For the second time this year, Manchester’s planning committee went against officer recommendations on a big scheme, booting out the Logik “Flintoff Tower” in Castlefield, which had deadlocked September’s committee. Committee meetings have been livelier affairs of late, with members joining since May’s local elections – James Wilson and Ben Clay notably – not afraid to question the assertions of developers and MCC’s planning team. Manchester in general remains the “development-friendly” city ceaselessly talked up as such during the Bernstein era, but surely it’s for the best that committee doesn’t roll over for everything.
Merseyway or the highway
Another month, another dismal time for retail. Philip Hammond’s Budget offered titbits for smaller retailers, but the high street’s problems are larger, namely how to plug the gaping holes left by departing department stores. Councils are being encouraged to be active, but how much can they reasonably do, unless institutional funds are prepared to accept that one-time trophy assets are now diminished? There’ll be a few eyes on Stockport, which this month announced a series of interventions at Merseyway, the latest stage in the council trying to fathom how to make the central core work, when in effect it competes with out-of-town retail just a few minutes away.
Some detail has been added to the plans at Liverpool’s Great George Street, at various times known as TriBeCa and New Chinatown, and let’s face it, Liverpool City Council will be faced with a credibility crisis if everything goes belly up here again. It doesn’t do to get too far ahead of oneself, but tentatively there does look to be more solidity, more variety, and basically the whole venture looks a bit more thought-out than someone running off a sales brochure for Hong Kong with a few whizzy CGIs and guff about Banksy art. There’s talk of PRS and co-working elements, and while they might be a bit buzzword-y, at least they’re real.
Penthouse and pavement
Manchester is often criticised for style over substance, in property as in restaurants – bad luck again, Michelin star-hunters – with refrains such as “all these towers, but look at Piccadilly Gardens” being common. Cheering this month, then, to see the council commit cash to the overhaul of Exchange Square’s water features, a project one might describe as value-engineered from its original vision. Resource is always tight, but planning applications talk of improving the public realm around the object building, and higher standards might need to be set as there is broken paving all over the place, worse than in comparable cities and noted by visitors – not a good look, as the kids say.
Peel Land & Property announced its new housebuilding arm, while fellow mega-landowner Harworth made its first residential purchase in the region, taking a 56-acre site near St Helens. Peel currently has more than 34,000 plots for housing and a further 10,000 in the works, so while you’d think chunks will be hived off as per, it makes sense to do a bit yourself where appropriate. Housebuilding seems a licence to print money right now, given that one firm can pay its boss a £75m bonus for hitting some targets. Lancashire heavyweights Closelink and Northern Trust aren’t charging in though, looking to flip the Whyndyke ‘healthy village’ site near Blackpool having secured consent for 1,400 homes this summer.
So Blackpool help me out
The local council has been issuing eager updates on Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone all year, and this month released the findings of a report by York Aviation that looks to have ruled out commercial operations, with the investment required too hefty for the likely passenger totals – the market now being controlled by large operators, even those with mightily unpopular parking charges. For 2019, we need to see some meat on the Zone bones, to go beyond the generic-sounding character areas – how different is a “knowledge and business quarter” from an “innovation gateway” after all? It’d be a shame to see the big shed element consume the rest, as is always the risk on such large-scale projects.