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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
The fall and rise of Manchester
The old Exchange contains remnants of Manchester's prosperous past
With the local elections on 4 May, BBC News presenter Chris Eakin takes a trip through the decline and rise of Manchester.

Riding into Manchester on a motorbike, it is immediately obvious how and in particular, when, this city made its money.

You are constantly surrounded by Victorian mills and warehouses. Cotton was the big money earner. But, of course, then it stopped making money and there was potentially a bad period for the city.

I deliberately went to the old Exchange which should, more than anywhere, symbolise that decline but in fact has been turned into something of a triumph. I saw the last trading board, way up towards the glass-domed ceiling of this vast hall.

Theatre development

Then I moved into the centre of the building where you find a quite awe-inspiring development - the Royal Exchange Theatre - which has turned potential defeat into victory and signalled the start of the resurgence for this city.

The real point is that the theatre was created not in the last couple of years but 30 years ago.

Beetham Tower
Beetham Tower is said to be Europe's tallest residential building

The founder and artistic director Braham Murray talked of how everybody felt the theatre would be a disaster. In fact it turned into a catalyst for a new beginning for the city.

I also went up - without the motorbike - to the top of a brand new tower which is being built, the Beetham Tower.

The developer's boast is that this will be Europe's tallest residential tower. And their chairman Hugh Frost made the point that nothing like this has happened in the city for 30 to 40 years.

Tram tracks

As far as politics is concerned locally, trams are a major issue.

I would often find myself riding the motorbike alongside the tram system and the city wants to expand it and has asked for more government money.

The government has held back and that has allowed the Opposition here to beat the Labour councillors with a stick, blaming them.

I spoke to the people in charge of the trams - on a tram - as we headed out of the city, talking about how it was a proven case, in that it took many people out of their cars.

Party people

Passing Coronation Street, the most famous street in the country, it became obvious that a lot of the mills are now converted into very trendy loft apartments.

They are occupied partly by the people who enjoyed the club scene in the 80s, the likes of the Hacienda Club; those who had graduated in the city and stayed in the city and made their money - they are partly responsible for Manchester's new boom.

Manchester town hall
The Conservatives have no seats in the town hall

The big question now, a couple of weeks before the local elections, is whether the changing face of the city means people will perhaps vote differently.

Hence you have the Liberal Democrats trying to knock Labour out of overall control and you have David Cameron's new Conservatives desperately trying to get just one seat.

They used to be in charge, they used to control the massive neo-gothic town hall I have spent some time in - that big Victorian success symbol.

But they have gone from domination to zero. One to watch in two weeks' time.


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