If every Manc has a chip on his or her shoulder, does your average Salfordian have a chip on both? One reflecting an attitude to the rest of the world, the other relating specifically to Manchester.
Vociferous Salfordians never cease to cherish their identity and why not? We were here first is their mantra, as all serious students of pre-history and the Middle Ages will attest. There was human activity on the Salford side of the Irwell in the New Stone Age. And in 1230 Salford was granted a charter as a free borough. Before Manchester. So there.
But here’s another thing. More recently, Salford has shown Manchester the way in terms of regeneration, even if its bigger neighbour has won all the kudos for its post-IRA bomb rebirth. What Manchester probably doesn’t want to imagine is that if the IRA bomb had gone off ten years earlier, there may still be a big hole in the city centre.
Back in the early 1980s, Salford city council struck a deal with a major private sector house building firm for the refurbishment of blocks of flats along Regent Road. Manchester was in the grip of a hard left faction of the Labour Party for whom doing business with the private sector was just about the worst ideological sin. Years later, Manchester’s city centre boss Pat Karney, only half-jokingly, called it “our Maoist period”.
More spectacularly, from Salford’s point of view, was its reaction following the 1982 closure of the Port of Manchester – or Salford docks as it was known locally. In what turned out to be a visionary coup, Salford council acquired 220 acres of docklands from the Manchester Ship Canal Company – effectively the bits that Peel didn’t want – using a derelict land grant and rebranded the area as Salford Quays. By 1985 the redevelopment of the waterfront in conjunction with the private sector was well under way.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Irwell, Manchester’s political leaders were more interested in forging alliances with like-minded councils and the National Union of Mineworkers with a view to bringing down Margaret Thatcher’s government than selling the family silver to private interests, no matter how run down council-owned property was or how little money there was in the town hall kitty to do anything about it.
Sir David Tripper, junior trade and industry minister in 1985, said that Manchester, led at the time by an unreconstructed Graham Stringer, was constantly moaning that Salford was the recipient of government grants while Manchester got nothing. Sir David’s retort that it might be different if Manchester would work with private sector partners fell on deaf ears – for a time.
In fact it wasn’t until the end of the 1980s that Manchester began punching its weight, thanks to Stringer’s dramatic political U-turn, after which the city sought private sector partnerships with the zeal of the recent convert, starting with the regeneration of Hulme – “the worst slum in Europe” – under Michael Heseltine’s City Challenge scheme.
From that time on, with the nous of Sir Howard Bernstein and the new-found pragmatic leadership of first Stringer and later Sir Richard Leese, Manchester has eclipsed its neighbour. The Manchester “brand” has proved more attractive to investors.
But the Manchester-Salford certainly divide doesn’t exist in the mind of Sir Richard – at least in economic terms. When asked if it was a blow to Manchester when the BBC relocated to MediaCity in Salford, he insisted it made no difference. Manchester, Salford and all the rest of the boroughs in the city region were part of the same entity with the same goals.
Salford is now too definitely on the up and the join between the twin cities is becoming even harder to detect. Just take a walk round Greengate, Chapel Street and New Bailey.
The snazzy stores of New Cathedral Street and the glitzy bars and restaurants of Spinningfields are just as handy – if not handier – for the residents of the shiny new apartments on Chapel Street and Greengate as they are for city centre dwellers who actually live in Manchester. And the view is better from the Salford side.