The housing provider wants to create around 400 homes a year in the city, entering a market in which affordable accommodation is often hard to stack up financially.
“The opportunity for us was coming into the market when there is nobody delivering [affordable housing],” said Richard Cook, Clarion Housing Association’s director of development.
“Let’s be honest, Manchester is the second city in the UK but what we’ve seen is that affordability is stretched in the city centre.”
Through its development arm Latimer, Clarion wants to develop schemes in the city centre that provide a high proportion of affordable units as well as some for private sale.
By doing this, Cook hopes to create communities, diversify Manchester’s housing mix, and prevent people being priced out of the city.
“You need to get all communities back in the city centre, not just those who can afford the million-pound penthouses,” Cook said.
Last year, in partnership with H20 Urban, Clarion won permission for a 66-home affordable scheme on Store Street in Manchester.
The project features the city’s first ever shared ownership homes, an affordable model that is common in other areas of the UK but less familiar in the North West, Cook said.
“We need to do a really concerted piece of work, explaining to people in layman’s terms what it really means. In the South East, and even in the Midlands, it is completely recognised.”
Cook claims shared ownership makes getting on the housing ladder easier for people who might not necessarily be able to afford a traditional mortgage or deposit.
If the supply of this type of housing was more readily available in the city centre, it would allow more people to stay rather than being forced out into more affordable areas, Cook added.
Having won approval for the Store Street scheme, Clarion has returned to Manchester with even bigger plans.
Latimer bought part of the former Boddington’s site on Great Ducie Street from LTE Group in June, and the developer is plotting to build 442 homes there, 60% of which would be affordable.
Cook admits it took Manchester City Council a while to get its head around the idea of such a high proportion of affordable homes.
“When we walked into the city and said we’re going to do 60%, affordable housing, [the city council] just didn’t believe us,” Cook explains.
“The city is aspirational, which is fantastic. And when we’re sat there, and we’re talking about 60% affordable housing, the support we get them from is fantastic. But they have to get their head around what that means, because nobody’s ever come in and offered it before.”
Plans for the Boddingtons project are currently in consultation, with a planning application expected before the end of the year.
Another deal, which will eventually see Clarion provide a further 54 affordable homes, completed last month.
The company acquired a site off Great Ancoats Street with permission for 106 apartments. The project was bought from Waterside Places and forms part of the Islington Wharf masterplan.
Waterside Places, a joint venture between Muse Developments and the Canal and Rivers Trust, will stay on as development manager and Cook is calling on more developers in the North West to team up with Clarion in this way.
“We are here to facilitate affordable housing. We’re doing that with a lot of people, we’ve got about 14 joint ventures across the country now and that’s bringing schemes forward and unlocking sites.”
Affordable housing in Manchester city centre is hard to stack up in terms of viability in the view of some developers.
Despite the city council’s 20% affordable housing requirement, developers often present schemes with 0% provision, citing viability constraints.
“Manchester’s probably got itself to a point politically where, over a large number of years, the focus has been on delivery,” Cook said.
“For me, [the city council] should be firmer. They might well not always get 20% but what you’re seeing at present very often is nothing.”
Incentives, like those implemented in the City of London’s planning policy could be the answer.
In the capital, Mayor Sadiq Khan demands 35% affordable housing provision and makes life difficult for developers unwilling to comply, Cook explains.
“If you don’t deliver 35% you are going to go through a great deal of pain and you’ll get a hard time. If you deliver 35% you’re fast-tracked so there is an incentive to do it.”
Whether or not there is political will in Manchester to drive a harder bargain on affordable homes might become clear once a new council leader is in post, but Cook is determined for Clarion to act as a bastion for positive change in the city’s housing market.
“We want to encourage other affordable housing providers to look at what we’ve done, share the learnings we’ve got, and encourage more people into the marketplace.
“The more of us who are doing it, the more acknowledgment there will be that it can be done right. It will drive the political mindset to support us to deliver better communities.”