Central Retail Park Masterplan
The former retail park is earmarked for redevelopment into 10 blocks, with 1m sq ft of offices

Clamour for green space at Central Retail Park 

Dan Whelan

A consultation on the development framework for the 10.5-acre plot on the edge of Ancoats and New Islington has shown clear desire for a public park, but the council said it has no plans to incorporate one into its vision for the site.

A perceived lack of green space in Manchester City Council’s proposals for the site was one of the key concerns voiced by members of the public in a consultation staged by Piccadilly Ward councillors in parallel to a council-run consultation.  

Collating responses from 245 residents, the ward consultation found that 99% of respondents thought the redevelopment of Central Retail Park, which the council bought in 2017, should include public green space. 

The proposed framework sets out the city council’s vision for an “exemplary net zero carbon commercial district” in featuring 1m sq ft of office space that could house up to 10,000 jobs, but no new park is included in the proposals. 

However, the council instead intends to revamp Cotton Field Park, located between the retail park and New Islington marina, next to the site on the edge of Manchester city centre, as part of the redevelopment. 

Manchester City Council cited the public park that is being built as part of the £1bn Mayfield development near Piccadilly station as evidence of its commitment to providing green space in the city centre. 

Mayfield is being delivered by a consortium comprising developer U+I, Government-owned railway land developer LCR, Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester.

Central Retail Park 2

Under the proposals, Cotton Field Park would be improved

“The council is acutely aware of the importance of public spaces…however, we should also be cognisant of the importance of our economic recovery and the vital role developments such as the former Central Retail Park will play in bringing jobs and growth to the city,” a Manchester City Council report said. 

During the council-run consultation, respondents raised questions about the state of the office market in relation to the impact of Covid-19, which has seen a large proportion of the city’s workers encouraged to work from home. 

Housing association Northwards Housing questioned whether the demand for office space apparent before the pandemic would endure in the coming years and recommended that the amount of office space proposed could be scaled back in favour of more affordable homes. 

Under the current framework, land next to Butler Street, land next to Downley Drive and the former Ancoats Dispensary building, are all earmarked for up to 145 affordable homes. 

Central Retail Park Manchester 1

The council bought CRP in 2017

Manchester City Council said: “The impacts of Covid-19 are being closely monitored. The growth of the city centre will be important to the economic recovery of the city following the pandemic. 

“Although there may be a short-term slowdown in demand and delivery [of offices], it is expected, based on indications from property agents, that growth will resume in the medium-long term.” 

As well as offices and residential, the framework also provides scope for a hotel. 

In total, the framework, drawn up for the council by architect Bennetts Associates, engineer Buro Happold, cost consultant Faithful+Gould and landscape architect Exterior Architecture, proposes the construction of 10 blocks, the majority of which are earmarked for offices with floorplates ranging from 15,700 sq ft to 27,000 sq ft.  

Of the eight office blocks, five have been earmarked for a pre-let to a commercial occupier. 

There is also “potential for a building of significant height to form a ‘set piece’ with the Oxygen Tower at the junction of Old Mill and Great Ancoats Street”, according to the masterplan. 

The tower would reach 30 storeys, mirroring Property Alliance Group’s Oxygen Tower opposite, which is planned to reach 32 storeys. 

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There is no doubt that the growth of the city centre will be important to the economic recovery of the city following the pandemic however it’s surely far too early to tell what that might be?
If we were to rush ahead based on what we know now, there is a far reduced demand for in-city working, less need for office or commercial space, more need for family housing with functional outside space and a huge need for useful public outside space. The current plan makes concessions to none of these. Mayfield Depot is almost a mile from this site on foot, its presence is therefore not relevant as an excuse for overdeveloping this site. Cottonfield Park is a tiny neighborhood site now and the proposed small extension of it is both concrete-filled and underwhelming.
They are correct this is a truly landmark opportunity but much of the plan harks back to a pre-Covid world we won’t be fast returning to. Development of this site has been in the pipeline for 10+ years, why the rush? Making it all park is unrealistic but, for example, Oxygen is HUGE – will they even fill it? Does it really need a ‘set piece’? Do we really envisage 10k working in this tight space? Every one of them able-bodied so none of them will need car parking?
The proposal was nicely presented but not thoughtful. I am sure MCC will push it through regardless.

By Becky in Ancoats

It really wouldn’t be asking a lot to lose just one building and offset the square footage into the adjacent buildings to give a little open space for the end users (especially given that the neighbouring green space nearby at Islington tram stop is soon set to disappear too).

