The future for Manchester: investment in housing, offices, culture and heritage



Above: Future Cities Forum panel discussion in the heritage warehouse setting of Science + Industry Museum, with (from left) Sally MacDonald, SIM, Andrew Coles of Aviva Investors, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, John Rhodes of HOK, Trevor Mitchell of Historic England and Clive Anderson of the Government Property Agency.


The first panel discussion at Future Cities Forum's levelling up event in Manchester began with the issue of housing provision for the city and region. Housing has become the number one concern in the levelling up debate for some and Cllr Gavin White, Executive Lead for Housing at Manchester City Council, was asked about whether his plans for housing would ensure they were built with connections for jobs and sustainable high streets.


An important development for the city is the Victoria North project (formerly known as the Northern Gateway project, which will deliver up to 15,000 new homes while rejuvenating disused land over the next 15 years. This project involves the creation of seven new districts, adjacent to the River Irk, and is being designed to level up a traditionally poor area with low educational attainment and employment.


Cllr White answered:


'Levelling up has to be about our local communities. There is a lot of brownfield land in the city that needs use and where we can build sustainable communities. Victoria North is being built on land that has been contaminated for thirty years and now is being cleaned up and housing is being built there. An attractive river runs through it and we are making sure there are a series of parks, new schools, GP services and so on, so that we can be sure we are building communities.'


Far East Consortium (FEC) is the developer behind the scheme and Senior Project Director Tom Fenton, who spoke at the forum said:


'This is a lesson on how traditionally the wealth of the Manchester has always travelled south in the city, and the development has to work for a new populace as well as existing households, who don't feel connected to the centre. We don't want to gentrify because it won't work for these existing inhabitants, but we are trying to provide access to better built housing with improved air quality and we need joined up government investment in infrastructure at the right time.'



Above: Victoria Riverside (CGI from FEC)



In the Collyhurst area of the development, Manchester City Council says it has consulted extensively with local residents and will incorporate a mix of townhouses and low-rise apartments. So why is the council still planning tall tower blocks in the centre of the city, when in some parts of the country and particularly London, high rise living has been seen by some social commentators as a poor choice in the 1960's adding to loneliness and splitting up communities:


'I wouldn't rule out tall tower blocks for housing particularly in the centre and there is evidence that it is not just young people who want it, but families and people over 50 too. It is about delivering on our housing targets but also preserving the green belt for our neighbours. But the tall towers must be close to services.'


He added that there is an awareness that with failing high streets, one method for sustainability is to provide housing near shops:


'It is important that we can get people living in high streets again, making sure that the retail and leisure offer is right. We need good quality high streets in both large areas and smaller districts.


When asked about the council's plans for good transport measures in the face of some rowing back on national HS2 plans, Cllr White commented:


'The council is passionate about delivering services and the UK government also has to deliver. We want an underground station that connects HS2 to the centre of Manchester and we have a big ask on buses too. We want a London-style bus network so that we can bring down fares. We don't want to be continually moaning but want to work together with government so that we can invest for our residents.


'At Wythenshawe, land is being used for the creation of 1500 new homes with connectivity for jobs at the airport and hospital and there is a good high street there. We need to invest in good transport and follow our ambitious plans for the city to be net zero by 2038.'


The Government Property Agency's Director of Capital Projects, Clive Anderson, continued the discussion about the importance of levelling up in bringing more jobs to Manchester. Clive is driving forward the GPA's delivery of Government Hubs and Whitehall Campus Programmes, as well as leading its design standards to deliver smaller, better and greener Public Estate. In November, the GPA announced it was recruiting for more than one hundred roles to support the delivery of its essential role as part of key Government initiatives, such as the Levelling Up agenda and Net Zero initiative:


'Manchester is seen very much as a technology and digital centre by the UK government, Darlington as a centre for financial services and Wrexham for the criminal justice system. The way we do things is to move senior civil servants up to these areas first and then start recruiting locally. Now there is a move to tailor courses at universities to meet graduate demand for those centres.


'We have just announced a new hub centre at First Street in Manchester. We are demolishing the current centre at Piccadilly Manchester, and First Street will have initially 1500 people and grow to two and a half thousand. There is a third and fourth centre to be created within the city and we are working with the council to open up site 3 by 2027. The fourth site will relocate GCHQ as a new cyber security hub.


'In terms of cyber security in the North West, we have always known that we were able to recruit digital people and we feel that Cheltenham isn't the place they want to work. In Manchester, they can look at property exchange, get their children into good schools and we need to increase our cyber security capability.'



Above: view to the cafe and public entrance at the Science + Industry Museum, Liverpool Road, Manchester


Encouraging young people into the new jobs of emerging economies, was a topic that Sally MacDonald, Director of the Science & Industry Museum, Manchester, wanted to expand on in the debate. The Museum occupies a site of global significance as the world's first surviving passenger railway station in Manchester, the world's first industrial city. It has received £2,6 million of funding to transform the Power Hall, improving its energy efficiency and place carbon literacy and zero carbon technology at the heart of the museum's story and visitor experience. Sally questioned:


'How do you encourage young people to aspire to some of the roles out there in a gentle way? As a museum we need to be more upfront about being part of the regeneration of the city and not just being a great visitor centre. We are a STEM ambassador for the city and we want to open up jobs for young people who might not have considered them, and bring schools and teachers along.


'Manchester has its own historic story to tell about its impact on climate, but how do you take that forward? This will happen through the work we are doing in the Power Hall - the original northern powerhouse - where we are currently drilling a 90 meter bore hole, to install ground source heating to power all those machines by green energy. We also need to tell the story about the skills needed for these new industries.'


Sally stressed the importance of the need to be a permeable site:


'Historically we have always been a bounded site but the practical part of our wider role is to be more permeable. We cover six and a half acres in the city centre and have never been a sustainable site. We are glad that levelling up money is going into creating a new tech hub in the Air and Space Hall, so that we can get on with developing some of our own buildings to be more commercial and in turn re-invest in our historic estate. We have had lots of Covid-19 funding and the government has been good with that but our visitor numbers are only back up to 55% and the international visitors have not yet returned. We have a brilliant attraction but we need to be an institution that washes its face.'


Manchester is increasingly becoming known internationally for the high quality of education that the city provides and this is a key component that Andrew Coles, Director, Aviva Investors, says makes the asset management company want to invest in the city:


'The key for us is scale. Manchester is one of the most exciting parts of the country. It's got talent. We invest in real estate but we need people. There are one hundred thousand students in the city and compared to other places, there is a higher percentage that stay on after their courses. The quality of education in the city is very high.


'We invest in tech city offices outside the UK such as Amsterdam but Manchester remains very high in our ranking at around number 25 out of 300 cities for its tech and IT services. It only slightly falls behind in its current connectivity. Employees stay around in UK cities compared to European cities I think because the language is 'sticky' and it is not hard to travel in a small island.



Manchester Goods Yard, Enterprise City, with former Granada Television offices in background


Aviva Investors has funded Manchester Goods Yard which is part of the new St John's district, and which sits next to The Museum of Science & Industry. It is set to become the fulcrum for Enterprise City, a new digital media technology hub which be home to a mix of SME's and multi-corporation technology and creative industry organisations. It has been designed by architects Chapman Taylor with large-format office floorplates which provide adaptable and flexible uses. The design embraces health and wellbeing and elements of biophilia in order to create a vibrant environment for people enjoy. There will be bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, with the aim of creating a vibrant neighbourhood in which to work, shop and relax. MGY will be accredited BREEAM Excellent and uses off-site Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to maximise opportunities to reduce waste, improve quality and minimise its carbon footprint.


Andrew stated:


'At Manchester Goods Yard we are fully let with companies taking space that could be going overseas but want to be here. There is a diverse range of product made up of large and small incubator spaces and when a company wants to expand it can on the same campus, so there is flexibility.


The design quality of offices is important as expectations from customers are enormous and there is a very high quality of work environment here, coupled with F&B and leisure which is available in Enterprise City, and which is first class. Culture is an important component and we know that people even want to come here at weekends. It is important that the development is in the city centre and not on the outskirts, by a motorway.'



Above: Manchester Arena - CGI of new ramp (HOK for ASM Global)


The value of sustainable cultural infrastructure to the life and economic wellbeing of cities has been discussed in depth at Future Cities Forum and sports facilities have been an important part of this. Manchester Arena is a focal part of the city and architects HOK are re-furbishing and extending it. John Rhodes, Design Principal in HOK's London office is a director of the Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice and is helping spur urban regeneration and economic development in communities.


John explained:


'The arena is 25 years old and this is the right time for refurbishment. Its location in city centre is good particularly as the high street is a challenge. In retail, the big anchors aren't there anymore, so the arena is a place that can drive footfall seven days a week and that is significant. It benefits from good transport and a loyal community. Arenas as proving to be excellent anchors in cities and we have been asked to create new arenas around the world.


'Arena design can drive a distinctive city brand. They are emotional places, where you might remember meeting your future partner for instance. It is in the experience of buildings where you create place. In the stadium that we are designing in Atlanta, a rap artist has his own space. He has become the central character of the building. We need to embrace the environment of the arena in Manchester to help define that place. The lightbulb was actually invented in Gateshead and we need to take these things, embrace them and make them relevant in our modern culture and use it to create content.


'Public realm is fundamental - it lasts longer than individual stadiums - it will be there for hundreds of years and you have to make sure they have the right character with active edges. The challenge is with capacity when you have peak flows and again how the space are working when they are not being used so much - it is an art.'



Above: the rotunda of Manchester Central Library with Manchester Town Hall behind which is currently being restored with investment in improving the new public realm.



Head of Region for Historic England, Trevor Mitchell, added to the discussion by asking whether current investment is enough to protect areas around key projects in the city. He talked about a level of decay around particular buildings that require attention:


'We aren't losing lots of our historic environment, we are just slowly watching it decay. We have talked about anchor institutions and I am concerned that while we invest money in new facilities, everything else is left to fend for itself, which it won't. If a site can be bought and the square mile around it, then we would be in business and I don't think there is enough attention for curating places in cities. Every building in a city is more exciting than a new building or a refurb.


'I think we need to find the sweet spot between saving the old and creating the new. We need to capture the carbon benefit of old buildings but we need a scale of investment to make that happen and I don't think we are operating at a sufficient level of investment.


'We have to remember that people care about the streets they grew up in and the buildings they worked in. We ignore that at our peril, that sense of belonging and pride. This is about feeling that you belong in a certain place or city and that is timeless.'


Despite this, Historic England says good progress towards rescue and removal from the Heritage at Risk Register has taken place in the North West and includes Rochdale Town Centre Conservation Area, Tyldesley Town Centre Conservation Area and Warwick Bridge Corn Mill.


Rochdale's town centre conservation area was added to the Register in 2013 after suffering many years of a lack of maintenance, loss of historical details, and a high number of vacant buildings. Historic England, Rochdale Council and other local partners set up a Heritage Action Zone in 2018 to provide grants for repairs to buildings, encourage economic regeneration and re-engage residents, businesses and visitors. Rochdale was a textile boom town during the Industrial Revolution, and from its many mills sprang the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, regarded as the founders of the world-renowned co-operative movement.


This heritage is now being harnessed to help regenerate the town centre and a new Co-operative Enterprise Hub has opened in a prominent but previously vacant building. The curved terrace of shops on the corner of South Parade and Drake Street is a distinctive feature of the route from Rochdale's train station. Rochdale Council is undertaking further work with building owners to find new uses for vacant buildings.


Tyldesley is located in the borough of Wigan, twelve miles from Manchester and grew into a colliery town during the Industrial Revolution. The High Street Heritage Action Zone project is repairing buildings, restoring historic features and encouraging economic regeneration.


Warwick Bridge Corn Mill has been on the Heritage at Risk Register for more than 20 years. Historic England and the Architectural Heritage Fund funded an options appraisal for re-use of the mill and recently Historic England provided a grant of £185,000 for repairs to the roofs of the drying kiln and granary. A wider repair project of £2 million was completed in 2019 and the milling of flour is now taking place once again,










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