‘Manctopia’ – The Social Value of Mixed Communities in Manchester and Beyond

6 min read

Greater Manchester has been in the news recently following Mayor Andy Burnham’s showdown with Central Government over Tier 3 status. However, the city has been attracting attention for more than just the COVID-19 crisis. Since 2017 Manchester has been undergoing a property boom, with 2019 seeing the highest delivery levels of finished units since 2006. Questions have been raised locally about affordability, gentrification and who these communities are really for.

The BBC programme ‘Manctopia’ highlighted these issues, with changing communities being the focal point. Featured city centre developer, Capital and Centric, highlighted their vision to create homes for ‘real people and real communities’. Tim Heatley, co-founder of Capital and Centric, revealed that he was planning to fulfil this mission by promoting owner occupation and restricting buyers using assured short-hold tenancies.

Temple believes that developments which have a mix of tenures and provide accessible public infrastructure offer a range of social value and economic benefits that have the potential to contribute significantly to the success of sustainable communities.

The Changing Face of Manchester

Manchester’s economy has been growing over the past decade and so has the demand for city centre living. During 2019 alone 3,619 residential units were completed. Developers have been creating new neighbourhoods, which are transforming the urban landscape by building upwards and outside the traditional city centre boundary.

Neighbourhoods such as the Northern Quarter, Ancoats, Salford Quays and Hulme have attracted interest from big property developers who have transformed these communities into popular areas to live and work. However, the question for many Mancunians is who will benefit from the transformation of these neighbourhoods.

Real estate consultants, JLL have raised concerns about Manchester city centre moving out of the price range of young professionals, Who now must look to the suburbs to find affordable accommodation. This has fuelled fears that Manchester will follow a similar fate to London which has suffered from a hollowing out of the city centre, blamed on luxury residential developments devoid of social, affordable and family housing.

Questions around affordable housing shortages and luxury residential developments, particularly in Manchester’s city centre, are real barriers to generating mixed communities. This is leading to concerns around growing gentrification pushing low-income and family households out of these neighbourhoods.

The History of Mixed Communities

The concept of ‘mixed communities’ first emerged around the turn of the millennium, with the ‘Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Programme’. This was particularly active in the North and Midlands, defining mixed communities as “social mixing through regenerating existing  estates or planning policies for new housing  developments, which transform certain  low-income areas by accommodating more middle-class settlement or provide ‘affordable  housing’ in higher-priced housing developments”

The mix of tenures, across affordable housing types, rentals and private ownership is a key feature of mixed communities. So too is providing well-designed homes for multiple household configurations.

A key driver in the adoption of a mixed communities approach was the idea that living in deprived neighbourhoods negatively affects the employment outcomes of the area’s residents.  The theory was that the social capital of middle-class occupiers in mixed communities would create job opportunities for local residents, and improve access to higher-quality public services, especially better schools.

A Mixed Bag

Whilst there has been limited evidence for the effects of the mixed communities policy on residents’ employment outcomes, studies by the Octavia Housing Association, the London School of Economics. and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have found a range of other benefits of multi-tenure neighbourhoods.

They found that residents, particularly those from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, experience positive social value outcomes in mixed tenure communities.

These enhanced outcomes include: reduced perception of stigma; feeling safe in their neighbourhood; as well as perceived better access to schools, parks and amenities. On a neighbourhood level, other social value benefits include: a reduction in crime levels; increased public transport accessibility; improved amenity services; and community cohesion between new and existing residents.

The positive social value and wellbeing outcomes outlined above provide an intrinsic reason why we might want to develop mixed-tenure communities. However, there is also evidence that both the private and public sector would benefit from this model, chiefly through increased house prices of owner-occupied stock, reduced resident turnover and more cohesive communities.

There are multiple factors which attract different demographics to re-locate, or to remain, in a neighbourhood. The stakeholders involved in creating and regenerating neighbourhoods, including planning authorities, developers and consultants, need to consider how tenure, design and placemaking can help to attract a diverse range of residents.

Helping Cities Lock in Successful Multi-Tenure Communities

The Manchester Core Strategy ((2012 to 2027) and the emerging Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)10  both emphasise the need for multi-tenure arrangements and a variety of dwelling types, with the aim of creating more inclusive neighbourhoods and meeting the diverse needs of a growing population.

The GMSF Draft, which will be presented at the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities Executive Committee on 30 October 2020, requires developments, where appropriate, to be socially inclusive by doing the following:

  1. Responding to the needs of all parts of society
  2. Enabling everyone to participate equally and independently
  3. Providing opportunities for social contact and support
  4. Promoting a sense of community

This policy11 can be a launching pad for Greater Manchester to require a more rigorous community engagement and embed several priorities at the planning stage that encourage developments to come forward that are designed to produce long-term social value outcomes.

These priorities include:

  • Understanding different groups’ aspirations and changing needs;
  • Ongoing inclusive community engagement;
  • Co-creation of public assets (e.g. schools, community hubs and the commercial offer);
  • Enforcing affordable housing targets;
  • Designing in communal recreation spaces that facilitate social interaction; and
  • Monitoring community satisfaction beyond completion of development.

These approaches are already being developed by forward thinking developers. For example, Temple has recently created a Social Sustainability Policy for London & Continental Railway (LCR) to use across their clients’ developments. This includes a five-step process that enables key social sustainability priorities to be embedded across the project lifecycle.

These priorities are process-focused rather than quantitative targets.  As part of the process, indicators are developed to ensure that themes such as community resilience are being targeted, which includes engaging with and reporting on who, how often and how effective the engagement is.

Practical examples of actions that could be required for development to be consistent with this policy include elements such as: submitting a Social Sustainability Policy; mandating digital components during the consultation; and requiring an evaluation of the social value of the proposal. This would strengthen the commitment to social inclusivity through specific actions which can help to deliver value across the GMSF, as it speaks to other policies including promoting inclusive neighbourhoods, town renewal and reducing health inequalities.

Ensuring that the benefits for the local area are locked requires a clear picture of both the potential positive and negative impacts of development, encouraging accountability for outcomes. Local planning authorities are beginning to acknowledge the need for a better understanding of communities, including nearby Salford which has recently have written the requirement for a Social Value Strategy for major developments in their Draft Local Plan.

The social value of multi-tenure communities will be better realised when community, public and private stakeholders are more strategic about what they want these benefits to be, and how exactly they will be delivered throughout the life cycle of a project.

How can Temple help?

Temple is one of the UK’s leading independent environmental, planning and sustainability consultancies. We support both developers and local authorities in developing holistic, evidenced approaches to creating sustainable and resilient communities. This includes specialisms in:

  • Community profiling and impact assessment
  • Community and stakeholder engagement
  • Social value frameworks, training and workshops
  • Social Value Assessment
  • Socio-economic impact assessments
  • Health Impact Assessments
  • Wider environmental assessment and design services including Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Sustainability Appraisal
  • Healthy Streets Assessments

Key Contacts

Prudence Wales Senior Consultant
Stephen Price Director
David Hourd Director
Temple