Deansgate Square
Renaker's Deansgate Square, with its 64-storey West Tower, is an example of Manchester's PRS offer

‘Manctopia’ Ep 4 probes concept of community

Sarah Townsend

The final episode of Manctopia – in our minds the best in the series – pits the booming investor-led private rented sector against the challenging but rewarding owner-occupier segment, to explore the notion of communities and how they are formed.

The four-part BBC Two series Manctopia: Billion Pound Property Boom wrapped up this week having shone a light on Manchester’s building boom and the ways in which residents, businesses, politicians and charities are caught up in it, for better or worse.

Last night’s episode asks a vital, double-pronged question: what kind of city are we building and how do people want to live? There are, of course, only subjective answers.

We are taken first to West Tower, Renaker’s 64-storey apartment building at Deansgate Square, where interior designer Sarah is preparing the last of four penthouses for a millionaire client born on a council estate in Manchester, and now the founder of a successful health and wellbeing company.

The client hates the colour grey, so the apartment has been reconfigured to block the view of the grey kitchen from the open plan living room, as part of a pricey, high-spec, yet temporary fit-out to cater to the demands of the fast-moving rental market.

Crusader Mill External

Capital & Centric is selling flats at Crusader Mill to owner-occupiers

“There is every possibility that in 18 months my design will be dismantled, but that’s what my business is – the people living here want to be bang on trend,” Sarah says. “It’s not a forever home, so we don’t clutter it, we put in just a few beautiful things.” Cue, a bed that sells for up to £350,000 and a feature light installation the cost of which Sarah refuses to disclose.

The episode may poke fun at it, but as our readers know there is a market in Manchester for high-rise, high-density PRS development sold in bulk to institutional investors – to which West Tower’s architect Ian Simpson can attest. “This is the capital of the Northern Powerhouse and it needs to be reinforced in that way – like New York City – and tall, mid-sized and low-rise buildings all play their role.”

Sarah agrees: “I used to look at these blocks and think I wouldn’t want to live in them. But now I recognise that they offer so much more than just a living space, they offer a completely different way of living.

“Not everyone wants the constraints of having a mortgage and living in a house with a garden, they want flexibility and somewhere they can just walk out of the door and be in the heart of the city with everything it has to offer.”

Collyhurst Street View Fec Manchester City Council March 20202

Far East Consortium wants to build 330 homes in Collyhurst, which could see Anne lose her home

Collyhurst resident Anne and her friend Donna, who are fighting to learn more about the possible demolition of their homes under the Northern Gateway masterplan, are not so sure. For them, the high-rise boom represents the “greed” of developers and investors, and the death of the cosy communities they have lived in for decades and know and love.

“There has to be change, there has to be development, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the price of completely ripping down something good,” says Donna.

“They don’t build homes like they did with ours [in the 1960s and 1970s] – those high-rise flats are just shoeboxes, or…garages with windows. I think they’ve ruined our town.” There’s little community there, the pair agree.

But Tim Heatley, co-founder of Capital & Centric and the only developer interviewed over the course of series despite the BBC’s attempts to get others involved, says it’s possible to have new development and a “community vibe” – and that is what his schemes are trying to create by targeting only owner-occupiers.

His position on the PRS market is clear. “[We’re not building] this transient massive complex with loads of people renting,” he says. “It’s different. These are their hopes and dreams all here behind this door. This is our big gamble, that people value a sense of community over everything else.”

West Tower’s investor, Legal & General Investment Management, does not agree that PRS and community are incompatible concepts. Its head of build-to-rent Dan Batterton tells the BBC: “We let people paint and decorate and have really long leases. These are not just investment properties – they are communities, and people’s homes.

“We want renting to be seen as a positive choice.”

There was a lot in the final episode of Manctopia, and much to unpack. What started as a surface-skimming representation of a complex industry became a warm and thought-provoking exploration of the factors that turn a pile of bricks and mortar into a person’s home.


Your Comments

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The towers look quite impressive….., for Manchester. I think towers would look good in Liverpool too, along the river. Though obviously built to a higher standard.

By Liverpool romance

Why would anyone want to live in NYC when they can pay mere millions for a stunning view over Oldham.

By Mike

Yes the Tim heatley programme. This bloke should have his own tv programme. This bloke doesn’t mess about and is 99% to the point. Last week’s episode and last night episode seen him confront Face to Face future residents of his appartments blocks, most property developers bosses when they are behind schedule on a property development hide in there office, this guy did not, I will give him credit for that.. On this deansgate square development, we had Dan batterton from legal and general talking rubbish about the benefits of renting his high price apartments 40/50/60 storeys up in the clouds that none are affordable for most citizens. Overall a good programme. Let’s hope more are planned.

By Darren born bred Salford

I have enjoyed this as ‘light entertainment’ but it did not go far enough to show how the city has been completely wrecked by corporate greed and a complicit council. The city is, sadly, an absolute dump. It has the filthiest streets of any W. European city, some of the worst anti-social behaviour I have witnessed.

Yes, the city has lots of anonymous/dubious investment funneling into it but it has come at a cost to the communities that live here and the overall appearance of Manchester.

This is not a pretty city and it has more problems than I can type in this box.

We are being absolutely outclassed by smaller cities such as Leeds and, in 15 years time, we will regret what we have allowed to happen to this once wonderful city.

By Observer

This was the best episode, it was quite uplifting despite some of the issues. On reflection we’ve benefited as an industry and a city from this documentary and it’s all fuel for more investment in our city region. We done to those that took part!

By Dave Fareing

I think the views on the show are on the extreme. Many renters, myself included move wherever the jobs are. Moreover, the community spirit is pretty good and diverse I would say, I speak to people from all over the world I see in the resident’s lounge. Where I live is not classed as ‘affordable rent’ I believe but not totally out of reach with my average wage. To be frank, I wouldn’t move to Manchester if the entire Manchester is full of poor quality housing that some people seem to call for in the show.

By Adopted Mancunian

Seems to be a huge market for these tall towers as more are going up even now. The Victoria tower near Deansgate square looks like being an attractive design as does the 55 story one starting at Greengate.There are a lot of jobs coming to Manchester particularly in the tech industries Hp, BT, Amazon and Google so I see no problem getting occupiers. There just isn’t the demand yet in smaller cities like Leeds or Liverpool .

By Anonymous

As Manchester attracts ever more money it will be interesting to see how that money is spent over the coming decade. I look forward to reading the redrafted Framework.

By Nve

Where are they putting the travellers on Dantzic St., ? Old Trafford would be a good place.

By George Roberts

The TV programme was clunky in parts as it tried to shoehorn a tenuous link between homelessness with the city centre development boom but overall it was positive for Manchester.

By Anonymous

As an owner-occupier Mancunian, now living in a city centre apartment, I enjoyed the programme. But I was conscious that this was obviously made pre-COVID. I’d love a follow-up to see what, if any, effect, the lockdown and the desertion of city centre workplaces has had on the fates of any of these developers, particularly those involved in the rental market. Is the same population increase predicted for the city, despite any changes to working practices that are being heralded (and which not materialise), or ar ethe figures being revised? Surely a large proportion of the buy-to-let business is reliant on thousands of international students coming year after year to Manchester’s universities. That model of funding them, the universities are now realising, has to change. And universities fear losses in overseas student numbers. So let’s have a post-COVID update in a year or two. Who knows if any trajectories will have changed course, but it would be really interesting to see.

By Linda