Buxton: A town that keeps on surprising

Buxton in Derbyshire isn’t necessarily entirely what you’d expect. In fact, I didn’t know what to expect at all really when we went there on a weekend jaunt a few weeks ago to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. But then I can’t say I’d ever particularly explored the Peak District before, of which this charming old market and spa town sits at the heart.

 

In all honesty it’s probably a bit regionalist of me, but I’d always seen the area as a bit of a poor relation of the Highlands of Scotland, the Lake District and even my own personal favourite – but probably least well-known of the lot – Northumberland. But shame on me.

 

It’s actually a fascinating place, packed full of quirky surprises, and cast in a truly lovely setting. Not so very dissimilar to the Yorkshire Dales, in fact, only somewhat less tourist-y. As a for instance, lots of the hills surrounding Buxton carry the word ‘low’ somewhere in their name, Arbor Low or Grin Low being cases in point. Coming from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘hlaw’, it actually means ‘burial mound’ and the town is apparently surrounded by lots of such bronze age sites.

 

But just to add to its mystery, Buxton also boasts quite a few firsts. On the one hand, at 1,000 or so feet above sea level, it is said to be the highest market town in England – although Alston in Cumbria also lays claim to the title too.

 

On the other, the town’s oldest building, the Old Hall Hotel, is believed to be the UK’s first ever hotel. It was allegedly built to house Mary Queen of Scots who stayed there at sporadic intervals between 1548 and 1573, after being taken into custody by local dignitary, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I. And it still does a mean pan-fried sea bream to this day, a fact to which I can personally attest after partaking of a lovely meal there with my family.

 

Old Hall Hotel
Old Hall Hotel

Mary was quite keen on the place too allegedly as the warm waters of the nearby natural thermal spring, which emerges from the ground at a constant 82 degrees Fahrenheit, helped keep her rheumatism in check. And it is spring water, at least in bottled form, for which Buxton is probably most famous. You’d certainly be hard-pressed not to find the odd bottle or two in most supermarkets or motorway service stations in the UK these days anyway.

 

But to get back to the Earl of Shrewsbury for a moment. He just happened to be married to Elizabeth Talbot, otherwise known as Bess of Hardwick, who by virtue of a few smart marriages scaled the heights of 16th century English society to become fabulously wealthy, helped along in such matters by her own shrewd business sense.

 

Bess of Hardwick’s legacy

 

Anyway, Bess built herself, among other things, nearby Chatsworth House, which must be among the most lavish and flamboyant stately homes that I’ve ever set eyes upon. In fact, as an emblem of its if truth-be-known somewhat vulgar over-the-top-ness, all of its window frames are even covered in gold paint. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its sumptuousness, the 126-room country pile has also starred in loads of films from “The Duchess” to “The Wolfman”.

 

Although I must confess that I wasn’t particularly taken with its interior, which I found a bit oppressive, what really did grab my fancy was the 105-acre gardens, landscaped in the 1760s by no less a personage than Lancelot “Capability” Brown himself. There’s a maze, kitchen garden, water garden, rose garden, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain and even a display greenhouse, divided into three climactic zones – Temperate, Mediterranean and Tropical. And there are, of course, also the breathtakingly elegant landscaped vistas for which Brown is so renowned and which still seem so quintessentially English 300 years after his birth.

 

Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House

Anyway, all of this is rather more pertinent to Buxton than it might appear at first glance. This is because Chatsworth just happens to be the official seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, who are in fact the progeny of Bess of Hardwick’s second marriage to courtier, Sir William Cavendish.

 

And it is this family, which made pots of money mining copper at Ecton Hill in Staffordshire that is responsible for shaping (lower) Buxton in all of its Georgian splendour to make it into the UK’s premier spa town of the seventeenth century. In fact, you’ll still see the Cavendish name all over town on everything from street names to buildings and even the odd shopping arcade.

 

But intriguingly, there’s also a Higher Buxton too should you happen to stumble up the steeper-than-it-looks Hall Bank. While you could easily miss it, it’s actually an independent village that formed the original settlement and which still houses the town hall and marketplace to this day. And as such, it’s rather more down-to-earth than its somewhat showier neighbour.

