being dominated by cars, to an environment where sustainable transport is favoured have been met with broad support. We think there are incredibly strong foundations to transform Deansgate into something even better.
"Through this consultation we are hoping to get comments back from everyone who uses Deansgate. We know that people who use it to travel via bike will have different needs to pedestrians, as well as businesses who operate along it. Striking a balance, and tailoring our solutions to different parts of Deansgate is a key aim of this consultation.
“As well as improving a vital part of Manchester we also believe this shift to more sustainable travel will play an important role in our ambition to become a zero-carbon city by 2038.”
Confidentials.com had a view on the piecemeal changes planned in May 2020. Jonathan Schofield in the article said you might as well pedestrianise the whole street rather than messing about with bits and bobs of it while causing disruption and at the same time plonking down ugly and temporary furniture.
Whatever happens it would be pleasant to think the city council is keeping an open mind about the consultation and is not just playing lip service. Let’s hope they listen to people and haven’t already decided what will happen as with the example of Trafford Council and the Chester Road and Bridgewater Way cycle lanes. What must not happen is Manchester gains Great Ancoats Street 2.0 where we were promised a ‘European-style boulevard’ and ended up with a ‘British-style fudge’ that has pleased almost none of its users.
MCC is holding a face-to-face event for speaking to members of the City Centre Growth and Infrastructure Team on Tuesday 21st March from 1pm to 7pm at The Connect Room, GM Chamber of Commerce, Elliot House, 151 Deansgate.
For more details and to complete the consultation survey visit here.
You can follow David@DavidAdamson123
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