Aiming high – Henley’s bid to put Salford on the map
Change can be scary, so when Henley Investments proposed building the tallest tower in the UK outside London as part of a 3,200-home redevelopment of Regent Retail Park, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
Despite the huge changes being proposed to this chunk of Salford, Warwick Hunter, managing director of development at Henley, is determined that Regent Park will be just as much for existing residents as the new arrivals who will call it home.
“It will be a district centre that Salford [can be] proud of that has a real sense of community and a sense of place and is completely part of the Ordsall fabric,” he told Place North West.
Henley acquired the site for £16m from M&G in late 2020 when the country was still in the grip of the Covid pandemic. It was a time of opportunity for those with a long-term view.
“Given where we were with Covid, we just felt this site was able to take regeneration,” Hunter said.
“The changing pattern of retail dictates that this is a very underutilised brownfield site that is strategically important for Salford.”
The site’s location on the border of the bustling, booming cities of Manchester and Salford makes it the perfect location for height, according to the scheme’s architect Matt Brook. Brook says the site provides an opportunity to put Salford on the map.
The most eye-catching part of the proposals is undoubtedly the vision for a 241.5-metre tower, one of 10 residential buildings proposed.
The skyscraper, reaching upwards of 70 storeys – would be the tallest in the UK outside of London, overtaking anything built or proposed by Manchester’s incumbent tall building specialists Renaker.
Brook is keen to stress it is not height for height’s sake.
“It will be the tallest building in Greater Manchester but [the height] is more derived from a placemaking strategy and how you mark Salford and that sense of arrival,” Brook said.
At the moment, there is no statement building to tell you you’re in Salford, he explains.
If you’re heading into the city from the long straight drag of the M602, you will see plenty of tall buildings – Deansgate Square, Beetham Tower, and, in the not-too-distant-future, Renaker’s Trinity Islands – but they are all in Manchester.
“We do hope [Regent Park] will be a real source of pride for Salford,” Brook said.
“It is quite a unique arrangement, where you’re going to get a really good dialogue between Manchester and Salford and those twin cities very visibly coming together either side of the river.”
Not all about height
Density is also important. Brook believes that Regent Park can be a shining example of the kind of high-quality, high-density development that does not currently exist in the city.
“Some of the very high-density schemes in the city region are reasonably monoculture,” he said.
“I think we’ve demonstrated over the last few years that people want to live in our cities again, which is fantastic, and we can deliver density [but] I think you’ve still got to demonstrate we can deliver that in a really liveable way.”
One way to do that is to activate the ground floors and pay attention to how buildings, tall as they are, meet the earth.
“The biggest impact [of tall budlings] really is on those lower levels and how we create human scale and how they sit properly,” Brook said.
Activating ground floors is a fairly standard practice in residential development, but not every developer does it and not everyone that does, does it well.
At Regent Park, a strategically significant site with the ability to knit together new and existing communities, getting this element of the proposals right is an absolute must.
After the first round of consultation on the scheme, there was a backlash from existing Ordsall residents about the loss of the current retail provision at the shopping complex.
Henley wants to knock down the existing 116,000 sq ft of big box retail. However, the developer says the plan is to re-provide much of what will be lost as part of the site’s regeneration.
More than 100,000 sq ft of flexible commercial and community space is proposed and talks with existing occupiers, which include TX Maxx and Boots, are ongoing, according to Hunter.
“What we’ve worked hard on over the last three months is to look at re-providing big boxes,” he said.
“We will look at adding to that in terms of doctors surgeries and community centres, which then actually provides a really nice active frontage and environment on the ground floor”.
Good quality, useable space between buildings is equally as important as active ground floors, if not more so.
“For the development to be successful, the public realm has got to work really well. It’s about creating a sticky community,” Hunter added.
At 3.5 acres, the public green space Henley is proposing as part of Regent Park is not as big as the much-lauded Mayfield over the border in Manchester, but could have a similar impact.
The park would provide residents, both of and outside the development, with a place to relax, and hang out, as well as providing the kind of injection of green space there is often such clamour for.
It would promote porosity and permeability and act as a thriving thoroughfare for this growing area, according to Mark Graham, director of LDA Design.
“It’s such a strategically important site and sits in the heart of lots of existing and future movements,” said Graham, who is leading on the ambitious landscape proposals.
“How we get movement through that space, both in terms of people living there, but also people from Ordsall and Middlewood Locks, has been a real driver.”
An outline planning application for the 3,200-home reimagining of the ageing retail park could be lodged this autumn – but first there will be a second round of public consultation, which has launched today.
Liaising with local residents has become a crucial part of the development process, particularly for large schemes. If you do not take the local community on a journey with you, they will feel as if the proposals are being forced upon them, which creates headaches.
Drastic change needs to be couched carefully, there needs to be buy-in from residents. It is a delicate process and one that takes time, something Henley is glad to have plenty of with this project.
The first retail leases at Regent Retail Park do not expire until 2027, which means work on the site’s redevelopment might not begin for another three years.
“I’ve been involved in projects where you have got an absolute milestone in 12 or 18 months’ time and you just have to crack on at pace,” Hunter said.
“To have the luxury of time to meaningfully consult [means that] by the time we get to 2027, we know that we’ve got the right scheme that the community supports. It’s quite rare.”
It will be impossible for Henley to convince everyone that this scheme is a good thing for Salford. It may not even convince a majority, no matter how much time the developer has to consult.
However, while the populations of Manchester and Salford are growing at a ferocious rate, big-box retail is going the other way. Those that Henley fails to win over are likely to be left disappointed, drowned out by the tides of change.