Jonathan Schofield focuses on some property-related stories over the last month

An opinionated monthly look at some of the stories that caught our eye in the property world including goings-on at Piccadilly Gardens, Stockport and Buile Hill.

21 March Piccadilly Proposals In The Sixties
All change again at Piccadilly Gardens: this was how the early 1960s saw it Image: Confidentials

Six design teams shortlisted for Piccadilly Gardens

Manchester City Council has shortlisted six design teams for the next stage of an international design competition to create a "world-class space" in the area centred around Piccadilly Gardens. These are Fira Landscape Ltd, LDA Design, Ove Arup and Partners, PLANit-IE Ltd, Studio Egret West Ltd, West 8. Apparently, the teams will now have until autumn to bring forward their design proposals. The successful design team will be appointed in 2023 to further develop the design with the Council ahead of the appointment of a contractor to carry out the work. The 10-acre site covered by the competition also includes Mosley Street, Parker Street, the section of Portland Street which runs alongside Piccadilly Gardens and the section of Piccadilly which borders the Gardens. 

The problem is that the council is keeping the notion of the “Gardens” when as we have written ad nauseum on these pages there is no other major city in Europe with a main square pretending to be a garden. Presently the gardens are being returfed for, what, the twentieth time? Surely that’s a waste of money? St Peter’s Square perhaps should be the model for Piccadilly: hard surfacing, seating and trees for greenery. Instead, the design brief mentions the need to “retain a green space” in the centre of the city. There are other locations that can perform that function. Gripes aside, elements we can all agree on include “a strong sense of identity and allowing for the flexible hosting of events” including “space where children can play”.

Buile Hill Mansion In Salford
Buile Hill mansion in Salford set for full refurbishment by 2024 Image: Confidentials

Buile Hill mansion with Section 106 booster

In the manic and exciting whirligig of development in Manchester and Salford, it’s necessary to hold on to the good things. Councils must lead from the front, especially with their own estate. They have failed miserably with this in recent decades, investment being piecemeal not general so it is very welcome news money is being made available for Buile Hill mansion in Buile Hill Park in Salford.

This historically important house has been treated abysmally by Salford council. Now it’s getting £270k from Section 106 contributions – which are made from developers to mitigate the impact of their development on local communities. Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett has made a commitment to bring the mansion back into sustainable use sometime in 2024, with a café bar, function room, community meeting room and public toilets on the ground floor and the ability to host civil wedding ceremonies along with the registration of births, deaths and marriages on the upper two floors. Dennett says: “The project to restore Buile Hill Mansion continues and this extra funding will go towards bringing it back to sustainable use. Overall the project is expected to cost over £5.5million.” Dennett has proved himself a man of his word over such things so this is good news.

Let’s hope money can be found for the park that wraps around the mansion too. First up, fell some of the self-seeded trees which have been allowed to limit the excellent views south. 

21 March 2022 Apex Tower Mural Arrowsmith Planning Docs
"Hey, team, do you think this mural will swing it at planning?" Apex Tower proposal, Manchester Image: Planning documents
Britons Protection Tower Proposal In Manchester 1
Apex Tower looking ridiculous in this location Image: Planning documents

Application lodged for the 'you cannot be serious' tower

Maybe the mural will swing it. The utterly ridiculous 27-storey building proposed for a postage stamp site next to the ever-popular 210-year-old Britons Protection pub is now before planning. Arrowsmith Investment has lodged a planning application for the Leach, Rhodes, Walker designed Apex Tower, having tweaked some minor details but added what they clearly think is a cleverly persuasive idea on the smaller eastern part of their development. Thus, looking over the pub's beer garden will be a large mural depicting events in 1819 at the Peterloo Massacre. That should swing it, eh? Playing the heritage card in this way seems more cynical than clever. The CGI on the planning documents also appears to show the beer garden in the sun which is odd as the proposed tower next door will block out any chance of sunshine – despite what the developer says. If this passes in its present form Manchester Planning will need its head examined. Nobody could ever fall for the developer's line that it complements its old neighbour. This is developer opportunism at its worst.

21 March Tom Bloxham Taking Guests Around Manchester In 2021
Tom Bloxham, in the hat, taking people on a tour of Urban Splash projects in 2021 Image: Confidentials

'Designed by accountants not architects'

There were some typically forthright words from Urban Splash developer Tom Bloxham at the industry beanfeast MIPIM in the south of France last week. Showing a Cannes-do (so to speak) in an interview with Place North West, Bloxham said it appeared that several new schemes seemed to be “designed by accountants rather than architects” - he wasn't but he could have been talking about Apex Tower in the story above. His main thrust was he’d like to see city centre apartments with larger floorplates to attract a more diverse range of buyers and renters. He’s quoted as saying: “The majority of (residents) are young singles and cities are much richer when they have kids and elderly people.” He goes on to say “a real gap in the market is people on low wages, the people who keep Manchester running night and day.” He said, in future, he’ll be targeting 30% provision of affordable homes within Urban Splash developments. A problem here is the mutable nature of the definition of "affordable housing". 

21 March Cliched Picture In Stockport
The interchange diggers of Stockport including Andy Burnham and Cllr Elise Wilson Image: Stockport council

Digging Stockport’s future

Cliched picture of the month award goes to the official picture of Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, the Leader of Stockport Council, Councillor Elise Wilson, and others, officially marking the start of work on the new Stockport Interchange mixed-use development. There they all are in hi-viz and helmets pretending to cut the ground with the spades they were handed a minute before. It's a local newspaper classic capture. Still, the intent behind this is excellent as the pace of change in one of Greater Manchester’s major centres picks up pace. 

The scheme is part of a new state-of-the-art transport interchange with a two-acre town centre park and 196 residential apartments. Due to open in Spring 2024, a striking feature of the new transport interchange will be the two-acre rooftop park which will improve recreation opportunities in the town centre and create more green space for everyone to enjoy. As part of the wider Bee Network vision, there will also be new cycling and walking routes connecting to the train station, as well as to the Trans Pennine Trail and town centre. £1bn of investment is coming into central Stockport, which with its uphill down dale town centre has such potential appeal as a trading, residential and visitor destination.

Hough End 1
Hough End leisure facilities set for a boost in south Manchester Image: Manchester city council

Hough End-game plans

Anybody who’s coached a team or played at Hough End in south Manchester will be grateful for any improvements to the tired site. Revised plans for the huge 35-hectare expanse include a two-storey extension to the existing Hough End Centre which will accommodate changing facilities, a community room, education space, cafe facilities and a health and fitness space to service sport and leisure users on site. Outside two 3G artificial football turf pitches will be created and there will be improvements to the grass playing fields. New car parking will include new cycle parking and electric parking provision to enhance sustainable travel to the site. Alongside this, plans are in place for highways improvements to neighbouring roads. Flying the flag for sustainability will be a first for artificial pitches featuring a Cork Infill 3G Facility. This will become a testbed for future investment into 3G facilities. As a natural product, "granulated cork is a renewable raw material derived from the bark of cork oak from sustainably managed sources". Although preventing the howling winter gales laden with hail hurtling through the flat open site will probably prove impossible.

Piccadilly East Manchester
Ferrous development approved at Piccadilly East Image: Capital & Centric

Go ahead for £28m Piccadilly East plans

Approval has been granted for Capital & Centric’s £28m Ferrous plans. These will feature 107 design-led, rental apartments on Chapeltown Street between Manchester Piccadilly station and Great Ancoats Street. Capital & Centric has form in the area with the Crusader Mill restoration and new building Phoenix. They are at work around the corner on the racy Jenga-like Leonardo Hotel too. Ferrous will be 15 storeys tall and include a rooftop residents’ garden, two café-bars and pockets parks on the ground floor plus The Cabin, a new space for pop-up events. It’s gratifying to see parts of the city centre that were simply scruffy approach routes to core areas becoming dynamic areas in which to live. 

Read next: Sneak peek at The Beeswing Kampus - but it needs your help

Read again: 'Glamour and grit', Nick Jones on Soho House Manchester

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