Manchester is finally beginning to embrace the cycling revolution

An artist's impression of the Oxford Road cycle routes, now largely complete. Image: Transport for Greater Manchester.

A flat city like Manchester which is home to Europe’s largest student population should be a biking mecca.

Only a few years ago this goal was still a long way off, with many would-be cyclists put off by a combination of safety or practical issues, as well as Mancunian weather.

However, like other cities across Europe, Manchester realised it needed to improve this situation. It needed to understand the needs of cyclists, experiment with solutions, and learn what worked to get more people in the saddle.

It was precisely these elements which provided the framework for the Manchester Cycling Lab research project that I began back in 2015 with my colleague Gabriele Schliwa. Our aims were quite simple: to work alongside other initiatives in the city to make cycling a mainstream, everyday form of transport via a network of newly-built or enhanced cycling routes.

We set out to learn who already cycled in the city, which roads they used, and how often. We also wanted to compare our work with comparable cities across Europe such as Berlin, which has been particularly successful at increasing cycling levels in a relatively short space of time.

Sustainable development

Fast forward to today and it looks like the Lab succeeded in delivering its core goal: namely to implement a living lab model to support sustainable development in the city.

The project linked seven research students at the University with key stakeholders to maximise the collective impact of research capacity. The project team also sought to test out the potential to engage users in cycle infrastructure planning through a range of engagement techniques, including digital media.

Our key partners certainly found the living lab model a useful one. For instance, Manchester City Council told us that the project had “added enormously” to the city’s understanding of how cycling can add to its economic, environmental and social objectives, saying it had been of “immense value” not just to the council but also to Transport for Greater Manchester and the strategic health authority.

Our robust evidence-based analysis improved decision making, while we had provided support for existing projects such as the cycle infrastructure investment along Oxford Road, right beside the University.

Indeed, Oxford Road shows what can be achieved in a very short space of time. The Oxford Road Corridor project has now banned all cars along stretches of the road at certain times, while at the same time improving pedestrian and cycle facilities. The sense of space that cyclists can now enjoy is quite remarkable.


Evidence base

Our research has also provided a valuable evidence base to support and inform those who make critical policy decisions surrounding investments in Manchester’s cycling infrastructure and programmes towards a leading sustainable transport system.

In particular the research on Berlin’s cycling transition as a potential twinning relationship with Manchester has engaged further key stakeholders and provided evidence that can guide future thinking and policy making. Furthermore, opportunities have been identified to expand the research collaboration with schools and with health professionals across the city.

In short, the living lab method of engagement has been effective in identifying the specific strategic knowledge needs of the city concerning cycling, and offers an effective way to link the needs of the city with the resources of the University.

James Evans is professor of geography at the University of Manchester, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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Two east London boroughs are planning to tax nightlife to fund the clean up. Will it work?

A Shoreditch rave, 2013. Image: Getty.

No-one likes cleaning up after a party, but someone’s got to do it. On a city-wide scale, that job falls to the local authority. But that still leaves the question: who pays?

In east London, the number of bars and clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. The thriving club scene has come with benefits – but also a price tag for the morning clean-up and cost of policing. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are now looking to nightlife venues to cover these costs.

Back in 2012, councils were given powers to introduce ‘late night levies’: essentially a tax on all the licensed venues that open between midnight and 6am. The amount venues are expected to pay is based on the premises’ rateable value. Seventy per cent of any money raised goes to the police and the council keeps the rest.

Few councils took up the offer. Four years after the legislation was introduced, only eight local authorities had introduced a levy, including Southampton, Nottingham, and Cheltenham. Three of the levies were in the capital, including Camden and Islington. The most lucrative was in the City of London, where £420,000 was raised in the 2015-16 financial year.

Even in places where levies have been introduced, they haven’t always had the desired effect. Nottingham adopted a late night levy in November 2014. Last year, it emerged that the tax had raised £150,000 less than expected in its first year. Only a few months before, Cheltenham scrapped its levy after it similarly failed to meet expectations.


Last year, the House of Lords committee published its review of the 2003 Licensing Act. The committee found that “hardly any respondents believed that late night levies were currently working as they should be” – and councils reported that the obligation to pass revenues from the levy to the police had made the tax unappealing. Concluding its findings on the late night levy, the committee said: “We believe on balance that it has failed to achieve its objectives, and should be abolished.”

As might be expected of a nightlife tax, late night levies are also vociferously opposed by the hospitality industry. Commenting on the proposed levy in Tower Hamlets, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive at the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “A levy would represent a damaging new tax – it is the wrong approach. The focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

Nevertheless, boroughs in east London are pressing ahead with their plans. Tower Hamlets was recently forced to restart a consultation on its late night levy after a first attempt was the subject of a successful legal challenge by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the ALMR, said:

“We will continue to oppose these measures wherever they are considered in any part of the UK and will urge local authorities’ to work with businesses, not against them, to find solutions to any issues they may have.”

Meanwhile, Hackney council intends to introduce a levy after a consultation which revealed 52 per cents of respondents were in favour of the plans. Announcing the consultation in February, licensing chair Emma Plouviez said:

“With ever-shrinking budgets, we need to find a way to ensure the our nightlife can continue to operate safely, so we’re considering looking to these businesses for a contribution towards making sure their customers can enjoy a safe night out and their neighbours and surrounding community doesn’t suffer.”

With budgets stretched, it’s inevitable that councils will seek to take advantage of any source of income they can. Nevertheless, earlier examples of the late night levy suggest this nightlife tax is unlikely to prove as lucrative as is hoped. Even if it does, should we expect nightlife venues to plug the gap left by public sector cuts?