By SF85UK

Think it might be time for Labour to lose a few seats in Manchester next May

By Anonymous

Looks like plenty plenty of green space there, it would be an awful place for an actual park

By Dan

A victory for the anti car nazis.

By Anonymous

@Dan – totally agree. Completely the wrong place for a park.

By Steve

MCC are already building on a protected green space with protected covenants at the Manox site up the road. Imagine if Manchester City Council tried to listen to the people for once.

By Imagine democracy

MCC’s strategy (as stated in their own material) is to hold the current ratio of parkland to population constant as the city grows, but that locks in one of the lowest ratios of any major UK city, plus some of that ratio is driven by the likes of Heaton Park, which some distance from the centre. If you are building apartments without gardens or balconies at the volume we are surely we need a more generous approach – Mayfield is great, but that’s the 1st park in probably a century, and that’s for all the growth that has occurred so far, and a good chunk of what’s to come. Not good enough.

By Rich X

Dan/Steve – it’s surrounded by apartments – how can it be ‘the wrong place for a park’?

By Loganberry

It’s the wrong place for a park and the economic benefits of developing the site speak for themselves. Yes, we will need more offices and places for SME’s despite COVID.

I’m a resident and I would love more green space, but at the same time I recognise I’m only a resident because the area has been developed and is doing well; I can hardly complain and pull the drawbridge up behind me. A lot of the people I talk to who are wanting this site and neighbouring NI green developed into a park, for example, are people who only live where they do because the council redeveloped the area to much opposition.
We need the area to continue to develop and becoming an even more thriving mixed use area. The council paid a handsome price for this land and they, and us, need to see a return.

Green space in the city will become an increasingly important issue and the council should look at ways to increase its incorporation in the site and at other sites , but this is a major development site in the city with huge economic potential in a booming area, as is NI green.

By MB

Philips Park is an 8 minute bike ride away, the new park at Mayfield will be a few minutes walk away, there is open space adjacent to the canal at various points as you go into Miles Platting and some of the green space is being retained at the tram stop. This is land adjacent to a major thoroughfare in a city centre. It’s expensive. The Council needs to get the most cash it can for the land it has, especially in the next few years when Covid money will be being clawed back. Make it attractive and efficient but develop it.

By Harpsicord

It’ll be another year before the penny drops that we’ll need a hell of a lot more office space than pre pandemic, as we can’t pack people together like battery hens and workers will need workstations 2 metres apart.

If two thirds the level of pre-Covid office workers are in the office at any one moment (as a third more WFH) but they all need twice the space to be two metres apart, then the square footage requirement will actually be a THIRD MORE than before… Watch the mad dash for space in Manchester during 2021.

By Dr B

@Dan spot on there. As mentioned, Mayfield is going to have a purpose built park and there will also be a large park incorporated into the Northern Gateway development. Both will be 15 minutes walk away from this location.

By New Wave

Offices? 1M sq ft? Oooooooffffff…….big risk. Firms will be giving up space come lease renewal. there are massive implications for the way cities function and what they’re there to do. This all smacks of business as usual – things have changed.

By Sceptic

At the very least, they could have developed the Gt. Ancoats frontage with tall, landmark buildings and still retained a sizeable area of POS to the rear.

By Observer

99% of respondents looking for more green space is a fairly compelling number. What is the point of a consultation unless the Council are prepared to listen? or is it just the box ticking exercise we’ve come to expect before the LA press on with their original proposals regardless? This spot isn’t right for a park in the traditional sense, but we need some more green spaces intermingled with the concrete blocks.

By cynicalmanc

The Mancunian fear of anything green continues. London manages to support four huge parks within a mile either way of Oxford Street. Instead we get a tatty postage stamp with yet another cheap nasty office block attached to it. You are never seen as a great city until you have a decent centrally based park. Mayfield is a start but this already has water and green space and would need very little cultivation.

By Elephant

I agree with Observer.

Can’t they increase the height of the buildings along Gt Ancoats St (with high quality design!) and provide larger green space.

Something similar to Circle Sq but more “Ancoats”?

Also why is this not a good location for a park? The surrounding canal area is absolutely buzzing in the summer. An extension to that are seems pretty sensible to me.

And the proximity to Mayfield won’t mean much once the wider Mayfield masterplan is finished as that will include high density development itself. We can’t rely on facilities which haven’t been built yet either.

I understand that the land is valuable but not sure why we are selling ourselves short of green space in a city centre that barely has any. This is one of the largest brownfield sites in the city centre and it’s unlikely we’ll ever have one this big again. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity to not get everything we can out of it.

By Anonymous