 

Because, perhaps surprisingly for a town of its size, (lower) Buxton boasts more than a few iconic buildings, created mainly out of the local area’s warm-coloured limestone. For instance, there’s the Grade I-listed Crescent, which was designed by the York architect John Carr in 1784 to rival the much more famous Royal Crescent in Bath. Including two hotels, apartments, shops, coffee and card rooms and an Assembly Room, it was funded by the 5th Duke of Devonshire to provide accommodation for spa-goers and any friends of his keen on a health-giving sojourn there.

 

Important British site

 

Even more intriguingly, the Crescent was actually built on the site of a Roman Baths. The Romans called their spa “Aquae Arnemetiae”, which translates as ‘the waters of the goddess who lives in a sacred grove’. Arnemetia was a river goddess worshipped by the local Celtic Corieltauvi tribe and it was believed that drinking from her waters would cure you of sickness and wasting disease.

 

Moreover, as groves were where the Druids conducted their ceremonies, it gives you some idea of just how important a religious centre this place must have been. It was certainly significant enough for the Romans to apply the term “Aquae” to it anyway, an honour accorded to only one other British town – that of Bath, which was known as “Aquae Sulis”. Sulis was a local water goddess there too and the Romans equated her with Minerva, their own goddess of wisdom and knowledge.

 

Anyway, redeveloped in the mid-1800s, the Roman Baths morphed into the so-called Natural Baths and it is they that will form the centrepiece of a new 79-bedroom five-star spa hotel due to be opened next year. This heritage regeneration project is expected to cost £70 million or so, but is intended to help revive the town’s fortunes and stimulate a new wave of tourism in its role as Peak District capital.

 

The Devonshire Dome
The Devonshire Dome

But there’s also the Devonshire Dome. Originally built in 1882 for the Royal Devonshire Hospital, it is now part of the University of Derby and dominates the town’s skyline. With a diameter of 46 metres, it is also the largest unsupported dome in Europe.

 

Or there’s the 23-acre Pavilion Gardens on the banks of the River Wye. Laid out by Edward Milner, a successful Victorian landscape architect and designer who has since vanished into obscurity, this lovely site also includes the UK’s first Winter Gardens. They were created in the image and likeness of London’s Crystal Palace, a development in which Milner played a key role too.

 

His goal with the Winter Gardens though was to craft an environment where the upper crust could promenade in all weathers, enjoying displays of exotic foliage and flowers while listening to the light orchestral pleasures of palm court music. And the idea spread like wildfire across the country from Margate to Sunderland.

 

Today, the building houses sundry shops and cafes as well as the Pavilion Arts Centre, which plays a key role in Buxton’s Festival Fringe each July. Running parallel with the Buxton arts Festival, which focuses on opera, music and books, lots of artistes interestingly use it as a test bed for that much more famous counterpart, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest such event in the world.

 

So say what you like about Buxton, but to me, it’s really rather a special place that just keeps on charming and surprising.

 

 

 

 

 

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Durham: An historical theme park in waiting?

Durham, the county in the North East of England where I grew up, is barely recognisable these days. Gone are the pits and the slag heaps and the steel works to be replaced with fecund sweeps of arable crops, fluffy, white sheep and trees – lots and lots of trees.

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral

But even though most of the ugly scars that pitted the landscape are gone, that’s not to say the county has buried its industrial heritage in the same careful manner – in fact, it’s still very proud of it, and rightly so. Because without the coal riven from its mines by men who sweated, suffered and, in some instances, even died to produce it, the Industrial Revolution could never have taken place.

 

So, aptly, memories of the past are still held onto and treasured not only by individuals, but also by organisations such as Beamish. Beamish is an open air, working museum that provides fascinating insights into the daily life and employment of North Easteners during the early 1800s and 1900s, and one, it must be said, that gets bigger and better each year.

 

But a former pit village in East Durham called Horden is also doing its bit to honour its heritage. The Parish Council has just bought an iconic sculpture of a nine-foot tall miner for the princely sum of £19,000 in a bid to try and spark some interest in the place and promote regeneration – something that should also be helped by the tourism generated by Durham Heritage Coast Partnership’s attempts to conserve and enhance the nearby flora- and fauna-rich coastline.

 

Fittingly though the statue has been called “Marra”, an old pitmatic word for a good mate or member of a crew of miners who worked together and watched each other’s backs. Pitmatic, meanwhile, for those not in the know, is a local dialect that was used extensively in mining communities across Northumberland and Durham.

 

It’s based on the ancient, traditional language of the countryside, which the men were still using when they migrated to the pits to work in the 17th and 18th centuries, simply adapting it to their new requirements.

 

So this language of theirs was, and is, special in that it had retained lots of words from the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons and the Old Norse of the Vikings – Durham, belonging as it did to the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria, had been part of the Danelaw.

 

Although pitmatic was predominantly a male dialect, the language of a working pitman in fact, lots of the more general-purpose rather than work-specific words were also employed by the rest of the community, and were certainly still in common parlance when I was a kid – people were still eating their “bait” (packed lunch), for instance, poking “spelks” (splinters) out of their fingers with a needle, and walking through fields of “claggy auld clarts” (sticky old mud) after the rain.

 

Marras

 

As the old miners continue to die off though, pitmatic’s usage is now, sadly, almost as defunct as the pits that shaped it, and you hear its descriptive, onomatopoeic phrases employed less and less these days, particularly by the young ones.

Banner at Miner's Gala, Durham
Banner at Miner’s Gala, Durham

But anyway to get back to the point, the Marra in question is particularly emotive because he has his heart ripped out. A telling metaphor to illustrate what the demise of mining meant to the North East, it is particularly poignant in a place like Horden.

 

Horden Colliery was one of the biggest mines in the country, employing 4,000 men at its peak before being closed in 1987, two years after the miners’ strike.

 

The statue itself, meanwhile, which was unveiled in Horden Welfare Park on Saturday 21 November, was the brainchild of local artist, Ray Lonsdale.

 

The idea behind the piece was apparently a news story revealing that a statue of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose regime was responsible for wiping out the British coal industry without putting any plans in place to support the communities dependent on it, was to be erected in Westminster to celebrate the good she had done for the country. But as Lonsdale drily put it: “That’s not the way it’s seen up here.”

 

Thankfully though, after years of neglect from Westminster by parties of all political stripes, Durham now seems to have got itself a champion in the shape of Jonathan Garnier Ruffer. On paper Ruffer, a financier who speaks the Queen’s English and made his millions in London, may not be an obvious advocate. But he was actually born in the North East in a village near Middlesbrough on Teesside and so was aware of the issues.

 

A committed evangelical Christian and member of the Church of England, he credits English merchant and philanthropist William Rathbone VI as the inspiration for his good deeds. But of what do such good deeds consist?

 

They’re essentially about transforming Bishop Auckland, a pleasant, if somewhat deprived post-industrial market town 12 miles south west of Durham City, a Unesco World Heritage site, into a huge historical theme park to pull in tourists and help regenerate the area, not least by creating lots of jobs. And the latter is vital in a region where unemployment stubbornly remains the highest in the country at 8.1% compared to the UK national average of 5.6%.

 

Historical theme park

 

Although in 2012 Ruffer had never even visited Bishop Auckland before, he’d heard that the Church Commissioners, who manage the Anglican Church’s finances, were selling a dozen 17th century paintings by Spanish artist Francisco Zubaran. They hung in Auckland Castle, private home of successive Bishops of Durham for 900 years, who incidentally from 1071 until 1836 were unique in England for being Prince Bishops – and the county is still known as the “Land of the Prince Bishops” to this day.

Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland
Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland

Given the strategic position of the county, which acted as a buffer between England and its enemies in Scotland, the Prince Bishops were awarded secular powers that enabled them to raise their own armies, mint their own coins and levy their own taxes – as long as they stayed loyal to the king and diligently performed their role in protecting the country’s northern frontier, that is.

 

Anyway, Ruffer felt that the Zubaran paintings should stay in the region and so he bought them, and the castle they were hung in, for the tidy sum of £15 million. But he didn’t stop there.

 

He’s now not only restored the castle and opened it up to the public as a tourist attraction, but also purchased the site of the little-known but extremely important Roman fort of Vinovia or Binchester nearby, dubbed “The Pompeii of the North”. The aim is to make it into a major heritage destination too.

 

But Ruffer’s piece de resistance is his decision to set up a £100 million historical leisure park on a 115-acre site in the shadow of Auckland Castle. Also in the offing is a Night Show, inspired by the internationally renowned one at Puy du Fou in the Vendee region of the Loire in western France.

