Professionals working across Greater Manchester discussed what’s being done to boost the region’s growth at a crucial and challenging time.
Preserving the past, building sustainably, and rivalry between local authorities were discussed over two panels at the latest Place North West event, sponsored by JMW, LUC, ClearFibre, Close Brothers, Wates and Unify. Dan Whelan, senior reporter at Place North West, was the host.
Scroll down to see photos from the event and links to slides featured in presentations.
Presentation – SimpsonHaugh
Ian Simpson, founding partner of SimpsonHaugh, talked about the developer’s Great Jackson Street development, emphasising the importance of people in shaping built environments.
The project within the southern arc group of buildings between Great Jackson Street and Trinity Islands, Simpson said, will provide as many homes as the population of Wilmslow. He described the amount of ground it will use as “such a sustainable way forward”.
SimpsonHaugh’s plans include three buildings that will provide apartments and amenities including a doctors’ surgery and retail space. He said people will be the driving force.
“People drive everything. They drive amenities, restaurants, hotels, offices, public spaces, health facilities, and schools. Without people, nobody’s going to do anything,” he said.
“The infrastructure is starting to catch up. It isn’t anywhere near yet; we need the people, who will drive the response to that. I’m much more interested in the places we’re making in which the buildings sit.”
Panel – State of the cities
- Simon Ismail, co-founder, Salboy
- Ian Simpson, founding partner, SimpsonHaugh
- Patrick Kennedy, UK regional head of flexible workspace, Colliers
- Caroline Simpson, corporate director of place, Stockport Council
Speakers discussed the need for high-density buildings, preserving the city’s industrial past, and the departure of Sir Richard Leese as leader of Manchester City Council.
Continuing on from his presentation, Ian Simpson emphasised the need for better joined-up thinking around how public spaces come together and said this should be led by Manchester City Council.
“We’re relying on the private sector to deliver these public spaces, which are then usually managed by that private provider,” he said. “The city council has got to look after the streets.”
There needs to be a framework that “stitches things together,” he added. This framework should think broadly and allow all developers to work together with the city council to ensure spaces are connected.
“It takes years to happen, and it will need investment from central government to help Manchester get ahead of the game and to join it all together, so we have a beautiful city centre we can walk around,” he said.
The panel also discussed the challenges of balancing new buildings with older ones.
“We’re privileged to have a rich history of buildings in this city,” Simpson said. “It’s important we keep everything we can.
“We’ve got enough space here without demolishing good quality buildings. It’s possible to respect the industrial buildings we have but put them in a contemporary context.”
Simon Ismail said this shouldn’t be something developers have to talk about.
“We should just accept that that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “If you want to make places great, you’ve got to work with what’s there. Good planners, architects and developers will only put forward schemes they think are right for the city.”
On the subject of the new, the panellists spoke about how, despite an increase in remote and agile working, there is rising demand for city centre office space, as well as in suburban areas.
“The need is to get people into the office and have more collaborative areas to get that interaction as well,” Patrick Kennedy said. “Wellbeing, tech and sustainability are the three main focal points – that’s where the demand is.”
“It’s been a torrid time for flexible workspace in the pandemic, now they’re very well placed to recapture demand,” he said. “Operator’s occupancies are boosting rapidly.”
Ismail said such developments are sustainable because they allow people to commute less.
“People need and want to be in the office,” Kennedy said. “We’re building these spaces in the city centre because people want to work and live there.”
Caroline Simpson said increasing density is at the heart of Stockport Council’s strategy, but that it must be the right scale for the area.
“Our job is to reflect the right kind of development for the place it’s in,” she said.
The next phase of the Stockport Exchange scheme will start next year, she added, but the principles of placemaking are more bespoke to the location than development in the city centre.
The panel also acknowledged the departure of Leese as leader of Manchester City Council and said his legacy must be built on.
Ian Simpson said Leese has a “massive legacy” and helped to “transform the city”.
“He’ll be difficult to replace. We need that attitude and approach to embrace change and investment,” he said.
Ismail said Leese’s replacement must “make sure we don’t see investment go elsewhere” and work with and help developers.
Presentation – Oldham Council
Cllr Arooj Shah, leader of Oldham Council shared the council’s town centre development plans, which will include a £285m investment.
The council aims to combine offering 2,000 homes with encouraging more footfall in the town centre, making it a more attractive place for businesses.
“We didn’t want to be too prescriptive, we wanted to design a master plan with flexibility to it,” she said. “The key to building a better place in Oldham is residents’ voices, and giving ourselves the ability to respond to their solutions.”
Shah talked about Oldham’s “huge potential as a centre of green living,” and said development will revolve around the borough’s long-term future.
The council will also be redeveloping Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre and Tommyfield Market, which Shah says was affected by the pandemic.
“Buying the site meant we have the ability to decide its future,” she said. “We can influence rents and business rates, which we’re hoping to be really flexible with,” she said.
Panel – State of the towns
- Dave Saville, regional director, Wates Construction
- Cllr Arooj Shah, leader, Oldham Council
- Paul Kelly, development director, Scarborough Group
- Aidan Thatcher, assistant director, growth & housing, Wigan Council
- Lucy Wallwork, senior planner, LUC
Panellists talked about sustainability, levelling up and the benefits and pitfalls of local competition between local authorities.
Lucy Wallwork praised Oldham for its “bold vision”, and said all developments must start with the landscape, and fit buildings around that.
“We’re operating in times of an ecological emergency, which isn’t leading conversations enough.”
She said the landscape in Greater Manchester is different now to how it was in the 1990s, but it needs the same scale of ambition and values.
“The climate emergency isn’t about a set of restraints, it’s about starting from green infrastructure,” Wallwork said. “Oldham is having a vision that starts in a different place, this is the kind of scale we need to be looking at.
“There are many things you can do on a site. It’s about good design and having a good landscape architect. But it’s more about placemaking,” she continued. “You can’t address these things site by site; it has to be linked together.”
Paul Kelly said he’s seen that developers, funders and end-users are all considering and expecting sustainability.
“We’re trying to future-proof. We’re always learning, but it’s an evolving process,” he said.
The market has “matured its thinking” around sustainability, said Dave Saville.
“What we’re able to do now as a contractor is to provide more life cycle costing advice so that longer-term investment is realised.”
The panel also discussed levelling up. The fund needs to broaden out, according to Saville. The education sector is benefitting from the fund, he said, but leisure and health aren’t seeing the benefits, yet.
“The government is making the right noises but needs to show more action. And when you get into the local politics behind it, it can be quite tricky,” Aidan Thatcher said.
But the panel went on to talk about what is going well locally, including how town centre developments are increasingly taking residents into consideration.
The importance of people is coming through in towns who are taking a “proactive approach to control their own destiny”, said Kelly.
“The importance of people has come through, not just for today, but in forward-thinking and planning,” he continued.
“It’s important to recognise the identity and relevance of each local authority, and if they get that right, they become complementary to each other rather than competing.”
Cllr Arooj Shah agreed and said it’s about “owning exactly what we have and maximising on that instead of competing with other districts”.
The presentation slides can be accessed below:
The next Place North West event is in-person tomorrow: Place RESI. Tickets are currently on sale. Digital livestream tickets are also available.
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