Thousands of people will descend on Manchester over the coming days as the Conservative Party conference returns to the city for the first time in two years.
The Manchester Central Convention Complex and Midland Hotel will become an ‘island’ within the city centre as part of one of the largest 24-hour security operations in the UK.
Safeguarding measures, surveillance and armed officers will be deployed across the four-day event which starts on Sunday 3 October and runs through to Wednesday 6 October.
Party conferences have been a key feature in Manchester’s events calendar for more than a decade as members and leaders meet to discuss and share ideas.
It will be Boris Johnson’s second Tory party conference in the city as prime minister having visited in the months prior to the 2019 general election.
Conferences are a magnet for protest, with police expecting several demonstrations throughout the conference’s stay in Manchester.
But they also inject millions of pounds into the city’s economy, which will be welcomed more than ever given Covid-19’s impact on tourism, leisure and hospitality.
Ahead of the four-day event, the Local Democracy reporter Niall Griffiths spoke to the key figures charged with ensuring that things will run smoothly.
‘People need to be kept safe and feel safe’
Hundreds of police officers – some of them armed – will be deployed to Manchester city centre by Greater Manchester Police and forces from across the country during the conference.
Security barriers and cordons have already been installed in and around Manchester Central and the Midland Hotel, where the majority of attendees will be staying, while many surrounding roads will be closed for the duration of the event.
With Manchester United playing at home, a boxing event at the AO Arena and high-profile musicals at the Opera House and Palace Theatre, the authorities are anticipating ‘an exceptionally busy time’.
Wasim Chaudhry, assistant chief constable of GMP, said: “We’re hoping to provide visitors to the city a great experience and welcome.
“We’re expecting several thousand delegates, many of them unfamiliar with the area, and what’s key for us is that when people are visiting the city centre, not only are they kept safe, but they feel safe.
“Members of the public will see a large security operation taking place, and lots of police officers in hi-vis uniforms engaging with them.
“With security operations of this nature there will be armed officers on patrol, and hopefully that reassures the public as it’s not designed to alarm but not provide that visible deterrent.”
As well as conference delegates and members of the public, large crowds of protestors will be moving around Manchester city centre at the same time.
Mr Chaudhry said a variety of groups were planning to demonstrate including the People’s Assembly, which has liaised with the police about their plans for the conference.
“We will look to accommodate areas where people can protest peacefully and we recognise that that is part of the conference season,” he added.
“But we also recognise that a small proportion of people may want to come and use threatening and intimidating behaviour towards others.
“I think the expectation from the public is that we will step in and intervene and deal with that appropriately.”
How will it affect public transport?
Road closures and diversions have already come into effect in and around Manchester Central, the Midland Hotel, and Deansgate in the days leading up to the conference.
Several car parks surrounding the complex will also be closed, but the Greater Northern Warehouse car park will stay open throughout. A full list of closures can be found here.
From midday on Saturday until Thursday, Metrolink passengers will only be able to access and leave the Deansgate-Castlefield stop via Whitworth Street and not via the ramp from Lower Moseley Street.
The tram stop will be closed completely from midday until 6pm on Sunday. Passengers are asked to use St Peter’s Square instead.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has said that alternative routes and transport will be communicated via signage and PA announcements on the trams and at the stop.
Graham Banks, customer travel information manager for TfGM, said: “There’ll be the usual Metrolink services running and more frequent services, but the only impact will be on the Sunday though we have resources in place to deal with that.
“We always expect disruptions, it’s part of the game. There’s always something that happens and we’ll manage that as it comes.
“What’s more important is to get information out to customers. The message is always to check before every journey, not just weekends, for the best ways to travel around.
“It is going to be a busy weekend, but we’re well versed in busy weekends in Manchester now, so all the information will be on our website.
What will the economic impact be of hosting the event?
Before Covid, large-scale events such as party conferences were worth around £862m to the Greater Manchester economy.
In 2019 the Conservative Party conference was said to be worth around £32m alone, though the figure for this year is expected to be lower at around £18m.
Fewer attendees are expected due to Covid and the event’s move to a hybrid format where people can attend in person or virtually.
However the conference still presents a massive opportunity for hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses in the city which were closed for much of the pandemic.
Around 7,000 delegates recently attended the Chartered Institute of Housing, the largest festival of its kind in Europe, earlier this month.
Stephanie Newton, head of business tourism at the Marketing Manchester agency, said: “To have another large-scale conference on the back of that is a really welcome boost.
“Conferences and events are an integral part of Greater Manchester’s economy, but when the pandemic hit that turned off.
“To be welcoming large-scale conferences back so quickly as restrictions have eased, and to see people are ready and willing to come out to it, is great.”
Bars, restaurants and cafes across the city centre are expecting a busy few days over the weekend, Ms Newton added, with the city hosting several other big events.
But it will be the midweek trade from Monday to Wednesday, which some businesses have struggled to recapture since restrictions have lifted, that will be lifted by the conference.
‘It’s a big deal’
Manchester council, which owns Manchester Central but allows an arms-length company to run the venue, will be working alongside GMP, TfGM and other partners to deliver the event.
The town hall’s neighbourhood services, which includes the licensing department, will be on hand to deal with complaints of nuisance and other out of hours breaches.
Fiona Worrall, who is the strategic director of neighbourhood services, said: “This is the 10th party conference that we’ve had over the years.
“I think when the seat of government comes to any city, of course it’s a big deal, and I think it helps to showcase Manchester, if it needed any more showcasing, that it is a city that can accommodate massive conferences like this.
“The council doesn’t benefit financially from the conference being here, but I think our reason for wanting to support the conference is the impact it has on the city and its economy.”