Speakers Corner : Nowhere quite like Salford

Lowry's home city wants to be a tourist Mecca. Pardon?
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Salford wants to be a tourist trap. So, recently in London, Albert Finney, one of Salford's sons, joined the leader of the council to announce plans for a £60m centre for the performing arts, named after Salford's other giant, LS Lowry.

The launch of the campaign for the Lowry Centre featured a firework display on the proposed site and musical performances by schoolchildren from the same stable as the St Winnifred's choir, who enriched world culture more than a decade ago with "There's No One Quite Like Grandma".

The Lowry Centre is the centrepiece of Salford's new tourism strategy, aiming to bring visitors from all over the country and attract investment. "An area like Salford," says Chris Rushe, the city council's press officer, "has to have a product which attracts people. The city has a lot to offer, but people will not come unless there is a specific focus for them."

Indeed. Before the development of Salford Quays, Manchester contained only two pleasant areas in which to live. Now, following the billion-pound developments which have brought designer living in place of the rusting machinery and rotting warehouses of the old docklands, there are still only two. One is Worsley, home to well-heeled businessmen, lawyers and the urban mega-rich (Manchester United footballers). The other is the place where I grew up, Salford 7, or Broughton Park, a leafy suburb predominantly favoured by a middle-class Jewish population.

Salford was where I tasted my first kisses, played football till it was dark, caught conkers and went to birthday parties, and also, periodically, suffered a few good kickings on the Littleton Road playing fields. It was where a schoolfriend lived who became a skinhead at 14, getting into robbing houses and street-fighting with bottles and knives. It was where he went to sniff lighter fuel in the park, for kicks. All his mates ran off when they saw him convulsing. He was found a few hours later, 16 years old and stone cold dead.

Salford's always been a place to get out of; that's the truth. Albert Finney can't deny that. You can't knock him for trying to bring an attraction to the wasteland at pier 8, and you can't knock the council for hunting "regeneration" money, but what sort of holidays have they got in mind? A couple of nights in one of the new hotels, a trip to the Lowry Centre, a look at Ordsall Hall, the 14th-century house which stands guarded from the surrounding housing estate by staunch railings? You can just imagine Dad suggesting a trip to the site of James Brindley's 18th-century water pump, the kids shouting "Yippee, a landmark example of early industrial engineering", and the whole family rounding off an ideal day with supper at Harry Ramsden's, the most over-hyped chippie of the post-industrial age. "Lovely holiday," they'll tell their neighbours back home in the Cotswolds, showing them slides of Exchange Wharf. "You really must go. And don't forget to do some peripheral spending, because it is of statistically proven help to the local residents."

But the local residents are as poor as ever they were. The Ordsall estate still hunches miserably opposite the huge glass office blocks of the Quays. The buildings, with acres of space left to let, are supposed to be symbols of regeneration, but they look like modern follies, monuments to industrial collapse and the fallacy of the trickle-down effect.

Look at Lowry's paintings - never mind the "matchstick men" kiddies' stuff - and they show an underfed, downtrodden population living under grey skies, in the shadows of enormous factories. Compassion is what makes his paintings great and haunting. But using him as a centrepiece for tourism is yet another desperate "Heritage UK" effort - "We're unemployed now, we've got time on our hands, we might as well get people to visit."

Motivated by a council that really tries, and hammered out in endless meetings in boardrooms at the Quays, tourism in Salford is still a product of the surrealist school. The Granada Studio Tour, with its Coronation Street set, is the jewel in the crown. For a sizeable fee, visitors are welcomed inside a centrally-heated, cosy world which holds within its breast the setting for the nation's best-loved soap. It makes you cry, the gawping at a telly world in the heart of the city on which it is based, cocooned a world away from its real life, dreary streets.

"Roll up, roll up, bring the whole family!" goes Salford's new fiction. ``We'll show you a good time. And remember, people, while we're touring, please abide by the rules of Heritage UK. Don't, whatever you do, look out of the windows."