Prepared for the Future: Greater Manchester’s Journey from Emergency Preparedness to Resilience

Building city resilience is about a journey and not a fixed destination. As one step along our path, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has partnered with 100 Resilient Cities and together we have completed an assessment of the present state of resilience in the city-region. This has offered an opportunity to reflect on the route towards resilience that we’ve taken so far.

Greater Manchester, a metropolitan area that’s home to nearly three million people, was defined by its industrial base for two centuries, enabling us to be seen as a global symbol of industrialisation and progress. This base collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s but today we are the UK’s second city. We have a reputation for being a city that never stands still and this is true in the journey we have taken over the last ten years in preparing for a future of known and unknown challenges.

At the start of this journey, propelled by the United Kingdom’s Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 and a new national focus on disaster risk management, Greater Manchester launched both a Local Resilience Forum and a rolling programme of risk assessment. This mix of cross-sectoral partnership and tactical action engendered focus and momentum to address expected and unexpected disruptions. The governance afforded by the Forum continues to drive horizon scanning for emerging risks, emergency preparedness, integrated emergency response and community-led recovery. Key to the effectiveness of this process is the investment of all our partners in identifying lessons after emergencies and reflecting these in ongoing work programmes.

Broadening our outlook beyond emergencies, the city-region then joined the United Nations’ Making Cities Resilient campaign in 2014. Offering a framework of ten actions essential for creating resilient cities, this campaign embraces a more proactive disaster risk reduction approach. We have been able to work across silos to enable a strong appreciation of the role of development plans, regulatory systems and protective green infrastructure in mitigating the exposure and vulnerability of communities to hazards. Greater Manchester has also had an opportunity to use a robust self-assessment tool and we have the distinction within the campaign of being one of only 54 role models worldwide and perhaps the only one acknowledged as a role model for all ten criteria within the campaign.

Today, as a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, Greater Manchester is exploring what urban resilience looks like for the city-region.

Urban resilience can be understood as a city-region’s capacity to both navigate one-time shocks and address the chronic stresses that weaken its fabric and which, in turn, can undermine attempts to respond to crises and to create a stronger future in their aftermath. Acute shocks such as the 2017 Manchester Arena attack, 2015 Boxing Day floods or 1996 IRA bombing show how singular events can have wide-ranging impacts on the city-region. Over the last 15 years the key shocks we face have become increasingly well understood, although each shock has distinctive characteristics.

No less critical, chronic stresses such as income and health inequalities, ageing infrastructure and the effects of climate change can slowly reduce living standards and quality for life for everyone. Yet these challenges can also create opportunities as we develop adaptive strategies and innovate to give our stakeholders and communities the possibility to think differently about the way in which Greater Manchester should and could work. Over the last 30 years we have sought to understand our chronic stresses and how these might be addressed; this work eventually leading to an historic devolution deal with government to enable us to have the powers and budgets to make the right decisions to solve our problems locally.

As we develop a new Resilience Strategy, we will maximise opportunities to explore linkages between shocks and long-term stresses, opening space for action at a system-scale. The resilience lens is also critical for realising multiple benefits coming out of a single investment, thereby leveraging as much value as possible.

The efforts to foster resilience in Greater Manchester build on many years of work to address ongoing challenges faced by the area. It also builds upon a history of innovation and of overcoming challenges. Moving toward a Resilience Strategy will take a holistic view of the city-region’s resilience, helping us create interventions and policies that will ensure Greater Manchester endures, adapts and transforms, no matter what threats it faces.