A northern voice at MIPIM

Aerial view of Manchester city

The south of France may not be the most obvious place to talk about the north of England, but I’ll be far from alone in doing so at MIPIM next week.

The northern cities will make their presence felt, with prominent stands, a wide-range of well-publicised events and large contingents of ‘partners’ in tow. Each city will be making their own play to prospective investors, whilst the benefits of being part of a Northern Powerhouse will no doubt feature highly.

I’ll be trying to get around all the northern participants, but will spend a good amount of time with the Manchester partnership.

Of all the northern cities Manchester has perhaps the most compelling story on this stage. The transformation of the city over the last 20 years has taken it to a new level, where it is entirely at home in the global marketplace.

International investment, from the Middle East and Far East in particular, is now a major feature of the Manchester development landscape. It is helping to underpin the ongoing revitalisation and expansion of the city centre, and supporting broader regeneration initiatives. In Cannes we will hear much about the projects being driven by global money, from the controversial St Michael’s development, to Airport City, to the Manchester Life housing initiative.

And the city’s story is made all the more compelling by current events. There is the imminent departure of Sir Howard Bernstein and his replacement by Joanne Roney as CEO of the City Council. Couple that with the likely election of Andy Burnham as Greater Manchester Mayor in May, and there will be some notable changes at the top table. Continuity will be key for Manchester, ensuring that these changes sustain and enhance rather than interrupt the rapid progress it has made.

The city is also facing challenges of a different kind. With the furore over the St Michael’s development showing no sign of waning, Manchester is experiencing the quintessential challenges of a successful post-industrial city – how to drive up density and maximise appeal to the global market, whilst respecting its heritage and the voice of a growing residential and business population. How it finds the right balance, with St Michael’s presently in the spotlight, will no doubt be a hot topic of debate amongst the Manchester contingent.

In a broader context, these are vitally important times for Manchester, and for the north of England as a whole. The cities of the Northern Powerhouse must play to their strengths, make the most of devolution, and capture whatever opportunities may arise from Brexit. Working together and independently they must be prepared to compete not just with the south east of England, but on the global stage.

MIPIM is a platform for getting that message out and being heard. Under the (hopefully) blue skies of Cannes, we look forward to hearing a strong northern voice.  

10 March 2017