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Hulme: Off the Critical List

The task of regenerating Hulme, in inner city Manchester, began in 1992 with the launch of an ambitious City Challenge programme.  Hulme was then notorious for its unpopular, poor quality council housing, forbidding environment and concentrated social deprivation. Ten years later its profile remains high, only now it is popularly hailed as a beacon of good practice in regeneration.

Hulme’s improved reputation is founded upon a remarkable transformation in its physical, economic and social fabric. Housing tenure has been diversified through the addition of much sought after private homes for sale. The popularity of Hulme’s affordable social housing – including new housing association homes designed around the needs of former council tenants – has leapt.

The built environment is visibly improved with new parks and open spaces. The local population has increased and diversified, bringing new employment and training opportunities, and the addition of new office, retail and social facilities. 

These successes are all the more impressive given that it has been much harder to manage the regeneration process since City Challenge ended in 1997.  Under New Labour many new area-based initiatives and experiments in linking mainstream services to regeneration programmes have been introduced.  These have helped maintain the momentum of regeneration in Hulme, but it has not been easy to join things up locally when each new initiative came with its own rules, regulations, time-scales, delivery requirements and auditing procedures. 

Hulme is clearly out of intensive care and Manchester City Council is re-focusing scarce regeneration moneys on other more deprived areas of the city.  The lessons from Hulme are successfully being applied on a greater scale, in particular, in east Manchester.  Of the tasks laid out for the regeneration of Hulme in 1992, 80% are complete. There is clear cause for celebration, but no room for complacency. 

Hulme is not fully rehabilitated. Its Index of Deprivation ranking has improved, absolutely and relative to other Manchester neighbourhoods.  However, it remains severely deprived in national terms and continues to lag well behind city averages on indicators related to employment, education and child poverty.  Crime and the fear of crime remain major quality of life issues. 

The momentum created by regeneration programmes has produced a complex picture of change in which outstanding successes stand alongside unforeseen consequences.  So, for example, commitment to market-led change has transformed the area’s image and potential but also, unintentionally, made the aim of creating a balanced, stable and family-orientated community more difficult.

Rapidly rising house values have effectively priced long-term Hulme residents out of the local market. At the same time, the effect of the ‘Hulme Guide for Development’, which balanced the desires of the area’s original and largely adult-dominated households with the need for improved urban design, has been to encourage higher density, flat-dominated housing developments that are not especially suitable for or popular with families.  Similarly, work with certain local employers has helped local people find jobs, but the advanced skills that are needed to access jobs in other developments – particularly local science and technology parks – mean they remain well beyond the reach of Hulme’s most deprived residents. 

The short-term price of success in the regeneration of Hulme has been greater polarisation in life chances between residents, particularly the comparison between the more affluent, incoming private households and the most deprived groups within the 64% of homes that are still socially rented.  Today’s Hulme is fairly typical of successful inner city areas in which younger, professional and childless residents, attracted by the vibrancy and ‘cosmopolitan’ feel of an area close to the city centre, co-exist with others who seek a ‘normal’ residential community.

Nonetheless, questions remain about how to spread the benefits of regeneration better and ensure, in particular, that residents of certain council estates that remain relatively ‘untouched’ by the recent successes, have more to show from the area’s transformation. 

The next stage of Hulme’s regeneration presents challenges that are just as acute as those that have been overcome successfully in the last decade.  For Hulme to be the self-sustaining area originally envisaged by City Challenge, a balance needs to be struck between continuing to attract and retain new house buyers committed to the area in the long term and satisfying the needs and aspirations of longer-standing residents.  This means that the objectives developed ten years ago need to be revisited in the light of experience. 

Enormous progress has been made in transforming Hulme.  The achievements could prove fragile, however, unless the full consequences of regeneration are faced honestly and openly and a new vision for the area is developed which can motivate the key stakeholders to finish the job they have started so successfully.

The SURF Centre were commissioned by Manchester City Council in 2002 to undertake an evaluation of 'Hulme: Ten Years On'. This article is based on the submitted report.