Manchester has a housing boom and a homelessness crisis at the same time—and it has George Osborne to thank for bothby Jennifer Williams / March 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
It is the great Manchester paradox. In the past few years, the self-styled capital of the north has become renowned for its residential boom—cranes, concrete and steel fusing in the air at a breathtaking pace; thousands of new flats crowding into the Victorian gridlines of its city centre. But it has also become notorious for a serious homelessness problem. At street level, the piles of sleeping bags come into sight the moment you emerge from the city’s Piccadilly or Victoria stations. New figures released this month revealed that 21 homeless people died in the city in 2017—that’s more than in any other local authority area in England and Wales. You hear this mismatch remarked on every time a party conference is held in the city, every time Londoners relocate north for a few days, and on the tram as you enter town from any direction.
This isn’t, of course, the only city where you can find affluence and squalor side by side. Despite the absence of recession and employment that is plentiful by the standards of recent history, homelessness has been rocketing nationwide. But the contrast in Manchester is singular. It is here we can most starkly see the twin faces of the legacy of nearby Tatton’s ex-MP, the former chancellor George Osborne. A champion of austerity, he was also reported as telling the cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up.”
In Manchester, at least, we have got that boom. The gentrification it spurred has doubtless improved the lives of many aspiring people—and yet, as you look down from the new skyscrapers to the streets below, it is hard not to wonder whether it came at the expense of others.
The last chancellor’s “northern powerhouse” policy—some serious devolution, a dash of infrastructure investment, the trade delegations to China—has helped money flood into housing, as ambitious local leaders have opened their arms to developers. And the results are now playing out. Currently there are nearly 80 cranes on the city’s skyline, hoisting up a forest of apartment blocks to mainly house young professionals, a generation starting to turn their back on London for a better quality…