Recent stories about the slump in property prices in some inner
cities in the north of England would have the world believe that the
entire population of the northern cities is heading south, leaving
worthless houses boarded up because of unemployment and vandalism, and a
real image management problem in their wake.
Reports that homeowners in a street in Salford boarded up and deserted
properties they were unable to sell, for example, have potentially
tarnished the image of the entire Greater Manchester area.
On the other hand, less widely disseminated reports of high demand for
top-of-the-range loft-style accommodation on prime inner city brownfield
sites (see panel) paint a confusing picture of an increasing
polarisation of property prices. For local authorities in the North, as
well as housing associations and those responsible for inward
investment, this presents some formidable PR challenges.
A recent report attempts to uncover and explain why some urban
neighbourhoods are being abandoned. The slow death of great cities.
Urban abandonment or urban renaissance?, written by Anne Power and
Katharine Mumford of the London School of Economics and sponsored by the
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, focuses on two neighbourhoods in Manchester
and two in Newcastle which share many characteristics with unpopular
urban areas all over the country.
It comes as no surprise that this research shows the reason for low
housing demand in these northern inner city areas is more to do with
severe poverty and joblessness within neighbourhoods, than the quality
of the housing itself. But to fight back at falling school rolls and
loss of confidence in areas because of anti-social behaviour and intense
fear of crime, some housing associations in the North have undertaken
radical regeneration schemes to try and rebuild a positive image of the
area, and the whole city.
For example in 1995, Irwell Valley Housing Association (IVHA) identified
a problem with pre-1919 terraced housing stock in two streets in the
Higher Broughton area of Salford. Working with organisations such as
Salford City Council, over the past few years IVHA has turned the area
around from one prone to crime and vandalism to one of continuous
occupation and more manageable housing stock. Selected properties were
cleared to form semi-detached houses with gardens and various rear and
side alleyways were closed to provide greater security.
IVHA deputy chief executive Phil Summers says: ’The project has
stimulated diversity of tenure and demands for rents and sales, and
similar regeneration initiatives are being planned for other
Manchester is not the only northern city facing image management
Liverpool has long suffered a reputation of population decline, and last
month Newcastle found itself in the national media spotlight over
stories of the local council selling flats for 50 pence each in the
North Benwell district. Many northern PROs feel this story was badly
handled, with the buy-in element of attracting diversity of tenure and
purchasers needing to invest private funds of pounds 12,000 - equal to
the eventual value of the property - buried in the text.
However, Newcastle City Council has undertaken a long-term approach to
the problems of the negative image of the west of the city -where North
Benwell is situated - with its Reviving The Heart of The West End
initiative. Since 1997, the council has worked with the local community,
the private sector and Northern Profile PR to make the area an
attractive place to live, to restore property prices and to raise
Northern Profile MD Nick Brown says the project has received a pounds 17
million single regeneration budget from the Government and has involved
local employers such as Marks and Spencer and motor retailer Benfield
Brown says the work for the council is half media relations, as the area
has had a rough time in the press since the riots of the early-1990s,
and half working behind-the-scenes to train residents to deal with the
’It’s a five-year scheme. After the funding runs out, there will be no
money for a PR agency,’ he says. ’So we’re training up local people to
invite journalists in rather than seeing them as Rottweilers, and
explain the issues. In the past, every time the media has been looking
for a ’deprived area in the North’ story, they have gone straight to
North Benwell, but that is starting to change.’
’The council has had what it describes as ’breathtaking’ results in
feeling towards the area,’ he adds. ’There is more confidence from
residents and investors. There’s still a negative image to deal with,
but there is more desire from the media to understand the issues and
recognise that the area is being sorted out.’
Newcastle City Council is also working to involve the whole city in its
regeneration programme. Last month, the council launched a new campaign,
Going for Growth, with help from Newcastle-based agency Bradley
O’Mahoney PR. This initiative is currently rolling out a huge public
consultation exercise. The leader of the council has written to every
citizen and business in the Newcastle area to find out how people want
their city to move forward.
But the North East region is fast cottoning on to the need to present a
more united front to its global audience. Last month, The Newcastle
Initiative, the private and publicly funded body that markets the city,
became The Newcastle and Gateshead Initiative (TNGI). Elaine Wilson,
head of marketing for TNGI says that, while there are lingering
political sensitivities between the two cities on opposite banks of the
Tyne, increasingly people outside the area view it as one.
’In the past things have not been particularly well-managed, but we are
now co-ordinating efforts and letting people know that we have come up
with joint marketing initiatives that are more proactive and properly
funded,’ she says.
Indeed the plans for Gateshead Quayside, including a new Hilton hotel
and the Baltic Flour Mills - the largest contemporary visual art gallery
outside London - have led to a proposed joint Newcastle/Gateshead bid
for the European City of Culture award in 2008 which could be a real PR
coup for the image of the area.
However, many of those involved in the image management and revival of
these cities feel that the negative reputation of the North is down to
the London-based national media. ’What people in the South think about
northern cities has no effect on inward investment,’ says David Bowles,
director of business development for regional development agency One
North East. ’Companies in the North East want to maximise their place in
the European marketplace, not the UK, and over the last 12 years this
area has attracted over pounds 9 billion of investment and 90,000 new
Many PR agencies headquartered in the North have a more global
Brian Clark, managing director of Leeds-based Clark and Company PR and
the PRCA’s chairman for the North says: ’Non-network agencies often look
to the need for a London presence. But this is not so much a reflection
of regionalism as evidence that the dozen or so major players in the
North now have clients and a sphere of activity that is national or
Clark says his own agency generates around a third of its fees from
abroad, and Manchester-based Barrett Dixon Bell specialises purely in
While many PR operators in the North have their eyes trained on the
bigger picture, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved
in raising the profile of local areas in need of a helping hand.
LOFTY IDEAS - Bringing new life to inner city environments
In contrast to the pockets of run-down residential areas in some
northern cities, demand from young design-conscious professionals for
New York loft-style living space has transformed the look and image of
many city centres in the North. The fashion- and design-conscious are
looking for centrally-located apartments with style. Forget the garden,
think more a great view, exposed industrial structural features and an
impressive bank balance.
In the heart of Leeds, former warehouses have been converted to
loft-style apartments with waterfront views, which are on the market for
up to pounds 350,000.
Leeds-based commercial and residential property developer The Rushbond
Group is converting a former British Waterways office building on the
waterside close to Leeds Bridge into a restaurant and 14 loft-style
’Demand is so great that the first tranche of ten flats were sold within
a week,’ says Rushbond development manager Tim Reeve.
Urban renewal is not only improving the perception of inner city areas
and helping to raise property prices, but also solving the problems of
protecting cities’ architectural heritage. In Manchester and Liverpool,
property developer Urban Splash has adapted many redundant or under-used
historic buildings for mixed use. Its projects include the conversion of
the Britannia Mill buildings in the Castlefield area of Manchester into
125 loft apartments and the refurbishment of Grade II listed building
The Collegiate School in Liverpool, to include 96 apartments.
With almost pounds 100 million worth of projects on the go, Urban Splash
has an impressive track record in securing innovative solutions to the
problems of inner city decline. Working closely with local authorities
and supported by English Partnerships, it organised a competition
earlier this year to design almost 100 new homes for its Britannia Basin
project, with the winning entry unveiled by regeneration minister
The property developer has taken on Staniforth PR in Manchester to carry
out media relations at each stage of development, from buying the
building to sale of the flats. The agency has achieved coverage in the
national media as well as the local and trade press.
Account director Andrea Cameron says: ’There has been a lot of interest
because these are the first developments of their kind in Liverpool and
Manchester.’ She adds that the projects have significantly raised the
profile of the surrounding areas. ’Urban Splash has made an area of
Liverpool where whole streets were deserted into a lively place with a
piazza, bars and restaurants to support the flats and offices,’ she
BATTLE OF INDEPENDENCE - Yorkshire aims for an assembly
In post-devolution Britain there is increasing concern that England may
lose out to Scotland and Wales financially, and that conflicts of
interest will arise in Westminster.
The English area which is most keen to raise its profile as a region in
its own right is Yorkshire. The Campaign for Yorkshire, which was
launched in March, wants a local democratic assembly so the people of
Yorkshire and the Humber are given a fair share of voice in British
If the move is successful the assembly could also boost the image of
Yorkshire’s cities, and encourage inward investment.
The organisation is highly PR-aware, and is working hard to get its
messages about why Yorkshire needs a parliament across to the public and
the Government. It even has a PR professional on its steering group.
Julian Cummins, founder of Leeds-based Avista PR says: ’It is about
creating a Yorkshire brand, and getting a fair share of voice.’ By
building Yorkshire’s image as a strong brand, in a similar fashion to
Catalonia, for example, its profile as an area for business development
can be raised in Europe. One way a Yorkshire assembly would help to
achieve this is by placing special Yorkshire envoys in various British
embassies, ensuring that the interests of Yorkshire businesses are
promoted in these countries. This is something which the Foreign Office
has promised for Wales and Scotland. As Cummins says: ’Why shouldn’t
Yorkshire have the same?’ This will go someway to ensure more inward
investment in the region.
There is already a regional assembly for Yorkshire and Humberside, but
Campaign for Yorkshire supporters claim this has no real power, except
for lobbying Westminster. It argues that the Yorkshire and Humber
Regional Development agency, formed in 1996 and with spending power of
pounds 150 million, should be democratically elected and directly
accountable to the people it serves.
The campaign received a considerable amount of coverage in its initial
stages, although inevitably the national media did not take the campaign
seriously, picking up on the colourful-Yorkshire-character angle.
Now there is serious debate about England’s place in a devolved Britain,
Campaign for Yorkshire steering group members hope that this tone will
Cummins says: ’The RDA is currently responsible for regeneration,
training, competitiveness, transport and the environment and there are
already civil servants in the area, but they are not responsible to the
people they serve,’ he says.
The campaign is planning a public awareness drive, and will attend all
the party conferences with similar groups from other regions, to promote
the cause of regional assemblies.
At a local level, a series of events are being organised to raise
awareness of the core message of the campaign, especially among
Obviously its success will be greatly dependent on the ability to
capitalise on the current debate on the future of government in England.
Whether it can steer a clear course between public indifference to local
government and accusations of inflaming English nationalism remains to
be seen. - Jennifer Whitehead.