• December 10, 2023

The Mancunian Way: AI traffic lights


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To generations of Mancunians, the Curry Mile is an iconic part of the city.

A microcosm of modern Manchester, the people who moved here from across the globe have brought with them rich cultures and traditions.

In recent years it has changed dramatically from what was once a half-mile strip of Rusholme populated largely by South Asian restaurants, to an area peppered with Kurdish barber shops and Syrian shisha cafes nestled between the long-standing Indian sweet and clothes shops.

Photographers Michael Baker and Phil Portus recently captured the evolution. And Sax Arshad is one of those who has witnessed the changes first hand.

Brothers Wass and Sax Arshad(Image: Manchester Evening News)

In the mid-90s, he and his brothers would throw water bombs at each other and the other kids along Wilmslow Road as their dad worked tirelessly behind the grill at Mughli. In-between each water fight, the kids would pop into one of the neighbouring shops or restaurants, fill their balloons back up with the nearest tap they could find and go for round two.

Today Sax says that those shops and the families behind them have all but gone – instead replaced by other families and business owners trying to make a name for themselves in the different Curry Mile that now exists.

“We don’t have that local community around here as much any more,” he says. “Due to being so close to Maine Road, football really helped this place – you’d have an early rush before a game and then a late rush when the game finished. The loss of that stadium really changed things for everyone here.”

Sax has been speaking to What’s On reporter Adam Maidment about how his father’s Punjabi grill has kept its customers ‘addicted’ over the years and still stands strong today – albeit in a slightly different incarnation.

Mughli Charcoal Pit has been a part of the Curry Mile since 1991(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“The idea when our dad first set the restaurant up was to have a late-night curry house available to students and people who worked late,” he says. “It was during the heyday of the Curry Mile but there weren’t too many people doing that at the time who were offering something decent.”

Mughli first opened in 1991 and as Adam writes, its success all lies in the food – from Scorpion Prawns to the butter chicken. The recipes come from the Punjab region of Pakistan and allow the family to show off their skills on the grill. And while the menu has gone through a few generational changes – introducing the likes of street food and small plates – it has stayed pretty much the same.

Sax with his brothers Haz, Shaz and Wass took over Mughli from their father – known as Uncle Peter – who died in 2009. “When our dad passed away, we just realised that this was natural to us and we should stick with it,” Sax explains. “It was quite a ballsy move for us to go into small plates and street food menus back then and, to be fair, we took a bit of a hit initially.

“You could have had a thousand different options on the menu back in the day. Now we’re of the mentality that less is more.”

The charcoals add an extra dimension and flavour to each dish(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Moving with the times has benefitted the family and they can now list Ed Sheeran and Jared Leto as some of their famous diners. But the brothers still use the lessons they learnt from their dad in the kitchen as children. “He taught us the mechanics of how things work, understanding that nothing is too much for the customer and making sure everyone leaves happy.”

And it’s not just at Mughli where the lessons of Uncle Peter are being followed. Sax is the brainchild behind Evelyn’s, in the Northern Quarter, as well as the recently-opened Public, on Stevenson Square. He is also co-owner of bakery and café Gooey.

Sax says: “We’re not trying to be a TikTok or Instagram one-hit-wonder, we don’t have that fickle market behind us. We have a very loyal following behind us and they’re quite addicted. We have customers who have come here as parents and I’ve seen their kids now bring their kids in. And that’s always a great thing to see. Everything we do here is a real labour of love.”

You can read Adam’s full feature here.

‘I see shock on the face of everyone I meet’

Israeli police retrieve weapons outside a police station that was overrun by Hamas gunmen on Saturday(Image: AP)

As the scale of the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel becomes clearer, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has today travelled to the country to show the UK’s ‘unwavering solidarity’. Meanwhile, King Charles has condemned the ‘barbaric acts of terrorism’ in Israel.

In this powerful piece, former Manchester Evening News picture editor John Jeffay describes the shock and horror experienced by Isrealis following Saturday’s terror attacks.

“I see helicopters flying overhead, I hear missiles in the distance and I see shock on the face of everyone I meet. Israelis live in constant fear of attack, but nobody expected anything on this scale, with many hundreds of civilians – men, women and children – murdered by terrorists (the number is increasing by the hour as more bodies are found), thousands more injured and at least 100 taken hostage in Gaza,” he writes.

John describes dashing to a bomb-proof room after being woken by a siren at 6.30am – and relying on fragments of information gleaned from people on the street. He says everyone knows somebody who was killed or injured.

A friend serving at an army base close to Gaza lost friends when Hamas terrorists stormed the base, killing some and taking others hostage. Another friend saw migrant farm workers from Thailand shot dead at her kibbutz.

“We live in a country that expects trouble,” John writes. “Every home here has a bomb-proof room. Soldiers, police officers and many ordinary citizens openly carry guns. Drive into a car park and you’ll be asked to open your boot, travel by train and you’ll have to put your bag through a metal detector. Missile attacks are a regular fact of life, especially for those living in the south of the country. There are waves of violence, followed by periods of relative calm. But the magnitude of [Saturday’s] attack is unprecedented.”

A hard sell?

Covered in glitter with his sleeves rolled up, Sir Keir Starmer set out his bold vision for Britain at the Labour Party Conference yesterday.

But as politics writer Joseph Timan predicts, his big housing plans will be a hard sell in some parts of Greater Manchester.

Promising to ‘bulldoze’ through the ‘restrictive’ planning system and build 1.5m new homes, the Labour leader said the party plans to build on ‘grey belt’ with ‘disused’ car parks and ‘dreary’ wasteland developed.

(Image: PA)

“There is no doubt that the country is facing a housing crisis,” Jo writes. “In Manchester alone, there are more than 15,000 households waiting for a home while many of those who are better off are struggling to get on the housing ladder.

“Rents are rising and mortgage costs are increasing. Many of those affected will support the move to build more.

“But in some key election battlegrounds which Labour will need to win if it wants to form a government, the ‘big build’ might not be a vote winner. By backing the ‘builders’ and not the ‘blockers’, Labour is making a political bet.

“A controversial masterplan to build 175,000 homes in Greater Manchester over the next 15 years has faced fierce opposition locally. Politicians have struggled to pass the plan which involves developing some green belt land.

In marginal constituencies across the country where a few hundred votes can affect the outcome, controversial developments in the area can be a decisive factor at the ballot box. These seats could swing the general election.”

READ MORE: Five things we learned behind-the-scenes at Labour Party conference

AI traffic lights

In a UK first, Google is using artificial intelligence on Manchester’s traffic light system.

Designed to reduce so-called ‘stop-go’ emissions and improve the flow of traffic across the city, the technology giant launched ‘Project Green Light’ here on Tuesday, alongside Transport for Great Manchester.

Google has found that half of emissions at traffic intersections come from vehicles stopping then starting again. The new initiative uses AI as well as driving trends from Google Maps to model traffic patterns and make recommendations for more efficient traffic light plans.

It’s thought there is a potential for up to 30 per cent reduction in stops and up to 10 per cent reduction in emissions at junctions.

David Atkin, TfGM’s analysis and reporting manager, said: “Our aim is to make the network run as efficiently as possible and we look forward to seeing how we can use what we’ve learnt from this pilot to improve journey times for all road users.”

‘How are they allowing it’

More than a third of private hire taxi drivers in Greater Manchester are licensed by a council that operates 80 miles away in Wolverhampton.

Reporter George Lythgoe collected the figures through Freedom of Information request and discovered 35 per cent of the private hire cabs operating across the city-region are licensed by Wolverhampton Council.

In March it emerged that almost a third of England’s private hire taxi drivers are registered in Wolverhampton. The city has even had to take on 20 new staff to cope with demand.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham recently condemned ‘out of town’ taxi drivers amid claims they were registering elsewhere to avoid meeting local standards. “How are they allowing it, the other authorities, who are 100 or so miles away. How are they not checking up on those taxis and those drivers, but they’re taking in the money for it?” he said on BBC Radio Manchester in August.

Greater Manchester councils require newer vehicles to be used on the roads as well as more advanced background checks, according to Mr Burnham. There is also a concern amongst cabbies that drivers are getting in a taxi without knowing all the rules, prompting questions of safety for passengers.

Greater Manchester sought powers to restrict out of area operation in its Trailblazer negotiations, but did not get agreement from the Government as part of the devolution deal. Transport for Greater Manchester say current legislation means local councils ‘can’t guarantee a high standard from ‘out of area’ drivers and their vehicles’.

What’s the story?

“I am sure that Liam’s dulcet tones will wake up a few early-morning commuters, brighten up many a journey and produce a lot of smiles along the way,” said Andy Burnham, after revealing that Liam Gallagher has voiced a series of Metrolink announcements.

They will be played to passengers on board trams across the network in celebration of the Bee Network and the Beyond the Music festival, which runs this week. You can listen to a sample here.

The Oasis star joins a long list of celebrities who have recorded guest announcements for Metrolink trams, including Olympic legend Sir Mo Farah and Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder.

Material Girl

She’s known for her lavish lifestyle, but I never thought I’d see the day Madonna hired out huge parts of our city just to rehearse in.

But, as What’s On writer Dianne Bourne has discovered, the popstar has in fact booked out the entire AO Arena for top secret rehearsals as she prepares for her eagerly-anticipated Celebration tour – starting in London on Saturday.

She’s also hired the entire five-star Stock Exchange Hotel, on Norfolk Street, in the city centre. Imagine that – Madonna sleeping a stone’s throw from the Arndale.

As Dianne reports, Madonna has been pictured heading to and from the hotel after epic eight-hour rehearsals at the arena.

Singer Madonna seen leaving her Manchester hotel ahead of her UK Tour(Image: AARON PARFITT)

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Weather etc

Thursday: Partly cloudy changing to sunny by late morning. 13C.

Road closures: A5145 Kingsway, Stretford, eastbound closed due to long-term roadworks between A5181 Barton Rd & A56 Chester Rd. Until Aug 31, 2024.

Manchester headlines

  • Patrols: Transport Police will be patrolling train stations across the UK to tackle hate crime amid the ongoing conflict in Israel and the border with Gaza. The high-visibility patrols will be taking place over the coming days across the network to ‘protect communities’ and respond to any hate crime incidents.

  • Denied: A desperate mother-of-two facing eviction was denied access to Salford council’s lettings register on the grounds she was working from home – even though the policy disqualifying her on that basis was not yet active. ‘Ms X’ has had a complaint against Salford town hall upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. They also ruled the authority did not properly consider her request on medical grounds for an additional bedroom. Story here.

  • Dire: Tenants at Lancashire Hill, in Reddish, are living in ‘dire conditions’ according to a councillor who is calling for immediate action to help ‘the forgotten people of Stockport’. Residents say a lack of much-needed repairs is hampering their lives with drug dealing and crime in the vicinity. More here.

  • Cancelled: The organisers of the award-winning Bluedot festival in Cheshire have announced that the 2024 event will not go ahead after extreme weather called off this year’s performances. The festival, which fuses music, science, arts and culture over four days, has confirmed it will take a fallow year in 2024, as it recovers from the impact of the ‘unprecedented amount’ of rain.

Worth a read

“After being released from the high security HMP Garth there was only one place Eric Mason wanted to go,” Damon Wilkinson writes.

“The Hat and Feathers in Ancoats was a long way from the East London of his youth, but for Mason, a feared former associate of the Kray twins, it felt like a second home. On November 17, 2004, Mason walked through the doors of his favourite pub for the first time in three years. Soon, with a gin and tonic in hand, he took his place in the snug and began telling stories in his distinctive Cockney accent.

“But how did one of the most feared men in the underworld of 1960s London end up recounting tales of his criminal past in a back street boozer in Manchester?”

Damon picks up the story here.

Eric Mason sat in the Hat Feathers pub on his release from prison in 2004 and the Kray Twins, with whom he was formerly associated (Image: The Geordie Connection/Mirrorpix)

That’s all for today

Thanks for joining me. If you have stories you would like us to look into, email [email protected].

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