 

The open air light show, which will operate as a not-for-profit venture, will dramatise 2,000 years of North Eastern history and, with a cast of 600 volunteers, will apparently resemble the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony – except it’ll be about Viking invasions, Roman gladiators and the like.

 

As of spring 2016, the objective is to put on 30 Night Shows per year and to pull in 6,000 visitors with each one. While the complementary historical theme park itself won’t actually open until 2020, the Show is expected to create 10 full-time jobs initially, rising to 300 by 2024.

 

But plans also include the creation of an Eleven Arches Academy – Eleven Arches being the name of the former golf course, which is crossed by the Newton Cap railway viaduct complete with its eponymous number of archways – which will train 300 young volunteers annually between the ages of eight and 25 in the key skills required to put on the spectacular. These include sound, lighting, pyrotechnics and set construction.

 

So with all of this great work in mind, all I can say is that Ruffer seems to me to be a git canny gadge who’s done hees bit sel’ and hees new hyem proud. Champion.

 

 

 

 

 

Britain’s black music: Is integration skin-deep?

In as few as three generations after the great waves of immigration from the Commonwealth that sated British labour shortages, “black music” can in all honesty no longer be called “black music”.

Instead in what must be record time if looking at things from a global perspective, it has simply become “music”, having moved entirely into the mainstream – although its influence on the scene in the interim has, of course, been vast.

This is one of the contentions made by my old mate Lloyd Bradley in his well-respected book on black music in the capital entitled “Sounds Like London”. Lloyd and I have known each other for more than 20 years after working at Dennis Publishing together, albeit on different publications, and whiling away many a happy moment gossiping over a cup of tea in the kitchen.

Cover of Sounds Like London
Cover of Sounds Like London

Anyway, a weekend or so ago now and a couple of years after the original launch of his book, he put on a fascinating “Sounds Like London” film festival in a great arty space called The Russet cafe and bar bang smack in the middle of Hackney Downs Studios.

The Studios themselves used to be part of a industrial estate that has since been transformed by developers Eat Work Art into a lovely little secluded area that includes shops, studio spaces and co-working environment, The Heart Space. Eat Work Art, which was formerly known as Creative Network Partners, meanwhile, sees its mission as being to reclaim abandoned buildings in London and transform them into “spaces for independent creative businesses to grow”.

Which simply has to be a good thing in an age in which rents in the capital are going through the proverbial roof and all too many creative types are being pushed out to the countryside, cheaper provincial towns or even foreign cities such as Berlin to do their thing as they can no longer afford to do it in London.

The dynamic is a well-understood one all over the world though – arty people move into run-down, deprived area because it’s cheap, making it a trendy place to be seen in the process. Over time, they find themselves pursued by young professionals, who want their own slice of “cool”, but as the wealthy immigrants progressively take over and property/rental prices start to rocket, creatives are once more forced to move to pastures new and, more importantly, cheaper. And so the gentrification cycle continues.

Which has essentially been the story of Hackney, whether we’re talking about the town or London borough. For example, when I first moved to the now disconcertingly “cool” Dalston, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from Hackney Downs, in the mid-1990s, it was really rather rundown and deprived.

Dalston

As much as I loved the buzz of the place, its amazing West Indian food market on Ridley Road and the fabulous but now deceased Kurdish restaurants on Kingsland high street, it could be quite dangerous depending on where you went – on occasion, you’d hear the jarring retort of gunshot and there were definitely pubs you knew not to go into in case you got caught in the cross-fire.

In fact, living in John Campbell Road where you’ll still find the indie Rio Cinema to this day, I was lucky enough to dwell just across from Sandringham Road, Dalston’s notorious [front] “Line”, a no-go area for those of us not involved in smack and crack cocaine.

But oh how things have changed. A gaff in the newly regenerated Line will cost you a small fortune these days. But you’d be lucky to spot a backstreet, formica-tabled Caribbean café serving immense helpings of jerk chicken and rice and peas – although one or two do still remain. Just as rarified are the dark, smoky, literally underground music clubs that never seemed to sleep and revelled in playing reggae and jungle till all hours.

Jerk chicken and rice and peas
Jerk chicken and rice and peas

Because everything is so much more sanitised now. It’s all been replaced by trendy “urban” bars, selling top-of-the-range golden ales and other aspirant craft beers. There are lots of boho chic restaurants complete with optimistic outdoor tables and voluminous ferns in the windows. And don’t forget the chichi home decor stores where you need to take out a second mortgage to afford a cushion. You simply wouldn’t recognise the place.

