Vital and Viable Manchester District Centres

This report documents findings from the Vital and Viable Neighbourhoods Project – a collaborative research project conducted by the Institute of Place Management and Manchester City Council 2016 – 2019. Much attention has been given to city centres, whereas less is known about smaller district centres. This project sought to address this. Based on in-depth research into five of Manchester’s district centres, it is recommended that district centres strengthen local capacity, align placemaking interventions against the 25 priorities, and monitor and share data to make collaborative decisions at a local level.

Date added 22 September 2020
Last updated 22 September 2020

This report documents findings from the Vital and Viable Neighbourhoods Project – a collaborative research project conducted by the Institute of Place Management (IPM) and Manchester City Council 2016 – 2019, to inform the Council’s District Centres Subgroup. As the authors argue, “whilst much attention has been given to improving the vitality and viability of town and city centres, less research has been done regarding district centres – those smaller homely places serving people’s everyday needs... understanding what a district centre is has long been a difficult task for both planners and academics” (p.4). This project, therefore, sought to address this neglect, enhance local capacity and networks, and develop an evidence-based understanding of the key factors impacting district centres. The project involved installation of footfall cameras in 10 of Manchester’s district centres, enabling the monitoring of activity patterns across the city, alongside more in-depth research in five centres (Gorton, Northenden, Harpurhey, Chorlton, and Withington), including meetings with neighbourhood teams, place quality audits, and stakeholder workshops. Based on the above, the report outlines the key strengths and weaknesses seen in each centre, in light of the IPM’s 25 ‘Vital and Viable’ Priorities; the key opportunities and threats district centres face; footfall activity patterns across the centres; and recommendations for each centre based around the IPM’s 4Rs Regeneration Framework. Drawing insights from the above, some overarching recommendations for district centres are also provided, as summarised below.

Key recommendations: Enhancing the vitality and viability of district centres

1. Strengthen local capacity and their capacity to effect change

Local capacity and partnership working was variable across the five district centres. It is recommended that local capacity and networks are strengthened, sub-groups created to lead on different aspects of place improvement, and governance structures remain flexible in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

2. Align placemaking interventions against 25 factors

Since places are all unique and complex, tailored place interventions are recommended. It is advised that district centres draw on the IPM’s 25 priorities to identify particular areas of weakness, those factors which can be influenced at a local level, and begin with quick-wins to enhance vitality and viability.

3. Monitor and share data to make informed decisions

The report recommends that local place stakeholders regularly monitor and share data and insights in a collaborative manner. Decisions should be informed by evidence. Through regularly monitoring footfall, for example, centres are able to see the impact of any place interventions undertaken. Training in making sense of any data captured is important.

For related resources

For more about the Vital and Viable Neighbourhoods Project, please see here for IPM team updates.

To learn more about the IPM’s 25 priorities and 4Rs Regeneration Framework, please see here.

For detailed information about each of the 25 priorities, please see here.