Greater Manchester just unveiled plans for its 1,000 mile “Beelines” cycling network, so here are some maps

An artist’s impression of a new filtered area of Greater Manchester. Image: TfGM.

There are times, you know, when I wished I lived in Manchester. It has a combination of characteristics – a strong civic identity; a visibly ambitious city government; a complete disinterest in the existence of London – that is familiar from many continental European cities, but all too rare in British ones.

Normally it’s the trams, and the authorities’ obvious ambition to keep extending them, that makes me want to evangelise for Greater Manchester. This week, though, it’s Transport for Greater Manchester’s plans for a whole different transport network that are to blame.

The Beelines – named for the worker bee that’s the emblem of Manchester and its industrial history, and also for the concept of ‘lines’ – will be a new network of 1,000 miles of cycling routes across the conurbation. Of these, 75 miles will be Dutch-style segregated cycling lanes. (Something of this sort already exists on the Oxford Road, through Manchester’s university district.)

Besides that, the city plans to make around 1,400 crossings safer for cyclists, and create 24 cyclist-friendly “filtered” neighbourhoods: there’s an artist’s impression of one at the top of this page. The whole lot will cost £500m.

Chris Boardman, the Olympic gold medallist who’s now Greater Manchester’s walking & cycling tsar, told the Guardian he was “absolutely unapologetic” that his plans would take space from cars.

“If you want to make people change their habits you’ve got to give them a viable alternative and in some cases that’s reprioritising streets and that’s what we are doing. We’ve given way too much priority to the vociferous minority.”

Good for him.

Anyway, here are some more artist’s impressions. First off, here’s one of an improved crossing:

And here’s a segregated cycling lane:

Look closely at that and you can see a blue and yellow sign, telling cyclists where they are on the network. Zoom in and it’d probably look a bit like this:

Or maybe this.

But this is CityMetric, of course, so what you really want is maps. There is a proper interactive one on the Mapping Greater Manchester site. The only problem is it’s a bit slow – sorry, very slow – so I’m not entirely sure it’s loaded properly.

Nonetheless, here’s the Central Business District. Yellow routes already exist – that long one heading south south east is Oxford Road – while blue are proposed. The same colour scheme applies to the dots, which represent crossings, while the shaded area around Ordsall is a filtered neighbourhood.

The orange lines, meanwhile, are “corridors or crossing points on busier roads that will require a higher level of design intervention to improve cycling and walking” – whichh seems to mean the new segregated routes. Here’s the map.

They don’t quite cross the city centre, alas – but nonetheless, that’s a lot of new cycling routes.

This is the same map, zoomed out to show a much wider area. Not entirely sure if the gaps around Droylsden represent a gap in the plan, a gap in the data or a failure to load, but all the same, here it is:

On TfGM’s website you can find complete maps of each of the conurbation’s 10 boroughs, both before and after intervention. These are a bit hard to read to be honest, but since we’ve come this far, here’s the City of Manchester as it is now:

Red areas are defined as “closed off” neighbourhoods - that is, those which lack safe crossings, enabling people to cycle in and out of them; green areas are open. Orange are in between. Look at how much the Beelines network will improve things:

You can see the other 10 boroughs here.

This is the sort of ambition that would be taken as read in many European cities, but you almost never see in Britain. Hell, even London – which really shouldn’t whine about anything to do with transport, let’s be honest – has a fraction of this ambition when it comes to cycling.


Of course, there’s a big difference between making plans and delivering them. But nonetheless: good start, Greater Manchester. As a faintly incompetent cyclist, I am officially jealous.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as Jonn Elledge Writes.

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All images courtesy of Transport for Greater Manchester.

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.