But anyway, to get back to the point, in light of Lloyd’s contention that black music is now a mainstream phenomenon, the obvious question that springs to mind is, have we witnessed the end of racism in this country too then? Sadly, the answer seems to be no.

According to the British Social Attitudes survey, published last year, nearly a third of us admitted to being “very” or “a little” racially prejudiced – a figure that, after falling steadily during the 1990s, has ticked up again over recent years.

But the picture across the country also varies widely. For example, while only 16% of inner London residents acknowledged their prejudice, the figure rose to 35% in the West Midlands. Older men in manual jobs were the most likely to admit bias, but levels across both genders increased with age – 25% of 17 to 34 year olds compared with 36% of over 55s. And education also seemed to have a part to play, with 19% of people sporting a degree reporting negative racial feelings compared to 38% with no qualifications.

Racism

London’s Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, also unveiled some rather depressing figures recently, indicating that the numbers of racist and religious hate crimes had leapt by 27% over the last year to a huge 13,007.

And sadly, it was London’s Muslims who suffered the single largest increase as they witnessed a massive 70% hike in Islamophobic attacks, bringing the total number of incidents to 816 in the 12 months to July 2015. Disgracefully, according to Tell MAMA, it was women wearing the hijab, or headscarf, who were the biggest single target.

But there are also more anecdotal incidents of British intolerance. There’s the case of the woman who started ranting at two men talking to each other in an Eastern European language on the London tube, telling them “you can only speak in English while you’re on my train”.

And of the group of black students denied entry to a nightclub in Leicester because of the colour of their skin. And of four Chelsea football fans who pushed a black guy off a Paris Metro train, while chanting racially abusive songs at him.

But even more worrying than such overt bigotry, it seems that institutional racism, which is much more hidden and insidious, is rife in this country too without most of us even being aware of it. The Metropolitan Police, for one, has been called out on this sorry state of affairs on a number of occasions, not least because black people in London are 12 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police

But law enforcement isn’t the only area where such behaviour is in evidence. A study based on the results of 2007’s SATS national assessment of schoolchildren’s performance, which were blind marked – that is, the examiner was unaware of students’ racial identity – found that black learners performed far better in the exams than when teachers evaluated their work. White students, on the other hand, were found to achieve much higher grades in teacher assessments than under SATS.

To make matters worse, a report published by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research revealed earlier this year that people from ethnic minorities needed, on average, to make 10% to 150% more applications than others in order to get a job. Research going back to 2009 also found that call-back rates for job interviews were between 50% and 90% lower among people belonging to black African and Caribbean communities and those of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin.

But that’s not the end of it – similar tales can be found across all aspects of life ranging from housing to criminal justice. So it seems that, while our music may have become completely integrated, our people – and our attitudes towards them – sadly haven’t.

 

 

Manchester: Plus ca change

I love Manchester. And I can say that with at least some authority as I lived there for nine glorious months in the late 1980s at the height of the infamous “Madchester” era.

At that point, it was impossible to go into a shop or pub without being deafened by the latest anthem from the Stone Roses or Happy Mondays. Or without tripping over baggy jeans and tie-dye tops, particularly in that indie shopping mecca, Afflecks Palace, located in the now bohemian, but formerly scruffy, so-called Northern Quarter.

20150822_135700_resized

And it’s still there in all its glory, thankfully. All vinyl record stalls and alternative clothes stores, piercing and tattoo parlours strung out over the three scuffed floors that betray its department store heritage – although presumably the esteemed owners of the old Affleck & Brown wouldn’t really recognise it these days. Or get the perverse hipster charm of novelties such as the Black Milk Cereal Café bursting with sugar-laden breakfast treats.

Anyway, to get back to the point, most of my Manc friends in the late 1980s were gay. Which meant that the majority of my going-out-of-an-evening exploits were focused on the Canal Street area of town – although in those days, it was all about dark and dingy pubs around Princess and Sackville Street near China Town

Which, it must be said, stands in stark contrast to the bright and airy chic of today’s Gay Village canal-side bars – something that’s probably really quite symbolic of the change in public attitudes to all things homosexual, and not just in Manchester.

