By Isaac Rose (@_isaacrose)
It has been remarked that one of the best ways to understand the political composition of the grouping within Manchester Labour which control the Council is that they represent the ‘political wing of the construction sector’. This is suggested too by GMHA’s research: from a failure to collect S106 contributions from developers, to opaque disposals of public land, we have revealed a Council which appears to consistently put the interests and profit margins of the real estate lobby first. We see this every day in the rapidly transforming skyline of the city.
Manchester is hardly unique in this respect. Across the country, the deep links between Councils and the property lobby is well documented. Property fairs such as MIPIM Cannes allow councillors to escape the humdrum of local government administration, and rub shoulders with a moneyed global elite. Public land is parcelled up and sold off; communities displaced; and our cities handed over to the imperatives of private capital.
Though the entanglement of property developers and the higher echelons of the Council is intuitively known by the people of Manchester, rarely has there been a more perfect crystallisation of this relationship than in the latest career move of former Hulme councillor and deputy leader of the council, Nigel Murphy.
Last week the news broke that Murphy — fresh out of a job, having not been the Labour candidate in Hulme in the most recent elections, owing to his deselection by the branch two years ago in favour of tenant organiser Ekua Bayunu — had just been hired for PR firm Cratus Communications.
Cratus is known for recruiting into its teams former and sitting councillors across the country. The company was named in a report last year from Transparency International, which looked into the revolving door between public officials and developers, concluding that planning decisions by Councils were ‘open to corruption’.
Murphy, whose former responsibilities at the Council included overseeing its land portfolio and who was once talked up in the business press as a potential replacement for Richard Leese, has now slid seamlessly into working for the lobbyists who right now are contracted to Curlew Opportunities. Curlew are the developers seeking to turn the former Gamecock pub into a 13 storey Purpose Build Student Accommodation block. The proposals have attracted significant opposition from residents.
Across Hulme, the response to Murphy’s new role has been indignation. Sally Casey, chair of the Aquarius Tenants and Residents Association and an organiser of the Block the Block campaign group opposing the PBSA plans for the Gamecock, has expressed her “disgust” at Murphy having “gone from being deputy leader of the Council and representative of Hulme, to being executive of Cratus.”
“Cratus, who present themselves as a PR company but are in reality property lobbyists working to procure planning permission for an unnecessary and unwanted thirteen story block of student accommodation, which will damage a long-standing community, and which may never even be filled.”
Casey also cast doubt upon Cratus’ claims that Murphy ‘is not and will not be working on any element of the former Gamecock pub application whilst it is being determined by Manchester City Council’. “It seems hard to believe. This appointment raises a number of important questions. How long has this hire been in the pipeline? What conversations has Murphy been having with Cratus and Curlew on the Gamecock Planning Application?”
Kim Jocelyn, secretary of the Hulme Labour Party, echoed Casey, saying “I wasn’t greatly surprised at the news that Nigel's new role involved fronting publicly for a lobbying company with an interest in Hulme.”
“One of the key reasons that myself and a number of other Labour Party members in Hulme wanted to take the opportunity to replace him as Councillor, during the 2019 selection process, was because he had been neither present for nor supportive of residents in confrontations between the needs of local people and those of developers. It was increasingly being left to Lee-Ann and Annette, Hulme's two other Councillors to stand up and speak up against developers where their plans would impact negatively on local communities.’
“Now we have Ekua Bayunu in place of Nigel, as our third Councillor. Ekua has already been openly vocal in support of Block the Block, the campaign against a Curlew proposed development that would see a 13 storey block of student-specific accomodation on the site of the disused Gamecock pub. Whether Nigel is directly involved with this particular development in Hulme or not is besides the point: Curlew focus on Purpose Built Student Accomodation; any other development in Hulme would therefore have the same focus and Curlew Capital are a client of Cratus. Local people are saying in increasing number, loudly and clearly ‘enough is enough when it comes to student blocks in Hulme’. I think it's hugely disappointing when someone uses the experience that had been entrusted to them by their local electorate to furnish their onward career at the expense of that very electorate. It's a betrayal of trust.”
Going further, Jocelyn proposed action to tackle the endemic revolving door between local government an the property lobby: “I would like to see imposed a two year gap between politicians, locally and Nationally, ending their political role and being able to take work related to that role within the constituency that they have served.”
Isaac Rose is a housing organiser in Manchester.
18 May 2021