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Why Manchester city centre needs a spring clean

Martijn Roo, an adopted Mancunian who lives in the city centre, reckons it’s in need of a good clean-up. Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street in particular.

I moved to Manchester from the Netherlands 16 years ago. After living in Fallowfield, Withington and Hulme, I moved to the city centre with his husband 11 years ago.

Manchester has brought the world so much – the history, the music, the sport, and it’s great to be part of this. 

That’s why it sometimes hurts when I get visitors arriving by train from outside Manchester and the first thing they say is, “isn’t Manchester a dump?” and  “Hasn’t Manchester changed – and not for the better?”

“I absolutely
love living in
town…but it
is sad to see
the situation

I recently did the walk my visitors take from Piccadilly Station down the approach to Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street. They’re right. Litter everywhere, overflowing bins, chewing gum and cigarette butts on the floor, fly tipping, people sitting in doorways drinking cheap alcohol, beggars, people praising their Lord  – and that’s before you even get to Piccadilly Gardens.  

The smell of cannabis is everywhere.  As a Dutchman I should be used to this, but if I can see drugs being dealt openly on Piccadilly Gardens and smell ganja everywhere, surely the police can, too? 

Market Street itself is a whole different ball game. How many street sellers do we need? How many people with clipboards? How many people with iPads who tell me they are definitely not selling anything who then ask me who my gas and electricity suppliers are? 

The odd busker is great and makes for a good atmosphere and some of them are actually rather talented. But do we really need a bad Yoda lookalike in an ill-fitting suit to show our diversity? 

I have been to many bigger cities across the world which do not seem to have this issue. How can cities like Hong Kong, Rome, New York and Madrid be bigger yet appear to be cleaner? 

The council could and should learn from them. Look at other countries where things are working well and copy them. It would certainly save a lot wasted time and money.  

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe this is a two way street. People should not be dropping litter and fly tipping everywhere, but it almost seems like this behaviour is simply accepted and tolerated. Make the rules clear and enforce them. Impose much bigger fines and name and shame the culprits – individuals and businesses – who do not comply. Ban them from the city centre. If you cannot behave, there is simply no room for you in town. 

The council’s standard response when I contact them with my observations is to raise any concerns through their web portal.  I now have four cases with status ‘in progress’, three ‘rubbish collected’ and one ‘closed’ –  and that’s just for the last two weeks alone, for one particular place in Chinatown where rubbish is being dumped every single day. 

I absolutely love living in town and the pros far outweigh the cons but it is sad to see the situation is deteriorating, especially when my council tax is going up. 

And although the council is doing a lot of good things with regards to the future of Manchester, there does not seem to be a focus on the present.  

For instance, as a Dutchman I cannot help being passionate about cycling. It’s great to see the plans to improve the cycling infrastructure across the city, but they do not seem to do enough to change people’s behaviour – cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. But that’s a whole different discussion. 

I do really love Manchester. The people, the way the city centre is forever evolving. Every day you notice something new by simply looking up or walking down a new street you haven’t been down before. It is an incredibly exciting place to live, work and go out and I enjoy showing off the good parts to family and friends. 

I just sometimes wish that other people would treat it with the respect it deserves. I wish the council would learn from successful ideas in other cities and implement them here. And I wish everyone would work together, take responsibility and do their bit. 

Maybe we all need a bit of Dutch courage – providing we put the can in the bin afterwards.

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