Jonathan Schofield on recent property stories including interesting stats and lovely ceilings

A monthly look at some of the stories that caught our eye in the property world with a focus on an annual and important survey of the Manchester scene.

Manchester Development Leader
Manchester and Salford centres still top the provinces in terms of property development Image: Confidentials

Manchester and Salford top for development outside London

If you like your stats then the annual “Crane Survey” from professional services company Deloitte is always food for thought. The latest one looking back at 2021 shows outside London (always outside London, eh?) Manchester and Salford city centres remain the high-achievers in terms of development. But only just. There were 25 new starts in 2021 made up of 14 residential, five offices, one student housing, two hotels, two retail/leisure, one education. That upstart Leeds was not far behind with 22 new starts made up of ten residential, five offices, six student housing, one hotel, zero retail/leisure, zero education. Birmingham had 18 new starts and Belfast just seven among the comparison cities chosen by Deloitte. 

Viadux And Other Apartments To Soon Climb Next To Axis
Axis Tower standing alone against the dawn here will soon have three residential towers around it Image: Confidentials

Towers, townhouses and flats momentum 'cooling'

As the Deloitte report says: “In 2021, 14 new residential developments started on-site, bringing forward the construction of 3,729 new homes. This represents a reduction compared to 2020 when 16 new schemes commenced to bring forward 4,698 new homes. Overall, the number of new homes under construction at year end 2021 was 10,717 across 40 sites, a reduction of 14% in comparison with the 12,322 units across 46 sites at year end 2020. Whilst still achieving robust build-out rates for new residential developments, these figures suggest that the residential market is gradually cooling.” 

Elizabeth Tower Interior
People want to occupy the city centre flats stats say Image: Elizabeth House publicity

Vacant flats in the city centre in low numbers

What is interesting is the rental levels in terms of numbers with vacancy rates very low, empty property exemptions from rates are about 1% in the city centre. It’s commonplace for some people to declare many of the new flats being built especially those in towers are empty. This suggests they are very wrong. Vacancy rates based on property exemptions don’t always mean people are living in the flats but they indicate the vast majority are occupied. People who live in the city centre can anecdotally see this for themselves with a nighttime stroll around a city illuminated with lights on in flats.

The Empty Brownfield Sites North Of Victoria Station
The empty brownfield sites north of Victoria Station: a change of housing emphasis? Image: Confidentials

A residential change in direction

A last couple of points from the report which make for interesting reading. The report states: “We would expect growth in rented residential to continue over the coming years (but) recent planning applications from registered providers of affordable housing mark a steep change in activity. Affordable housing is to be delivered by Section 106, new development models and government funding through Homes England, which is unlocking development on brownfield sites. Manchester City Council has also recently approved a further £33m of additional spending by the Council on affordable homes through 'This City', set up to deliver 500 affordable homes a year.” 

For campaigners who have preached the cause of affordable housing for years, this might be welcome news although the scale of development, and how affordable these homes might turn out to be, will remain a bone of contention. 

New Public Spaces Manchester 1
Symphony Park at Circle Square, one of the new green spaces in the city centre Image: Confidentials

Green, green and away we play

As we pointed out in our recent article in terms of new public squares and green spaces, Manchester and Salford city centres are getting rapidly better. The Crane Survey puts this down to population growth and growing demand for areas for public recreation. The biggest boost here will be the 6.5 acre opening of Manchester city centre’s first public park of any size at Mayfield hopefully by autumn of this year.

Versa Studios To Open In The Abc Building
Versa Studios will share space with the Everyman Cinema in the ABC Building Image: Confidentials

TV and film studios return to Granada-land

Versa Studios has opened in the ABC Building which hosts the Everyman Cinema, a hop, a skip and a jump from the former Granada Studios on Quay Street. This is apt as Versa is bringing a new TV and film production facility to Manchester. It's getting off to a good start as it will host "Morning Live" BBC One’s daily daytime magazine pitting guests against each other talking about the issues of the day. The show is relocating from the capital. The vision from Charlie Ingall, the executive director of Versa, is for three state-of-the-art TV broadcasting studios followed by a further ten by mid-2023. Total take-up in the building will be 55,000 sq ft. ABC Building is part of the Allied London estate in Spinningfields and Enterprise City. If you've never heard of the latter it's the marketing name for the Allied London buildings south of Quay Street clustering around The Factory arts centre which should open at the end of this year after huge delays. The chairman, CEO, and founder of Allied London Group is Michael Ingall. Charlie Ingall is his son. 

Superb Roof At Hello Oriental 1
Woodwork that's exhilerating at Hello Oriental, Symphony Park Image: Confidentials

Lush underground woodwork by Bowker Sadler at Circle Square  

This is good, very good. In one of the larger new green spaces, the one pictured in the above story, Hello Oriental has arrived. The space is the one with the ramps at the Circle Square development and is called Symphony Park. There’s a coffee shop, with pastries at ground level, one floor down a cafe, and on the lower basement floor two storeys down, a Vietnamese restaurant and a Hello Oriental supermarket. The eye-catcher is the fabulous ceiling designed by Bowker Sadler Architecture. Here a sinuous and sensual fall of wood links the upper floors with the lower floors. It’s almost liquid. It’s worth a look. 

Changes At The Pavilion Picc Gardens
Changes at the Pavilion, Piccadilly Gardens, to make two of the buggers Image: Space Invader

Piccadilly Gardens goes to the wall

The famous non-demolition of nowt but a small piece of the stained concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens was a non-story of 2020 as we revealed. Now the lead developer Legal & General with architect Space Invader wants to give a lift to the side of the wall facing the Metrolink Station. The heavy lifting will involve the removal of the roof connecting the two "pavilions" in the centre of the wall to create two separate blocks. This would lighten the structure. Light shows and art installations would then play across the remaining portions. The roof removal is probably aimed at reducing anti-social behaviour more than anything else. Given how grim and dated the whole wall feature is from Tadao Ando let’s hope this helps the appearance of the area, although, to be crude how does that expression go about polishing a turd? 

Singing Beetham In Mcr
It's the Beetham show, all together now MMMMMMMmmmmmmmMMMMMMMmmMM Image: Confidentials

So why does Beetham Tower hum? 

The Beetham Tower buzz has been a Mancunian feature of the recent storms but why? Simple. It's because the 554ft (169m) building, completed in 2006, is full of design faults. The crowning fin, composed of a steel frame and lots of glass panels, causes the noise - which was never intended. This is both a lightning conductor and a bit of fancy to balance the cantilever lower down where Cloud 23, the hotel bar, is located.

There are a lot of Cox in the region's universities and one of them has a deeper explanation. The most famous Cox is broadcaster physicist Brian of the University of Manchester, but at the University of Salford there's Trevor Cox who knows a thing or two about acoustics.

He said back in 2020: "When you blow across the top of a beer bottle, the air moving across the edge creates a sound. The same thing is happening with Beetham Tower, air moving across the edge of the fin on the top of the building creates sound. The air movement then excites a resonance, probably of the air gaps between the (glass panels), but the panels might also be flexing. The latticework on top of the building has the panels all spaced the same distance apart, and the resonance at 240Hz is caused by this periodicity. (The note) is about B below middle C for those who want to play along."

This was useful information. The other night a friend used Beetham to tune his guitar.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield

Read next: Affleck’s celebrates 40 years with open portrait exhibition

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