Skip to content or view screen version

Urban Cash or Urban Rash?

MULE | 16.11.2009 09:28 | Education

UniLife, the less than critical in-house magazine of the University of Manchester, has heaped nothing but praise upon the Chancellor elected and installed last year, local property developer and chairman of the Urban Splash Group Tom Bloxham MBE.

Although, on second thoughts, “property developer” seems inadequate, implying as it does things like purchasing disused buildings, rebuilding them, and then selling them on for a profit. This is not what Tom Bloxham MBE does: Tom Bloxham MBE “regenerates”, wandering around the deprived Northwest Christ-like, replacing “problem areas” with “mixed-use communities” (if Christ were a multi-millionaire, that is).

But perhaps all is not what it seems. The radicals at the Architects’ Journal have put down their red flags, taken off their badges and complained about Bloxham’s company Urban Splash’s attitude towards development, noting that “no children, no families, no old people, no under or unemployed” are invited to join the “mixed-use community”. So did the Manchester Evening News, when they reported on the “gentrification” of Salford, a notable casualty of which were an elderly couple forced to move out of their home of forty years to make way for a demolition that never happened. They were given £10,000 even though the redeveloped buildings resold for eight or nine times that price – all in the name of architectural principles that the Journal calls “a fantasy of student life”, ignoring the needs of families in favour of the young, single and wealthy.

Speaking of which, how can an ambitious young student follow in their new Chancellor’s footsteps? He illuminates the way in an interview published in UniLife: “I also spent a lot of time in the Middle Bar and the Cellar Bar in the Students’ Union. I would encourage all students to enjoy their time here – and get as much out of it as I did. I just wish I’d got a better degree, but I was a mediocre student academically and in my second year I started up in business. By my third year, I was set in my ways – running my own business – and opened a shop.”

That’s right – drink, bugger off and set up a shop in your second year, and one day you could be a multi-millionaire regenerating Manchester by forcing old people out of their homes. Definitely don’t read books, as UniLife makes clear: “He got a 2:2, though the University gave him an Honorary Doctorate a couple of years ago.” Let’s not quibble over details, like the difference between (for instance) the word “Honorary” and the word “Real”: the mark of a man is how his mixed-use communities are enjoying their £50,000-£250,000 apartments. With a bit of luck, one day the poor will be regenerated all the way out of Manchester – unless Urban Splash’s recent inability to secure funds gives them some breathing space, during which time Bloxham would be advised to go back to the University and read those text books, some of which may even indicate why a property bubble that forces the young and low-waged out of the market is bound to burst.

But Bloxham’s virtues don’t stop at being a crap student. Unilife elaborates: “Bringing laughter to the hall, he later said: ‘It is daunting enough to follow either of the previous co-Chancellors, but for one person to be expected to match their joint contribution over the past four years is an impossible task. I was thinking I hope I can be half as good a retailer as Anna Ford and half as good a TV presenter as Sir Terry Leahy.’” We hope the laughter died down long enough for the elders who keep the university so ship-shape to finish clutching their hearts, safe in the knowledge that they’ll live to share appetisers with councillors and business leaders during at least one more fundraising dinner.

But enough gentle sarcasm. Of the two Chancellors who preceded Bloxham we all know about Anna Ford, but who is Sir Terry Leahy? That, precisely, is the point. Sir Terry Leahy is the CEO of emerging global superpower Tesco, and Anna Ford used to read the news. Ford brought people to fundraisers because they know who she was, while Leahy brought the university business because he runs Tesco. Some of this business came in 2007 when Tesco paid £25 million to set up the Sustainable Consumption Institute within the University, which seeks to “answer some of the fundamental questions about how to make a consumer society sustainable”.

Laudable, some might say. Cynics – the sort of miseries for whom MULE has absolutely no time at all – might say ‘laughable’ and suggest on the contrary that university students are simply analysing the consumption habits of Tesco customers and sending it back to the bunker in Hertfordshire, in an effort to greenwash a way of distributing food that is fundamentally destructive to the environment. Meanwhile, the undergraduate courses and their lecturers hemorrhage funding every year, even those departments that deal directly with the politics, economics and science of climate change.

But that’s old news – what does “Dr.” Bloxham have in store? The honorific hoarding

“Vice-President”, Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell has “no doubt that Tom Bloxham, in his role as Chancellor, will be a hugely valued friend and ambassador for the University as it seeks to realise its ambition to become one of the top 25 universities in the world by 2015.” Considering the previous penetration of the business interests of a Chancellor into the university, this presumably means the students will receive a world-class education in shooing families from their homes and lugging bricks.

- e-mail:
- Homepage: