Month in property | September
September was the month the Bruntwood-Trafford Council property-buying-beast really burst onto the scene. Not content with putting its name forward for Altrincham’s Stamford Quarter last month, the partners confirmed they were in negotiations to buy Stretford Mall, too, as well as putting out the feelers for up to 750 homes and 200,000 sq ft of offices on the former Kellogg’s site, again in a joint venture. Dissecting the many LLPs and SPVs the partners have set up may take some time, but what’s for certain is that positive and proactive intervention in all three places is needed: Stretford Mall is on the up but needs some love; the Stamford Quarter is the one end of Altrincham town centre that really could do with some work; and the Kellogg’s site needs some backing to ride the crest of the UA92 wave. The latter gives the partners the most to play with so can really give an opportunity to do something special. Once the deals conclude, we should know more, but for now the cap should be doffed towards the partners for getting things done.
The wait is over
Sticking with Trafford, there’s no need to pinch yourself: Altrincham’s Altair really has started. One of the longest-running property sagas in Greater Manchester looks to be reaching its conclusion with the first phase now on site, with a change of contractor and a long-running rigmarole with Network Rail and road closures now concluded. A redevelopment of the site has been on the cards for decades, and Nikal has owned it for around 10 years, so it’s good to see work finally starting on the first phase, a 59-apartment block on Bridge Street and next to the ice rink. It’s not all that rosy though: despite the apartments being advertised rather prominently for knocking on three years – or more – not all of them are sold yet, and you’d expect apartments of that ilk in a place like Alty to go like hot cakes. And as much as it’d be great to see the second phase, including 96,000 sq ft of retail, restaurants, offices, and apartments coming forward, it may be that particular ship, at least in its current form, has sailed.
Refurbishing listed buildings is undoubtedly a challenge, and particularly so when you’re turning one into swanky offices for the Government. Not all of us were surprised, then, when news broke this month that Styles & Wood had its contract terminated at Liverpool’s India Buildings, where it was fitting out a 270,000 sq ft office for HMRC at the grade two-listed block. There had been a series of delays including the discovery of what the contractor said were “large volumes of asbestos” – if reports are to be believed, that’s putting it lightly – as well as ceiling additions that needed specialist planning permission. It’s the second contract that Styles & Wood has been kicked off in as many months, following its exit from Hyphen in Manchester, but the good news is that no time has been wasted in finding a replacement: Caddick stepped in by the end of the month to finish the job. Still, a word of warning for those with an eye on a major refurb of listed properties: it’s never as easy as it looks.
The search for a development partner to deliver the 240-acre Salford Crescent masterplan narrowed to four parties; the unexpected partnership Bruntwood with Capital & Centric; Peel with Urban Splash; English Cities Fund, made up of Muse Developments, L&G and Homes England; and Robertson have been shortlisted, with the preferred development partner due to be selected in December. Meanwhile, bids also opened for development partners for the University of Manchester’s £2bn ID Manchester (the UMIST campus to you and me). Naturally, Bruntwood’s hat is understood to already be in the ring, alongside BCEGI, and Patrizia. One wonders if Bruntwood’s involvement in one would preclude its winning of the other; however it does seem to have the education-led, life science, flexible workspace market tied up. Both ones to watch.
The much-contested BT requirement had landed; according to well-informed rumours, the telecoms giant has informed English Cities Fund it will eb taking 200,000 sq ft on the last available plot at New Bailey. Bruntwood SciTech’s Circle Square was knocked out of the running in July, running but was dropped from the competition in July, leaving Ask Real Estate as the other competitor with a proposal at First Street which saw the developer overhaul a previously-consented office in order to deliver larger, 30,000 sq ft floorplates, to suit BT’s requirements. Unfortunately these efforts were not enough and BT still went for New Bailey; there’s no pleasing some people. Ask will still be delivering the office in its new form, plus a further 600,000 sq ft on the site currently occupied by Premier Inn, so is still set to be a success with other large requirements circling the market. Could Ask wrest Barclays from Mayfield?
And another thing
More news broke this month regarding a delay to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, what is supposed to be the 20-year development blueprint for the borough. The latest delay rules out any final form of the framework coming forward before next year’s Mayoral elections, taking place in May 2020; as the promise of a rewrite was one of Mayor Andy Burnham’s key election promises in 2017, and as there’s no final form of the document in site, as spats continue with the Government over exactly what kind of statutory document the plan will be, it’s fair to expect there will be some challenging questions to Burnham as he runs his next campaign as to exactly how good he is on delivering on promises. Someone should have warned him town planning is actually quite complicated.