"We never had it so good, so we never have it so bad" is Clive Taylor's pithy view of how the North-west is faring in recession '91. Speaking at the Management Today lunch held at Manchester's newly opened Charterhouse Hotel in early June, Taylor, British Gas's regional property manager, put his finger on a key reason why north-western business is coping far better with the recession than the South-east.
The unemployment figures bear this out. The actual numbers unemployed in the North-west reached 275,000 in April 1991, a 17% increase from its June 1990 low point; the South-east similarly recorded a 72% increase to 590,000 as its largely service economy contracted. "We never suffered the complete emasculation of an industry as the North-east did," said John Glester, chief executive of the Central Manchester Development Corporation.
The corporation is busy trying to revitalise the city centre area with several imaginative schemes to find new uses for fine old Victorian buildings. Indeed, the Charterhouse Hotel is one of its big success stories. Once the old Refuge Assurance Building, the ornate Victorian structure has readily adapted to being an upmarket hotel. With some eight miles of old waterways in the city centre, the corporation is also refurbishing them for leisure or as the centrepiece for new developments such as the Piccadilly Village near the main railway station. A new £100 million concert hall is being built by the Beazer group for the Halle Orchestra.
In the Greater Manchester area development is still forging ahead. Some 1.5 million sq ft of new office space is being built. Developers in the 30-strong audience also reported that business, though not as heady as in the days of the 1988-89 boom, was still there to be won. At Trafford Park the local development corporation has spent some £70 million of public money to entice a creditable £490 million of private sector investment into what was once a rather old industrial estate.
Work is soon to start on some £144 million of highway improvements, half funded by the Trafford Park Development Corporation. When its remit expires in 1997 it should have spent a total of £230 million of public money, attracting some 16,000 jobs (3,500 so far). Around 5,000 of the new jobs depend on the result of a planning application.
A one million sq ft shopping centre proposed for the Dumplington site within the Trafford Park area has been awaiting the go-ahead from the Department of the Environment since 1986. Successive ministers have not been able to decide on the merits of Dumplington as opposed to a rival scheme at Barton, north of the Manchester Ship Canal. Similarly, the development corporation is mounting a vigorous bid to have British Rail's Euro freight terminal for the Channel tunnel situated next to its existing rail facilities. If successful, this will probably generate some £200 million of additional investment.
Transport links are also being improved in the centre of Manchester, where the tram lines are now being laid across the city for its new Metrolink system. Manchester Airport is also being plugged into the rail network, which should boost its reputation as Britain's major international airport outside London.
These improvements will, of course, prove vital if Manchester's bid to host the Olympics in 2000 comes off. Though it faces long odds, the City is mounting a much more professional bid than it did for the 1996 games.