Quest to be Britain’s ‘second city’: Could the Metrolink expansion be Manchester’s missing link?

By Cara Quinn

Mancunians have long thought of themselves as living in Britain’s ‘Second City’ – and with the multi-billion pound regeneration of areas around Manchester Airport and the ‘big bang’ extension of the Metrolink, could this claim soon be justified?   

Last week, news broke of the Manchester Airport Group’s (M.A.G) successful purchase of Stansted Airport, the UK’s third largest airport, for £1.5billion.

The sale is expected to be completed by the end of February and marks the continued rise of the group, whose three existing airports and property businesses contribute around £3.2 billion to the UK economy.

Combined with the developments currently underway to build a £100million World Logistics Hub at Manchester’s Airport City Enterprise Zone, Manchester is fast becoming an economic rival to London.  

John Atkins, M.A.G’s Airport City Director, said: “The World Logistics Hub will attract new international businesses and help existing airport businesses to expand, generating much-needed economic growth and over 1,800 new jobs.”

It could also help boost new future export opportunities for Greater Manchester – such as those potentially arising from the commercialisation of wonder-material Graphene and the initiative to revive Britain’s textile trade in Manchester with a re-born Cottonopolis.

The Manchester Independent Economic Review says that the airport is one of ‘Manchester’s key differentiators’ from other comparator cities outside London and is important in attracting investment. 

It is therefore seen as critical that, in order to capitalise on the great economic opportunity arising from such public and private investment projects, accessibility is always high on the agenda.

A new Metrolink extension is currently under-construction which will ensure that the estimated 20,000 jobs created at the World Logistics Hub and across the wider Enterprise Zone are highly accessible. 

The new South Manchester line, however, is only the tip of the iceberg of a £1.5billion investment into priority projects across Manchester, which will see the existing tram network almost treble in size.

EXPANSION: Future Metrolink network map

When the extension is completed, Manchester will have the largest tram network in the UK. Will the Metro establish Manchester as the capital of the north?

The Manchester Independent Economic Review says: “The greatest economic benefits are to be gained from focussing on improving transport within the travel-to-work areas of cities themselves, rather than between them – and this is the case for Manchester.” 

One of the most important issues for Greater Manchester is that of employment. With an unemployment rate running at 8.6% in the North West, finding new sources of employment is vital for the local economy.

In this respect, the Metrolink expansion is set to deliver, as it is expected the new tram lines and other transport projects will create 21,000 extra jobs, adding £1.3billion of output to the local economy each year.

The Positive Steps Oldham charity, which aims to get young people into jobs and education, has spoken of how the town’s Metrolink line stop has benefitted their work.

Tim Mitchell, PSO Chief Executive, said: “Since the temporary Oldham Mumps stop arrived in the summer, it has become a key part of our programme as it is a terrific resource for finding work and training further afield.”

Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “An important aspect of introducing the Rochdale-Oldham Metrolink was the number of diverse communities it could assist and the support of groups such as Positive Steps is very heartening.”

 Apart from the benefits to the economy and employment opportunities, there could be an added boom for homeowners across Manchester. 

According to a recent report by Nationwide, homebuyers in Greater Manchester are willing to pay a ‘significant premium’ to be close to rail links.

The report also quantified the premium that people were willing to pay to be within 500m of a tram or train station as 7.3%, or £12,000 on average, compared to a similar property 1,500m from a train station or tram stop.

ALL THE DIFFERENCE: House price premium by distance from tram/train stop Source – Nationwide HIP Special Report July 2012

Therefore, current homeowners should see a substantial rise in the values of their properties once the new tram network makes its way to their area.

These sentiments were echoed by Matthew Smith, a Thornley Groves estate agent, who said they have seen a growing demand for properties in areas that were previously deemed undesirable such as Ancoats and towards Sports City.

He added: “These two areas previously lacked the public transport links to make them as accessible into the city centre as other locations, and as a result, values had formerly been slow to rise or experience any positive growth.”

Apart from the benefits to current homeowners’ property values, the expansion of the tram network will open up the realistic possibility of commuting into the city centre for thousands more people.

First-time buyers Alannah Stewart, 26, and Paul Weir, 27, who rented a flat in the city-centre for three years, said: “Now that we are buying our first home we are looking for more space and a garden – things city-centre living can’t provide.

“The extended tram network will allow us to combine easy access to the city with suburban living.” 

It seems that savvy first-time buyers have also cottoned on to the benefits that will come from the regeneration of the Airport area too.

Stephen Mackin, 28, and Jenny Biggs, 25, who are buying their marital home, were considering buying in Salford Quays but have changed their original plans and are looking into buying in the South of the city.

 Stephen said: “The easy access is a massive bonus. It’s definitely made us think twice.”

With the ‘big bang’ extension currently on schedule according to the time frames set out by Metrolink, and billions of pounds invested in an economic ‘boom’ in the South of the city, it would appear the only way is up for Mancunians. 

All they need to do now is sit tight, cross their fingers and hope the forecasted developments come to fruition.

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