The first thing you notice on entering the new Springfield Lane estate of 'bespoke' housing, off Trinity Way, is a hoarding by Alliance Investments flogging upcoming apartments, branded Uptown Riverside Manchester.
If that's not enough to get your back up, there's a sign at the side of the estate's roads warning 'NO PARKING OR STOPPING AT ANY TIME'...
...'Stopping'??? You can't even stop your car to take in the breathtaking sterilization of the place, with not a piece of grass out of order, nor a dog that isn't designer.
This Lego inspired development is the epitome of the John Cooper-Clark re-working tart-up of his classic Beasley Street poem, as Beasley Boulevard... an `urban splash art ghetto', where there's 'Nobody there to harsh your buzz'...and 'Anything could happen/But it hardly ever does'...*
...Well maybe not. Into this Stepford-lives type scenario comes a group of artists taking up a year-long residency in one of the houses that cost up to £335,000 (plus add-ons).
Titled Tenancy, the project is bringing in artists from all over Europe, and "explores what it's like to live in a city negotiating rapid change" states the blurb... "It asks how these bright new cities are being shaped – who is making decisions and who is benefitting. It examines what new communities are being created, and what might be being lost..."
The project aims to 'respond to the growth and change'... "But as cranes tower over the city's skyline, there's been a visible rise in the number of people sleeping rough on the streets below" it adds "Requirements for affordable housing in new developments are sometimes sidestepped, while the waiting list for social housing has swollen to 80,000 across the Greater Manchester region. What is happening to neighbourliness amid this paradox of boom and crisis?"
Some people from the Salford community might say that Springfield Lane, or Bloxham-on-Irwell, is the epicentre of a straight forward legalised theft of resources from the city, sanctioned by Salford City Council.
The Urban Splash planning application for this site was passed with no affordable housing requirements, plus £636,000 avoided in planning fees for the first application for 71 houses (or HoUSes as they were called in the poncey sales hype) and one hundred flats. Salford Council included a clawback of 'up to' £100,000 for a riverside walkway if profits subsequently go stellar.
For the next application, Urban Splash upped the number of apartments to 150, for which it was docked a mere £150,000 in Section 106 payments, plus another clawback which the chair of the planning panel stated would "not necessarily go to affordable housing". Even councillors on the planning panel were shocked, one calling the payment of a mere £1,000 per apartment "derisory".
It is into this political maelstrom that the artists are being plunged. And they're not having it too hard, living in a luxury house and being sponsored by Tom Bloxham, Urban Splash and the Bloxham Charitable Trust (as well as the Granada Foundation, Slater Heelis, Ben Caldwell and co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme). How's that going to impact the integrity of the project? Mr Bloxham doesn't take criticism too easy...
"We'll see what happens, maybe he will kick us out but we were very clear at the start of the project about what we were doing, so maybe it's a reality that those things are in the air and on the table, and maybe this might be a way of bridging them or broaching them" says Richard Gregory, co-artistic director of Quarantine which is organising and curating Tenancy.
We're sat on the comfy couch on the first floor of the HoUSe during the official house warming. Through the door comes the strains of a singer songwriter who's sat in the bath composing a tune based around building regulations. In the second bedroom, an artist invites people into her boudoir for some intimate Pillow Talk conversation.
Downstairs, the dining room is festooned with menus offering a series of questions, culminating with Today's Special: Rent or Buy? That's a bit of a joke for people living on the streets or in squats or stuck at number 7,000 on the Salford housing waiting list...
"We're really conscious that it's an intensely political project and we're not running away from that; that's the reason for creating the project, to confront those questions; it's not about 'This is a nice house', that would be really stupid and politically naive" Richard explains "The history of our work is trying to create situations and circumstances for conversations and we want the house and the artists to function in that way.
"We wanted to do that from the inside rather than standing outside just throwing stones at it" he adds "That has a great value but we wanted to put ourselves on the inside of it and wrestle with the reality of the situation."
At the house warming no-one's really wrestling with anything apart from some delicious Asian food being concocted and loads of rather nice wine. The talk is in hushed tones, and there don't seem to be any proper Salford people here. So is there anything for the nearby indigenous communities and are they going to be included in the project. In other words, will they be allowed into Bloxham la-la land?
"They can come if they want" Richard responds "The project is really trying to look at the ways in which housing development in Salford and Manchester is impacting on people's lives. Who's benefitting from it, who's not? And how the conversation happens between people who make the decisions about housing and those who might not be part of that.
"We're trying to raise some of those questions and to see how these kinds of developments impact on neighbourliness" he adds "Across the year there are artists coming from different art form backgrounds, different situations and countries, and I don't know how they will do it because their brief is to get to know their neighbours and neighbourhood, and they will have different approaches. People can get in touch if they're interested, and we'll produce a listing of things happening in the house that they can come to..."
The first residents to be staying in the HoUSe are a family of performers and visual artists from Yorkshire, Grace Surman and Gary Winters, plus their kids Hope and Merrick and dog Eider. Also scheduled to stay are Sarah Vanhee with her collaborator Flore Herman... "Her work has been very directly and provocatively political" Richard explains "She had a brilliant piece where she would, uninvited, attend board meetings and council meetings and make this fabulous speech..."
Salford Civic Centre awaits, although she'll probably be told to 'shut up' like the other dissenting councillors. Also coming to Bloxham-on-Irwell are Palestinian visual artist, Shayma Nader, who explores 'urbanisation and social resistance', Turkish artist Ali Taptik, with Okay Karadayilar, who will be looking at the relationship between the individual and the city, England's Jo Fong and Sonia Hughes, exploring 'the power of conversation' and, from Poland, Janek Turkowski and Iwona Nowacka, who create performances using archive film. Is it a recipe for comfy artistic masturbation or is something proper going to happen?
"I'm interested in art being useful, creating some sort of shift or change, and I know that this is a complex and often controversial issue" Richard concludes "The questions about housing and how we organise housing in our city is one of the most urgent questions at this moment in time and if, through this project, we can shift or help with the debate, then that's what we hope..."
The jury is out and the challenge is on...
Tenancy is part of Meet the Neighbours, happening in five cities across Europe and North Africa – in Béthune, Lillers and Bruay-la-Bussiere in France; Lublin in Poland; Marrakech in Morocco; and Groningen in the Netherlands. The English side is being supported by £40,000 from the EU.
For loads more details on the project see the Quarantine website and sign up to the newsletter – click here
To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Salford Star will also keep the community up to date with any events happening in the HoUSe.
* For a full background on the Springfield Lane Urban Splash Development see previous Salford Star articles...
Urban Splash Avoids Over £600,000 in Planning Fees – click here
As Urban Splash Avoids More Planning Fees, Councillors Told To 'Shut Up' – click here
Urban Splash 'Affordable Houses' To Cost Up To £335,000 – click here
For a background on the Springfield Lane site and its beach and previous supermarket application see previous Salford Star articles...
The Golden Sands of Salford Award – click here
Get Away From It All At The Salford Beach – click here
See also the Costa Del Salford community film spoof of the Urban Splash beach, shot on early mobile phones almost ten years ago – click here
For an interview with John Cooper Clarke on Beasley Boulevard see Salford Star article from print issue 2 – click here