Where Daresbury looks to build on a science story that started more than a decade ago, and Liverpool and Wirral look to reinvent docksides, Greater Manchester has focused on its global airport. Neil Tague writes.
Ten local authority areas, only one Enterprise Zone – until this week. That the Greater Manchester Life Sciences EZ is only the second to emerge might testify to the determination of Sir Howard Bernstein to make Airport City a success, it might suggest that the other authorities in the Greater Manchester weren’t bowled over by the EZ concept.
The Airport City EZ has a wider remit than just the airport’s holdings, including business space in Atlantic Business Park and Wythenshawe, along with University Hospital South Manchester and its proposed Medipark, which received a £6m EZ Capital Growth Fund grant for energy infrastructure in June 2014. Bluemantle’s Roundthorn Industrial Estate is in there too. Taken together, the sites comprise nearly 300 acres.
The £800m project has the potential to deliver 5m sq ft of space, with logistics mostly built out at Airport City South, now rebranded as Global Logistics; and offices, hotels and advanced manufacturing space clustered in the Central Business District, an area split into five sections that will be brought forward in phases, starting from the railway/tram interchange area and working outwards.
The ownership structure as set out in October 2013 is Manchester Airport Group a 50% stake, Beijing Construction Engineering Group and Carillion 20% each and Greater Manchester Pension Fund 10%. Argent is development manager.
Logistics operator DHL was the first new occupier, taking a 37,000 sq ft building at Airport City South in October 2014. The Metrolink tram extension is open. The rest might be taking a while, but there should be a lot on site next year. Jug Handle Road, which will link the various plots together and provide access to the much-heralded SEMMMS link road, starts in January and should be complete in early 2017, at a cost of £12.5m. There’s a £5m utilities project onsite. One Geneva Square, the 75,000 sq ft office building announced at MIPIM 2015, is pencilled in for a summer 2016 start. Two hotels should be delivered in 2016/17.
At Global Logistics, Mountpark is underway with a speculative 270,000 sq ft shed, while the Alpha spec-build offers 130,000 sq ft in the first phase of a joint venture between MAG and Stoford Developments. Hospital Corporation of America has commissioned a 60,000 sq ft healthcare facility in Medipark, due to break ground in spring 2016.
At Roundthorn, Bluemantle has gone from 50% occupancy to fully occupied. In a report this month to the Combined Authority, Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, said “business rates discounts have been a significant attraction” here and Bluemantle will look to develop new buildings.
Much has been done to woo China, and the October announcement, during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s UK visit, of four direct Manchester-Beijing flights a week is key. This visit also saw the announcement of Airport City’s £130m ‘China cluster’ comprising two campuses, Wuhan Square and Shenzhen Gardens, which will offer 500,000 sq ft of offices designed with Chinese businesses in mind.
Airport City was happening anyway. But it made sense to put the focus of an Enterprise Zone onto it. It seems more sensible than Birmingham’s approach of making its city centre an EZ – Manchester city centre could hardly be said to be suffering under-investment. As in most of the zones, things have taken longer than they might, but there’s a sizeable pipeline of live projects now.
EZ status is one of the tools being used to further Manchester’s Capital of the North status. Of UK airports outside the South East, Manchester Airport is the only true global player, with a record 23 million passengers in the last year and a huge expansion plan in its own right.
Airport City has also provided a lever to tease more Chinese investment into the region, even outside the EZ, it could be said. Chongqing Jinstar Real Estate Development Company has now agreed a joint venture, called Anglo Chinese Alliance, with Manchester Place to deliver housing schemes in Greater Manchester and Cheshire as the city looks to deliver 55,000 new homes by 2027. BCEG has also now been confirmed as contractor for the Middlewood Locks scheme in Salford at the border with Manchester city centre.
Onlookers will be watching for more news from Chinese investors next year, in or out of the EZ.