Manchester and Leeds are taking different approaches to regenerating their city centres, but the critical leadership actions are similar. Joan Munro discusses how long-term government support could help council leaders and their partners move further and faster.
As part of the work of the UK Urban Futures Commission, we took an in-depth look at how core city leaders in Manchester and Leeds are growing their cities’ economies while addressing social and environmental issues. We wanted to understand more about the critical leadership actions that support successful cross-sectoral city initiatives.
In both cities, we interviewed the council leaders and their key partners. In Manchester, we looked at Victoria North, one of the UK’s largest residential growth programmes. Seven new neighbourhoods will be created over the next 15-20 years on brownfield land next to the city centre. Fifteen thousand low-carbon homes are being built, alongside parks and public spaces, and social and community infrastructure, including schools, health facilities and transport improvements.
In Leeds, we focused on two linked initiatives that support its ambition to become ‘Best City’. The South Bank programme is developing a ‘central European style’ area on post-industrial land, with mixed-use neighbourhoods and a huge city park, doubling the size of the city centre. The adjacent ‘Innovation Arc’ is part of the ambition of the council and its key partners to create a greener, healthier and more inclusive future.
Different approaches have been adopted in each city. In Victoria North, Manchester City Council has established a joint venture with one carefully selected developer. In contrast, Leeds has hundreds of developers. Unless they own the site, Leeds City Council has no control over who buys it, but the council sets the planning context and, increasingly it appears that developers want to be part of achieving the city’s vision.
Considerable time has been devoted to engaging residents, employing different approaches to ensure leaders understand and respond to citizens’ key priorities and concerns.
Critical leadership actions
Council leaders in both cities have put huge efforts into building positive relationships and mutual trust with key stakeholders, including anchor institutions and major businesses, as well as with the arts, voluntary and community sectors.
There is a long history in Manchester of partnership working across the city. In Leeds, it has been dramatically boosted by city leaders participating together in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program.
And, in both cities, considerable time has been devoted to engaging residents, employing different approaches to ensure leaders understand and respond to citizens’ key priorities and concerns.
Setting clear strategic direction
Council leaders in both cities aim to become top-flight and world-class. They are clear about their long-term objectives and have worked hard to ensure these are widely supported by key partners and others across their cities.
The council leaders are visible, consistent and determined. They have a compelling narrative, and effectively communicate their visions and promote their cities internally and externally.
To ensure delivery, they have: established joint delivery plans, closely monitored by effective governance arrangements; made it a priority to recruit and retain staff with the right skills, experience and motivation; and addressed challenges, learning and adapting as necessary, while taking a pragmatic approach.
Despite much reduced resources, and insufficient long-term government support, local leaders in these two core cities are absolutely determined to achieve their ambitions.
How government might help
The leaders and private sector developers in both cities had consistent messages for government. They need:
- A stable environment and long-term certainty to fully achieve their long-term regeneration ambitions at much greater speed.
- The government to develop a long-term economic plan and stick to it, including a commitment to long-term investment, rather than having to compete for uncertain short-term funding.
- The government to be clear about what outputs it is looking for, and when it will make future strategic investments, so it can leverage other sources of funds.
They point out that it is in the government’s interest to have thriving, well-connected core cities that fully contribute to growing the wealth of the country.
With consistent long-term government support council leaders could move forward faster and contribute more to the UK’s future economic success, as well as to addressing inequality and creating a carbon-neutral future.
Actions and ambitions
Although Manchester and Leeds councils and their key partners are taking different approaches to regenerating major central city areas, the critical leadership actions that are helping them to achieve their ambitions are similar.
The council leaders and their key partners are clear about their long-term objectives and are moving determinately and effectively towards achieving these.
With consistent long-term government support, they could move forward much faster and contribute much more to the UK’s future economic success, as well as to addressing inequality and creating a carbon-neutral future.
Read more about the UK Urban Futures Commission
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