End of term report: How is Andy Burnham doing as mayor of Greater Manchester?

Andy Burnham after winning his election last May. Image: Getty.

Continuing the Centre for Cities’ round up of the first half-year of metro mayors, we look at Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester (GM) helped give birth to the Northern Powerhouse. It was the first city to negotiate a devolution deal, blazing a trail for the others to follow. As the front runner for city government over recent decades, GM will always be the first place an observer will look towards to check on the health of city devolution.

The mayoralty was boosted even before it officially came into being when former cabinet minister Andy Burnham threw his hat into the ring for the Labour mayoral nomination. This signalled to the public the importance of the role, which in GM comes with a more extensive set of powers than in any other city region, including over crime, health and social.

But six months on from his clear victory in May’s election, is GM still the leading light of devolution?

Progress and influence

One of the key ways Burnham has made an impression is by using his high profile and mayoral platform to represent the concerns of people living in GM – and across the north – on the national stage. In particular, he has worked closely with Steve Rotheram, metro mayor of Liverpool City Region, to harry government for greater investment in northern transport. The two mayors of the north west helped to put the Northern Powerhouse Rail concept at the top of the political agenda over the summer, and led the indignant response in the north to the cancellation of full rail electrification between Leeds and Manchester.

Moreover, Burnham displayed great leadership and visibility in the aftermath of the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena in May, leading the city’s response and mourning. His extensive range of powers has also enabled him to wade into debates that other mayors can have less influence over. For example, as police & crime Commissioner (a duty transferred to the mayoralty upon its inception), Burnham has taken the government to task on crime policy, including criticising the Prevent programme (aimed at tackling radicalisation and terrorism).

The mayor’s impact has not just been based on visibility and representation, and he has taken concrete steps to tackle key policy issues in GM. For example, our Metro Mayor Dashboard shows that too many residents of the city region have no formal qualifications, and there is room for improvement in the schools. Here Burnham is already acting, using his convening powers to bring together different actors to help address the large number of children who start education without being ‘school ready’.

This coordination across different departments and localities, breaking open of silos and clear leadership is exactly the impact we would have hoped metro mayors to achieve. His work to improve the quality and availability of apprenticeships will also be watched by other mayors and national government. The evaluative and analytical strength of New Economy (the GM combined authority’s research and policy institute) means there will be plenty of data to work with.

Making sure that transport connects every community affordably and efficiently is also vital in ensuing GM is a good place to live and work– and the mayor’s move to introduce half-price bus fares for 16-18 year olds was a positive step towards this. Burnham has an opportunity to take further action to make buses work better for communities and the economy by using the powers afforded to the mayors through the Bus Services Bill.


Opportunities and challenges

Burnham took office with a civil service at his disposal which is far better resourced and well-established than would have been found by any of his other fellow mayors. The long lead-in time from the first devolution deal and the interim mayor gave the GMCA and New Economy time to develop the institutions to support the mayor. Burnham’s early nomination and clear manifesto will also have given the organisation a clear steer on how best to support him achieve his ambitions from day one.

All of these factors in combination – high profile, big mandate, and a well prepared and resourced office – should give Burnham the political, analytical, and operational weight to make serious running on the policies of his choosing with local and national government.

However, the downside to this strong record of collaborative working is that the mayor is a newcomer in an organisation that already had clear plans in every policy area with timelines into the middle of the century. As such, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there have been some grumblings from local leaders in GM who feel that Burnham has made some promises to the public – and demands of the councils – which overlook the work they are already doing in their area, such as the mayor’s recent call-to-action over tackling homelessness and housing in the city centre. If Burnham wants to significantly alter the planned route of Greater Manchester’s ‘ocean-liner of state’, it will require him to manage relations with the leaders who had set it on that course.

Another area of difference between mayor and council is around development in the city centre. Burnham has consistently suggested that the development strategy of Manchester City Council in the city centre does not deliver enough social value, with too much luxury housing and too little affordable development. He has also raised concerns about an over concentration of investment and growth in the city centre, to the detriment of other areas across the city region.

Both points are understandable. However, ultimately GM needs a thriving central business district, supported by adequate office space and accommodation, to continue to grow and attract more high-paying jobs.

Instead, Burnham can take steps to ensure that GM’s growth is as inclusive as possible by using the forthcoming spatial framework for the city region to address the housing, transport and skills issues that can prevent people from accessing GM’s prosperity and jobs. Grasping the nettle on housing – by providing enough land in the most in demand parts of the city, including considering developing green belt land in these areas – will help to make the city region more affordable and reduce hardships. Burnham should seek to support partnerships such as Matrix Homes across Greater Manchester to lever in local assets, funding and expertise, and recycle that funding into more housebuilding.

Simon Jeffrey is a researcher and external affairs officer at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.