Money and enthusiasm may not be enough to overcome fear of change

The inner city
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Indy Politics

The skyline of Beswick, a suburb of east Manchester, was yesterday crowded with yellow cranes, spectacularly disproving the notion that northern conurbations such as this have reached the point of no return.

The skyline of Beswick, a suburb of east Manchester, was yesterday crowded with yellow cranes, spectacularly disproving the notion that northern conurbations such as this have reached the point of no return.

The cranes pored over concrete boulders which will form the £90m City of Manchester stadium, the focal point of Britain's largest multi-sport event - the seventeenth Commonwealth Games - when it arrives in the city in 2002. Thereafter, the stadium will be home to Manchester City.

That the city's elders have selected their most deprived quarter, where four in five houses lie derelict, to be the focus of the Commonwealth's attention is an indication of their belief that yesterday's Urban White Paper's aspirations can be realised here.

The money and endeavour are certainly in place since few, if any, Whitehall regeneration schemes appear to have passed East Manchester by. This is the site of a New Deal community programme, education and sport action zones and, with Liverpool and Sheffield, home to one of the nation's three private/public regeneration companies - New East Manchester (NEM) - which has £90m to spend over 10 years.

The critical challenge for the agents of regeneration is whether the locals can be swept along on the wave of enthusiasm.

Those few residents left in Stuart Street, within sight of the Commonwealth stadium and the national velodrome, another Games venue, may take some persuading. Though two in three houses stand empty and 20ft metal grilles protect a primary school from criminals, Graeme Russell - a security guard who lives at number 60 - dreads change.

His wife's parents live around the corner, he's just spent nine months slogging over some pretty impressive decor after inheriting "a depressing shell" from the previous tenant and he just doesn't want to leave the place.

"We've heard rumours that Upper Clayton (on the other side of the velodrome) is being demolished and that worries us," he said.

Many younger residents like Mr Russell are reluctant to leave some of the nation's worst urban deprivation and a mass consultation exercise is being undertaken to win them around.

"The residents who are 50 and over seem far less resistant to change," said a NEM spokeswoman "They remember with pride how it used to be in its industrial days and they want that back. The younger generation have known nothing else. It's dire - but they are attached to it."

NEM is treading carefully, learning from the lessons of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where plans for the wholesale demolition of 800 houses prompted mass protests earlier this year.

But they are making firm progress with around 100 consultation meetings, introducing residents to a draft regeneration framework document which includes an extension of the city's Metrolink to East Manchester, the attraction of employers to a 160-hectare business park and a doubling of the population to 60,000 in 10 years. Local interest is intense: up to 400 people have attended some meetings.

Demolition will be based on the quality of communities, not necessarily the housing, they are being told.

"It's a balance between tackling the problems and preserving what's there," said Sean McGonigle, principal regeneration officer. "We have 10-year-old semis which are failing because the community is appalling but some 1950s' terraces are fine. It's crime and fear of crime which has driven people out."

That the renewal is genuinely holistic (one of the White Paper's sentiments) is borne out by the fact that New East Manchester is yet to start work on the 7,000 house demolitions it plans but has already cut crime by 30 per cent.

Developers are already moving in on the back of the Commonwealth Games developments. A supermarket chain - believed to be Walmart - is one of the latest to invest but also an emblem of the delicate nature of change.

Julia Moseley, 32, vice-chairman of a local residents' association, said: "Everybody wants the supermarket but we don't want our old corner stores forced out by the competition it brings. We're looking for some kind of franchising between the two, so they can co-exist."

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