But whatever the truth of it and despite my focus elsewhere, I’m pleased to say that I still managed to make it to that most iconic of nightclub/music venues, the Hacienda, which was just down the road. And I really loved the urban warehouse style of the place too, with its exposed brickwork and police-no-entry barrier tape plastered everywhere – it may all be a bit clichéd now, but it was definitely new and exciting then.

But how Manchester has changed, and not just a bit, each time I’ve been back. I know it’s all been said before but every time I visit, I’m truly amazed by the continuing transformation.

Because it’s been a city in transition for the last 20 years – since 1996, in fact, when the IRA set off the UK’s largest peace-time bomb in a van in the city centre’s Corporation Street, injuring 212 people and causing £411 million-worth of damage in the process.

Regeneration

But despite the tragedy, Manchester has never looked back. When the regeneration money came pouring in from the private sector and Europe, it grabbed the chance to reinvent itself, almost beyond recognition.

And interestingly, culture and the arts have played a central role – the pocket-sized Victorian-style Cornerhouse cinema and visual arts centre on Oxford Road has, for one, just transmuted into a huge £25 million futuristic exhibition, theatre and film complex called Home.

20150822_175713_resized

Also waiting in the wings is the Factory, described by Chancellor George Osborne in his autumn statement, as a “large-scale, ultra-flexible arts space”, to the creation of which he dedicated a healthy £78 million.

Scheduled to rise on the site of the former Granada TV studios and named in honour of Manchester’s music mogul Tony Wilson, it’ll provide a permanent home to the city’s biennial International Festival of performing and visual arts as well as performances of all kinds throughout the year.

In fact, within 10 years, the centre is expected to create as many as 2,300 full-time jobs and to add a huge £134 million to the city’s economy.

So the theme, it seems, is very much one of renewal. While some places like Albert Square with its Victorian Gothic grandeur and the Pantheon-inspired Central Library haven’t changed a bit, other downtown areas have morphed considerably.

Today Manchester is rather more about steel-and-glass skyscrapers, outdoor cafes and shiny new trams than grubby, red-brick edifices, dank, dingy towpaths and greasy spoons – although, to be fair, lots of the old classics are still there where I left them. You just have to strain a bit harder to see them.

But despite the metamorphosis, Manchester still feels the same at heart. The imposing warehouses may have turned into trendy city centre flats and the smoky pubs into fashionable bars, but the people with their wry humour and down-to-earth manner are still as friendly as ever.

Northern Powerhouse

But it does make you wonder somewhat just what impact the much-feted Northern Powerhouse notion will have on the place.

A concept cooked up by the Chancellor with the encouragement of Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, the idea, on the face of it, is about rebalancing the national economy in order to mitigate London’s dominance – although recent research would appear to indicate that investment to this end is still “heavily biased” in favour of the capital.

But in reality, it seems to be more about supporting the town and its environs to become the UK’s second city behind London. Or at least the capital of the north – much to the disgruntlement of the town’s notoriously independent and very distinct northern neighbours – wealthy Yorkshire, in particular. And Birmingham, of course, which currently claims the number two slot for itself.

Anyway, a key element of the landmark £1 billion devolution settlement for Manchester involved greater powers over house-building, planning, skills development and health in return for electing a local mayor by spring 2017 – with hints that other northern areas might be allowed to follow suit if they behaved themselves and found themselves a mayor too.

Just as important was the implementation of a so-called Northern Transport Strategy in order to boost economic development across the wider region after years of underinvestment. But the Strategy, which was intended to slash journey times between major northern cities by means of a high-speed rail infrastructure, has now been delayed indefinitely.

Which makes it’s all a bit unclear what’s going to happen next really. Certainly people locally seem to have little belief that things will change much, taking a “who-knows’ and “we’ve-heard-it-all-before” stance.

But despite it’s glitzy make-over, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to see that Manchester still has its challenges.

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For instance, at 80, it has the lowest female life expectancy in England and Wales, more than six years behind the front-runners. The city’s child protection activities were deemed inadequate by schools watchdog Ofsted lately, while deprived areas such as the infamous but regenerating Moss Side, where I lived for a while, still suffers child poverty rates of 59%.

So it seems that the city does still need some support, just in other ways too. Because as far as I can see, it’ll take more than promises of devolution and a bit of fancy building work to really solve its post-industrial problems.