If you think the Hough End “sports village” is about South Manchester softball teams having somewhere to play, well then, I have a bridge in Sydney to sell you.
This is about Manchester’s (inter)national sporting profile. Once you understand that, the lack of interest in local active travel slots into place. The disdain for wildlife (screw the hedgehogs, they don’t vote), slots into place.
The words to watch for are words like “regional” and “pathway”. These are code for “national and international”.
In the coming month(s) a lot of breath will be expended to convince local people who are opposed to the proposed enclosures, pavings and wildlife killing that they are being selfish NIMBYs who don’t understand what is going on. A lot of soothing words will be prattled about healthy lifestyles, physical activity.
But what will get glossed over is that this is not about south Manchester softball teams and their need for a new home. Few will point out that sport has been used as a way of putting Manchester “on the map” since the mid-1980s. It’s passed into folklore now, but the two bids to host the Olympic Games were the pathway (to use a term I heard repeatedly from Council officers at the consultation event this morning) by which elected politicians and business leaders came to a rapprochement after some seriously bad blood in the 70s and 80s.
Since successfully bidding to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Manchester City Council has continued to use sport as a way of branding the City – think the Velodrome, the Aquatic Centre, various sporting extravaganzas.
Sport is money, sport is reputation.
Hough End is not on that scale, of course, but it’s part of the bigger picture. Once you have some softball and baseball facilities, nicely placed near motorways and an airport, just watch the effort in turning it into a “destination facility”, with further development possible because the locals have become dispirited, apath-ised..
It may be the case that the various eloquent and informed folks who have very good grounds to object will be able to coalesce around a set of specific concerns. It may be that they are able to either significantly modify or completely push back the Council’s proposals. Or it may be that they are unable to co-ordinate, and cohere around some of the ecological impacts and local traffic impacts (or even, gasp, the climate impacts).
Regardless, Manchester City Council can be relied on to do what it has done previously, with sham consultations (Great Ancoats St, anyone?) and simply falsifying community feeling (Hyde Road widening, anyone?). We will see various local councillors agonise, wring their hands but mostly, ultimately, vote the way they are expected to. The calculation is that the majorities in the relevant wards are so enormous, the likelihood of a sustained political mobilisation against them that leads to electoral defeat so low, that decision-making that goes against a vocal minority (or even majority) of local residents’ wishes is a chance worth taking. Worst case scenario? A couple of councillors lose their seats. It’s just a risk they’ll have to take…
Dr Marc Hudson, 10th May, personal capacity.