Two significant building projects have been announced recently as part of the club’s ongoing growth into one of the biggest clubs in the world. The stadium expansion is purely club related, whereas the agreement to build 6000 houses along with healthcare facilities and commercial space is one of the more curious projects undertaken by the ADUG.
It’s all very… holistic. And the people in charge apparently enjoy the number 6000.
The capacity of the South Stand is to be increased by 6000 seats to take the overall capacity to 54,000. An equivalent expansion of the North Stand is the second step and will take the final capacity to the much more aesthetically pleasing total of 60,000.
Season ticket prices in the new bit are supposed to be set at £299 which is great news and an affordable price, even if that will presumably increase over time.
Money spent on infrastructure doesn’t count towards Financial Fair Play sanctions so the stadium expansion is a win for the fans, a win for the club, and a win for the #Emptihad twitter bores wondering why the Etihad needs more seats when we can’t even fill it now.
Most importantly, it will make the stadium look a bit cooler than it currently does by elevating the droopy ends.
This latest venture then is the more interesting one. A £1bn deal with Manchester City Council to build 6000 homes along with healthcare facilities, a school, and commercial space is a big deal. Happily for fans of calling the Etihad a “council house”, there will now be legitimate council houses related to City as well!
Manchester’s Core Strategy (from page 97) targets 60,000 new homes being built mostly on previously developed land by 2027 to decent sustainability and environmental standards. 18,280 of these new dwellings are to be in East Manchester, meaning that the ADUG will be providing one third of the required total.
This is not an insignificant investment, especially bearing in mind that according to a quick search of the Manchester Public Access database which lists planning applications – and can be found here – there are currently not a huge amount of houses being built in Ancoats and New Islington.
This is all well and good, and I’m sure that many press releases in the form of newspaper articles in the MEN will be appearing over the years, but the important question is to ask why the Sheikh is spending £1bn of his money on houses for people he will never meet.
Money is the first thought. The first phase on construction will be 830 privately rented homes. It is unknown at this stage who the final landlord of the site will be, but it is unfathomable that the Sheikh won’t see some return from it. Crucially, these first homes will be used to fund the latter parts of the project as is standard for construction projects of this magnitude. For related reasons, the affordable homes required by law (10% of total currently, but that may increase or decrease in the future) will most likely be built last, as much of an afterthought as the people who live in them will be to the money men.
Money of course leads back to Financial Fair Play, just like seemingly every aspect of the club’s business these days.
Will these houses work for FFP? I’m not so sure that a project not specifically geared towards the club or football will be allowed. As per UEFA’s guidelines, profit from non-football activities is allowed if they are:
a) based at, or in close proximity to, a club’s stadium and training facilities, such as a hotel, restaurant, conference centre, business premises (for rental), health-centre, other sports teams; and;
b) clearly using the name/brand of a club as part of their operations
Part A is clearly not an issue as you’ll be able to hear the roar from your bedroom window after Demichelis smashes in yet another goal. Part B, though… That seems a bit dubious.
Selling Manchester City houses might well rub a certain type of person up the wrong way. If it were up to me all the houses would be coated in sky blue render, but it’s hard to see the local Planning Officer consenting to that. Maybe make all the construction workers wear City shirts to work? Rent them out to season ticket holders at a lower rate as a perk of purchase? The wording of part B is vague enough to make it problematic. The office and retail space in the Etihad Campus will obviously comply. This new stuff across Manchester? Maybe not.
Perhaps go down the route of Trabzonspor in Turkey who are building a hydroelectric power station and naming it after their teams colour. The Etihad Housing Campus? The Shaun Goater Community?
The potential money and FFP issues contain too many assumptions and unknowns to convince me, and so Occam’s Razor brings me back to the most obvious reason the ADUG are investing in Manchester – further reputation laundering.
As I have written before, the Sheikh and his friends have a pretty f*cking appalling record when it comes to treating other human beings with the respect and love which we all deserve:
“The real problem with City’s owners goes far beyond the football pitch, and concern things that actually matter. Human Rights Watch describes the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a place that, “continues to crack down on freedom of expression and association.” A place where the authorities, “arbitrarily [detain] scores of individuals,” and put them on trial in, “manifestly unfair,” courts. It is a nation which has built glorious skyscrapers in the desert and raised brand new islands from the sea, all on the back of people from South Asia who could kindly be described as ‘migrant labour’.
The imported workers are kept in what are essentially battery farms and have their passports taken away so they cannot return home. Even if they wanted to return home they cannot even consider it until they have repaid their ‘recruitment fees’. Such ambiguous fees are a staple of people trafficking across the world and have been for centuries.
German MEP Barbara Lochbihler, the chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, says migrant workers in the UAE are exploited, “on a daily basis. […] minimum labour standards are not respected, there are systemic complaints about poor accommodation and sanitation, salaries and medical services are withheld, and both experts and the migrants themselves excessive police force and situations of forced labour.” It is worth pointing out at this juncture that whilst the UAE is a member of the International Labour Organisation, it has not ratified UN conventions regarding freedom of association which would allow for industrial action.
It is up to every City fan to weigh the club’s recent success against a regime which counts a woman’s view as only half as valuable as a man’s in most criminal matters, has banned homosexuality and treats migrant workers as less than human. Personally, it will never sit completely correctly with me, but that is now the price of continuing to support Manchester City. Pretending one exists without the other is dishonest and suggests a lack of empathy most commonly associated with a serial killer. The natives of New York and Melbourne will soon have to make a similar judgment. The claim that the Sheikh is using City (and now other clubs) in order to, “effectively launder the reputation of a country perpetrating serial human rights abuses,” is not a baseless one and should be thought on by all fans.”
Their forays into the glamorous world of football are, at least in part, a pretty transparent PR exercise and it is up to every Manchester City fan to find their own personal line where the bad stuff outweighs the good.
Investing another £1bn into Manchester will, I suspect, tilt the balance slightly towards the good side as, at least for people in this country, rich people building more houses for not so rich people is a good thing. It will also help persuade the residents of New York and Melbourne that Abu Dhabi arriving in their lovely cities might not be such a bad thing after all.
The morally and ethically problematic money would exist anyway, whether it sits in a Swiss bank account or if it is invested in Mancunian bricks and mortar and this sort of investment should be welcomed, but it’s also worth keeping one eye on the prize. These are extremely successful businessmen and they are not doing this out of the goodness of their altruistic hearts. There is something in it for them, we just don’t 100% know what it is yet.
Divorcing the owners from the club is impossible, but we can’t let them define us as people, so spare a thought for the evil side of the owner’s business interests as well when the new houses go up and the press releases start flying out of the door. Everything needs to be seen in context and this latest building project is no different.
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter