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Legendary chief executive of Manchester City Council to step down

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Howard Bernstein, the visionary chief executive of Manchester City Council who spearheaded the city’s regeneration, is to retire next spring

The 63-year-old joined the council – recently nominated for RIBA Client of the Year – in 1971 as a junior clerk, progressing through the ranks and becoming the city’s top civil servant in 1998.

During his time at the town hall he headed up Manchester Millennium Ltd  (1996-99), which oversaw the rebuilding of the city centre following the 1996 IRA bombing, and was also instrumental in securing Manchester’s hosting of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Over the last two decades he has helped drive flagship developments such as Spinningfields, NOMA, First Street, Corridor Manchester as well as a number of major emerging schemes including St John’s, Airport City, the Northern Gateway and HS2.

Bernstein, who was knighted in 2003 for his services to the city, said: ‘I’m incredibly proud of what the city has been able to achieve [during my] time and to have played a part in it.

‘Manchester is firmly established as a confident and dynamic place, recognised as a premier league world city although of course there are still significant challenges to address to ensure everyone who lives here has the opportunity to share in, and contribute to, its growing success.

Speaking about the future, which will see the Greater Manchester region elect its first mayor next May, Bernstein added: ‘We have a clear, shared vision for the future direction of the city – set out in the Our Manchester Strategy which takes the city up to 2025– and a strong platform from which to move forwards. But by definition this is a long-term strategy.

He concluded: ‘I will have been at the council 46 years next year, and this feels like the right time to plan for my succession. There is still considerable work to do in the months ahead and my focus on it will not be diminished.’

Bernstein’s ambition for the future of Manchester is infectious

Reacting to the news Tim Groom of Manchester-based Tim Groom Architects said Bernstein had made ‘an astonishing impact on Manchester, not just the city but the wider region too’.

He told the AJ: ‘We’ve seen Manchester transform through his tenure as chief executive; his ambition for the future of Manchester is infectious. There’s no doubt he will be missed, but I believe the city will continue to grow, have bigger ambitions and achieve them.’

Among Bernstein’s achievements was the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2011 and the development of the Northern Powerhouse initiative together with a series of historic devolution agreements.

A special meeting of the council’s personnel committee will sit shortly to start the recruitment process for the next chief executive.


Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council
Howard is widely recognised as one of the great local government chief executives. Having someone of his talent, vision and drive dedicate his career to the city has been an undoubted plus for Manchester. Working with him over many years, addressing challenges and attempting to capture opportunities for the city, has been a pleasure.

He will be a hard act to follow, but part of his legacy will be the quality of the team, the strength of relationships and the depth of organisational ambition his successor inherits.

Our new chief executive will need to be someone with the strategic vision, innovative ideas, partnership working skills and gravitas to help lead Manchester forwards into an exciting new phase.

John Walker of Walker Simpson Architects
Howard is the Manchester bee: the city has regained its world standing through the incredible energy and confidence he has generated alongside Richard Leese. As a Manchester practice that has grown during his time at the council, the city’s great successes emboldened our belief that determination and creativity could deliver real change to people and communities – lessons the whole country needs to follow in these challenging times.

Brendan Dooley, managing director at Dooley Associates
Howard has been a leading influence in every development strategy in the city over the past 20 years. Prior to the bombing of the City in 1996 Manchester looked worn out even though there were great things happening. Howard led by example in developing partnerships with business and government bodies to achieve extraordinary change in such a short space of time.

Howard achieved extraordinary change in such a short space of time

The city council is a dynamic influence for change and his lasting legacy will be those colleagues who will continue to push the boundaries to create a place to live, work and play that as a lad growing up here in Manchester was only ever available in London.

Phil Doyle of 5Plus Architects
It was, of course, inevitable Howard would eventually announce his retirement. Throughout his tenure, he has shown remarkable vision and leadership combined with an energy and determination second to none, always putting Manchester first regardless of political (or football team) persuasion. While he is surrounded by an incredibly able team within the chief executive’s department who have been together throughout most of the last two decades of Manchester’s ‘Renaissance’ there is no doubt that there will be a huge void to be filled.

Matt Ollier of Ollier Smurthwaite Architects
He will be sadly missed. He has playing a huge role in regenerating the city. Under his stewardship the city has hosted the Commonwealth games, introduced and expanded the Metrolink, progressed proposals for Airport City, attracted foreign investment and renovated large areas of the city. He has put Manchester on the global map as a progressive and innovative city.

He appreciated that good architecture has positive commercial benefits for cities

Refreshingly for us as architects he has always pushed for the highest quality buildings in the city. He appreciated that good architecture has positive commercial benefits for cities.




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