Month in property | August
Summer has certainly not been the silly season for the North West property scene, as August yielded some of the biggest stories of the year and the highest readership figures. A contractor collapse, Liverpool’s long-awaited office boom, and a surge of towers in Salford, all featured.
Take it on the ‘chin
The month kicked off with the sad collapse of one of the region’s oldest and well-liked contractor developers, Pochin’s. Still family run since its founding in the 1930s, the Middlewich-based company was best known for big sheds and offices in the Cheshire area, and potentially came unstuck after getting involved in the tricky Manchester apartment block market. Tight margins, rising costs, and an unfortunate architect/client dispute are understood to have contributed to the demise, however the upcoming administrator’s report from Grant Thornton should shed more light on the matter.
HS2, déjà vu?
Another month, another chance for Transport for the North to attempt to lean on Government to ease the North’s transport woes. Bids went in for chunks of a £700m roads pot, for schemes in Cumbria, Wigan, Cheadle and Liverpool, just as the latest IPPR report revealed the North West continued to lag behind London by £1,500 a head when it comes to transport investment (if you include the business rates Transport for London gets to keep, which we do). Have no fear, perhaps £80bn is about to become available, now the Prime Minister has promised a “rigorous review” into HS2, although the high speed rail line being at risk hasn’t stopped Manchester City Council and HS2 arguing over technicalities to do with its design. Is the future of the Lazy S in doubt? Watch this space…
Race to the top
Remember the days when we thought 47 storeys was tall? Remember getting off at G-Mex and looking at the Beetham, thinking about how massive it was? It all seems like a very long time ago, not least with towers of height popping up everywhere, now particularly around the Quays. This month saw developers Royalton and Frogmore go big at Pier 7, now named Cotton Quays, drafting a team of three architects to draw up a 1,400-home, three-hotel masterplan for the site, with its tallest tower topping out at 47 storeys – the same height as the Beetham. Before you balk at the scale of the site, at a consultation this week, the developer seemed to be brimming with confidence: deliverability was the word of the day, with getting the site built out sounding much more like reality than a pipe dream. We can’t fault the ambition and it’s a site that’s long been in need of regeneration: one to keep our eyes on ahead of the planning application in November.
All systems go in Liverpool with a flurry of activity around the city’s office market. Concerns over a lack of available space and large requirements have been doing the rounds for the majority of this year but with a major deal at Echo Place, with Sony Interactive taking 65,000 sq ft; word of Rathbone’s being on the hunt for up to 100,000 sq ft of new-build space; and a deal with Leonardo Hotels concluding at Pall Mall, it’s been a positive summer for the city. And that’s even without mentioning the sale of the 360,000 sq ft Exchange Flags for £68m, another tidy profit for Shelborn Asset Management. It’s quite a stark contrast to the start of the year and if more deals can be done to kick-start schemes like Pall Mall – which could well be getting under way regardless of whether it has a pre-let or not – and offices at Liverpool Waters, it could shape up to be a record year for the city centre.
Bruntwood broke with tradition this month and made a major foray into retail, teaming up with Trafford Council to buy Altrincham’s Stamford Quarter. In a move broadly welcomed by the local community, the buy means the council now controls most of Altrincham’s retail core, having also bought the Grafton Centre at the other end of town last year. It looks like a shrewd move: investing in another part of the town centre that needs a bit of TLC was always on the cards, but this way, the council can guide it properly with a developer that knows what it’s doing, rather than the piecemeal approach – to put it generously – that the site’s previous leaseholder had put forward. Doing something decent with Clarendon House should be the priority: right now it’s rather too ugly to act as a proper gateway to the town centre. Time for the partners to get their thinking caps on.