By Jon Silver (@InvisibleMapper)
The partnership between Manchester City Council and the Abu Dhabi United Group through their joint venture, Manchester Life, highlights the connections being made by a growing number of people between the housing crisis in British cities, flows of big capital seeking investment and worrying new international relations involving our public institutions.
The company Manchester Life has been the vehicle through which Manchester City Council have taken the city into a purported £1 billion housing partnership with Abu Dhabi United Group. The Group is a UAE based private equity company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and owner of Manchester City Football Club.
Recent events including the imprisonment of human rights lawyer Ahmed Mansoor on a ten year sentence for social media posts, the torture and solitary confinement, over six months, of British PhD student Matthew Hedges, alongside the critical role of Abu Dhabi in the unfolding war crimes in Yemen have all generated questions about why a British public authority would become so close to a regime described by Nicholas McGeehan in Die Spiegel as, "a brutal, torturing police state at home and a perpetrator of war crimes abroad".
The partnership was announced by the Council leadership without any public debate about the merits and limits of such a deal. Nor was there any discussion about about what would happen to the public land that has since been transferred into various Jersey based companies, nor about what would happen to the revenue now being generated. Since the construction started of what is likely to be thousands of market-rate units (no social housing allowed!) over the next decade there has been virtual silence from the Council. In reporting by local journalist Danny Moran, Council Leader Richard Leese response to human rights concerns amounted to little more than a shrug of his shoulders. Lack of concern about being in business with a regime implicated in multiple human rights abuses doesn’t seem to be a problem for the current leaders of the Labour Party in Manchester, but is a concern for many of the city’s residents.
The Council have acted in a way that clearly pays little heed to a culture of transparency and openness that we expect from our public institutions. The constant failure to provide any information or to facilitate discussion on the deal and on the future of the public land being used has been worrying. This has reportedly included passing on FOI requests to ADUG representatives working at Manchester City, or resisting attempts by the NGO, Transparency International to release emails that are clearly in the public interest. Indeed much is still to be revealed about the web of relations between the Council, former chief executive Howard Bernstein (now appointed as advisor on commercial/development initiatives for City Football Group) and the range of other actors involved. For a deal worth £1billion it is surely in the public interest to make more information publically accessible, to come out and tell Mancunians the financial arrangements involved in the deal (with our money and our land!).
Over the last 18 months’ campaigners from groups such as Greater Manchester Housing Action and Amnesty International (Manchester) have come together to raise these issues, to challenge politicians about the deal and to ask if this is the type of international relations that we want our city involved with. Public events, petitions, letter writing, (attempted) street naming has mainly been met with silence by Manchester City Council. There is growing concern about a partnership between our Council and a regime implicated in human rights abuses. And there is growing concern about the type of urban development being rolled out in Manchester that turns homes into asset, destroys heritage and reinforces longer term gentrification dynamics all of which this partnership has exemplified. Time to scrap the deal? I’m not sure but at least let’s have some public debate, transparency and openness about a range of important issues facing the city. How much longer can the Council and Manchester politicians stay silent?
6 December 2018