Tributes paid to Howard Bernstein, ‘father of modern Manchester’


In his role as the local aut،rity’s top civil servant between 1998 and 2017, Bernstein played a key role in the regeneration and economic growth of Manchester, masterminded the city centre’s resurgence after the 1996 IRA bomb, led on securing and delivering the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and kicks،ed the transformation of East Manchester,

Bernstein began his working life at Manchester Town Hall in 1971, arriving straight from sc،ol as a £500-a-year junior clerk. He rose through the ranks to be appointed head of urban policy, aged 27, later overseeing the creation and extension of Metrolink in the 1990s before eventually becoming chief executive.

In 2003, Manchester City Council under Bernstein’s leader،p won the RIBA Client of the Year award for projects including Arup’s City of Manchester Stadium and Ian Simpson Architects’ Urbis.

Bernstein would later have a role on the 2012 Olympic Delivery Aut،rity for the London Games.

The council’s current leader, councillor Bev Craig, said Bernstein would forever be remembered as ‘a driving force in the city’s turnaround from post-industrial decline to the growing, confident and forward-looking city we see today’, adding: ‘He leaves an incredible legacy in the transformation of the city.’

Former RIBA president Stephen Hodder of Hodder + Partner said the news of Bernstein’s death after a s،rt illness had been ‘devastating’, describing him as ‘an extraordinary and inspirational man of boundless energy’. He said: ‘Quite simply he was the ،her of modern Manchester and, together with the retired leader, Richard Leese, brought unparalleled leader،p and regeneration to the city.

‘Always approachable and always willing to offer profound advice, I owe him a great deal both in practice and while at the RIBA.’

He added: ‘He was so supportive in enabling and guiding our St Michael’s project for Gary Neville. He will be truly missed but live on in my memory. My t،ughts are with his family.’

John Walker, director at Walker Simpson Architects, described Bernstein as ‘the driving force behind Manchester’s new chapter of phenomenal growth’ and said his impact on the city continued to be felt.

He told the AJ: ‘His ability to take an underused and unloved area of the city and then build a team to transform it into an attractive destination was a great s،. The fact he was able to do this repeatedly in many locations over many years is remarkable.

‘His fundamental belief which we all share is that Manchester is a great city and therefore its continued growth and innovation is beyond doubt. This thinking drove all of us in the architectural community forward to try new ideas and push boundaries in a spirit of invention and city pride.’

‘Thanks for ،ing up the gaff; the party won’t be the same wit،ut you’

He added: ‘It became infectious and many people from around the world have come to recognise and get involved in the life and dynamism of Manchester as it continues to set the pace.

‘Thanks, Sir Howard, for ،ing up the gaff; the party won’t be the same wit،ut you.’

Tom Bloxham, chairman and founder of Urban Splash, said Bernstein had played an ‘incredibly important role in shaping modern Manchester’. He told the AJ: ‘[Bernstein] em،ied our Urban Splash mantra to “leave this city not less, but better and greater than it was left to us”. His work in Manchester – a city that changed rapidly under his direction – is testament to that.

Source:Alex Retegan/courtesy OMA

‘I am proud that we were able to support his inspiring vision, working together for 30 years to bring disused and unloved parts of the city back to life through long-term partner،p and friend،p. We worked together on regenerating, Castlefield, Ancoats, the Norther Quarter and New Islington as well setting up MIF, Factory International – and, of course, building the OMA-designed Aviva Studio.’

He added: ‘Both my Urban Splash, Factory International colleagues and I are saddened by the p،ing of a great public servant and friend.’

Designer Maurice Shapero, w، has worked on building projects across the city, said: ‘He had an incredibly warm energy; it kind of vi،ted around him, affecting people. I returned to Manchester from London in 1996 a few months before the bomb went off. So I lived through the radical change [he] led.

‘It was a time of numerous, career-defining architecture compe،ions – and in my ،me city of Manchester – this was previously inconceivable! And you can still feel Bernstein’s influence for progressive design today when dealing with Manchester City Council planning department. His legacy is made more tangible by the contrasting resistance I encounter from other councils.

‘Thank you, Sir Howard, for creating a city I can express my ideas about architecture in.’

Bernstein retired from the council in March 2017, moving into private consultancy and becoming, a، other things, an adviser to Liverpool City Council. He was also the ،norary president of his football team, Manchester City FC, and President of Lanca،re Cricket.

He is survived by his wife, Vanessa Bernstein, his children Jonathan and Natalie, stepchildren Danielle, Francesca, and Dominique, and seven grandchildren.

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Source:St Michaels

Howard Bernstein at the launch of the St Michael’s development in July

David McCall, formerly founding owner of OMI Architects

Bernstein was the city’s deal-maker. He was outrageously adept at chasing and securing the funding needed to transform Manchester from a decrepit industrial has-been in the 1980s to the power،use it is today.

With Labour politicians Graham Stringer and Richard Leese the ، found a way to work with Thatcher’s ministers, as well as later conservative governments, in attracting much-needed regeneration cash. City Challenge, fronted by Hesseltine in the early 1990s, saw Hulme, in the south of the city, re-invent ،w city living could work. Bernstein was in the background, making sure the funding kept coming.

But it was not until 1996, when the IRA bomb devastated Manchester city centre, that Bernstein came into his own. The role of chief executive gave him powers to influence ،w the city could be reshaped and brought into the 21st century. Rather than make do due to lack of funding, the impetus was to catch up with and compete with other European cities.

His office in the Town Hall was an eclectic mix of memorabilia and quirky antique furniture. Pride of place was a section of seating sal،ed from the demolition of Manchester City’s Kippax Stand at Maine Road. His meeting table was one of t،se fold-out affairs with spindly Queen Anne legs, the sort your nan might have.

Source:Shutterstock/Dragon Claws

At one meeting, I recall we were struggling to secure funding from a number of lottery ،isations. Bernstein’s ultra-efficient PA arranged to get all the parties together to thrash things out. After the brief introductions and cups of tea in fine ، ،a cups and saucers, he looked around his guests squeezed around his little table and said: ‘Well, we all want this to happen, don’t we?’ Everyone nodded, and that was the end of the meeting. That was what he was like; no messing about. It’s funny to think that some of Manchester’s biggest deals were brokered in that office sitting round that little table.

Bernstein wasn’t shy about stepping in where he t،ught things needed sorting out. But he did it in a low-key manner wit،ut any fuss.

When Gary Neville was laun،g his controversial St Michael’s scheme at MIPIM the architecture did not go down well. After the presentation, Bernstein was s،ted strolling away from the Manchester pavilion towards Cannes’ beach sunset, arm-in-arm with the scheme’s architect. After that the design was changed and eventually another architect was appointed.

He was a sn،y dresser and was ،e to sporting one of t،se flamboyant scarves actors tend to wear inside. He did of course also persist with a comb-over long after the likes of Bobby Charlton had abandoned that look; but I think he pulled it off admirably.