The operator of the Manchester Arena has spoken out against proposals for a 20,000-capacity venue as part of the regeneration of Eastlands, stating “it is just not possible” for the city to support two arenas, and “only one will survive”, potentially risking the future of the city centre.
A public consultation on the revised Eastlands regeneration framework, which includes an outline proposal for a new arena at the Etihad campus, is set to end next week.
A council report issued in March said “international investors and operators see Manchester as one of the few cities in Europe with the ability to successfully host more than one large arena”. The report said that these investors are evaluating locations and developing business cases ahead of revealing detailed proposals later this year.
John Sharkey, executive vice-president of SMG Europe, operator of the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena in the city centre, has insisted that there is not enough demand to suggest Manchester could support both venues.
He told Place North West: “There is no market research to suggest there is the appetite for another arena – with the proposals there has been no market assessment, no environmental assessment, and no traffic impact assessment.
“We’ve explored the market across the UK and looked at locations where there are multiple venues of more than 15,000 capacity – London, Birmingham, and Manchester.
“All analysis shows Manchester is at the very bottom of the need for a new arena, it is in fact the most saturated market.
“Manchester Arena doesn’t turn away events, so I know there isn’t a big market gap. There are around 150 events being held currently each year, and to support both venues this would need to increase to 300 each year, and that is just not possible, no other city in the UK has that.”
Sharkey said that the arena had been working up plans for an overhaul, to be revealed next year as part of the venue’s 25th anniversary celebrations, but the Eastlands proposals then “came out of left field”.
“The arena is integral to linking developments such as Northern Gateway, Boddingtons, and Salford, with its position above the train station, and with a Metrolink station.”
“We were preparing plans to redo the whole precinct, to expand capacity, add more vibrant arrival experiences, and add to the events we can put on, because we want to be around for another 25 years.”
He insisted that his objection to the Eastlands plan was about more than just defending his venue, and could have significant long-term impacts on the future of the city centre.
“80% of gig attendees spend money in the city centre, and half said that if the venue was out of the city, they wouldn’t come in.
“Only one venue will survive, and if it’s not ours then the city will lose 1.2 million people coming through it, and could turn to tumbleweed.
“The plans are absolutely crazy, not at all strategic, and are purely opportunistic without any market context.
“A huge amount of pressure is going to be placed on the area. The roads would be gridlock, there’s not sufficient public transport, and the police resource which is already stretched in the city centre would now also need to be out of town. There’s also no guarantee there wouldn’t be both arena and football events on the same night.”
Sharkey argued that despite the council’s insistence to the contrary, “the Eastlands arena is already a done deal”, with an operator lined up and an architect employed to work up designs for a £300m building.
He said he was prepared to debate but “the council had gone to ground” on the issue, suggesting that the council was too close to development in the area, as both a landowner and joint venture partner of Manchester City FC owner Abu Dhabi United Group.
“The council is supposed to set the chess board, and let the players play. Right now they are moving the pieces too.”
In response to Sharkey’s claims, the council denied there was already an operator involved, or an architect leading on the designs.
A Manchester City Council spokesperson said: “We have always envisaged a range of destination uses on the Etihad Campus.
“An Arena, alongside other development options, is being explored within the 2019 Framework because Eastlands has been identified as a potentially viable location.
“Should a decision be taken to pursue an arena, then this will be the subject of determination through the normal planning process following further consultation with residents and the fullest range of stakeholders.”
The city is also continuing to work with Manchester Metropolitan University and other partners to develop the Manchester Institute for Sport at the campus, as well as student accommodation and a high volume of homes. The council would continue its partnership with Abu Dhabi United Group to deliver the development.
The consultation into the revised Eastlands framework ends on Wednesday 26 June: