Novo Property Group managing director Ben Fearns has told Place North West his company is planning further investment in projects across Altrincham town centre, but has warned that housing needs to stay affordable to keep the town’s growth sustainable.
The company, which was set up in the town in 2013, has a series of projects under construction in the town centre, and 28-year-old managing director Fearns said Novo plans “to stay put in Altrincham” for the foreseeable future, with “plenty still to be done” to keep the town thriving.
“There’s a lot of talk about the ‘next Altrincham’ whether it’s Urmston or Sale, but we’re staying here: there’s a lot left to do to make the town’s growth sustainable and to make sure it isn’t just a fleeting moment,” he said.
“I have great respect for what the likes of the McGoff Group are doing with Market 41 in Urmston but there is plenty still to be done here.”
The company has bought a series of former commercial assets in Altrincham, which Fearns described as “no longer viable as commercial”, and is focussing on converting these to residential-led developments.
Examples include 60 Stamford New Road, formerly home to Dili on the ground floor, which is being converted into four floors of residential space, along with three commercial units of 300 sq ft each. Contractor Artez is currently on site and is due to hand over later in the year.
The building was purchased by Novo for £425,000 from Perlada Holdings in September 2016.
The commercial element represents Novo’s first venture of that type, and although no occupiers have been formally signed up, Fearns said the space would be aimed at small businesses with a rent of around £900/month.
Novo has pushed forward with a series of smaller projects across the town centre, which has seen a significant renaissance since its nadir in the late 2000s, when it was branded a “ghost town” in the national media.
Altrincham has now seen its number of vacant shops fall by 73% since 2010, while retail footfall has risen by 5% in the last 12 months.
Major investment by Trafford Council to rejuvenate the market as a food and drink destination, as well as a multi-million-pound investment in public realm, has helped to bring more visitors to the town, and further retail has been planned.
The second phase of Nikal’s long-mooted Altair development was approved last year, and is due to include 96,000 sq ft of retail and restaurants, along with 35,000 sq ft of offices and 150 apartments.
However, Fearns said there were still a number of commercial assets within the town centre that were “ripe for redevelopment” and Novo was looking at a number of properties to convert to residential. Much of Novo’s investment is supported by private funders, primarily based in the UK.
There are still a number of prominent vacant units scattered around the town including the former Greenwoods’ shop and the Slug & Lettuce, which was bought by Buzz Communications from Cream Investments for £915,000 in November last year, after the pub closed down in September.
A number of these units are being set aside for residential or office space, and other former retail units are being converted to food & drink usage.
He also warned the Altrincham would need to make its growth “sustainable” by ensuring affordable housing, rather than high-end residential, formed part of the town centre’ housing mix.
“It’s not nice to see people being priced out of the market,” he said.
“We don’t want to see Altrincham end up being like Hale, where it’s becoming too expensive, so we’re focussing on reinvesting in the town to keep it affordable.”
The company is working with Southway Housing Trust to deliver an office-to-residential conversion of a 9,500 sq ft building on the corner of Regent Road and New Street into 15 apartments for shared ownership.
The development, dubbed Weavers Cottages, has been designed by Altrincham-based Project 3 architects, and Fearns added it had been “great to give the team some rope to come up with a really distinctive design” for the scheme.
He added Novo would be looking at more schemes with Southway to bring forward more affordable homes within the town and its surrounding area.
The developer’s projects are typically between £1m and £7m, and Fearns said the developer would largely aim to remain within that price point.
“We started out developing out of necessity to make a profit, but now we can develop out of choice, and in the style we want. We don’t want to dilute that,” he said.
“We want to demonstrate immediate viability, not speculative or uncertain projects.”
Novo is now establishing itself as one of the town’s core developers, along with Citybranch, the company behind the town’s hospital, its new health & wellbeing centre, and a comprehensive redevelopment of Regent Road car park.
Designed by Project 3 and supported by Planit-IE, also based in Altrincham, the proposals include 70 apartments across two five-storey blocks, with a mix of eight studio apartments, 38 one-bedroom, and 24 two-bedroom flats.
There will also be 9,500 sq ft of retail, café, restaurant or commercial space on the ground floor of both blocks, fronting Regent Road, New Street, and a new public square.
Trafford Council also this month announced its purchase of the Graftons, the 5,000 sq ft shopping centre formerly home to the likes of Greggs, clothes store Smiths, Music Zone, and a short-lived South African-themed bar. It is understood the building was purchased for around £7m.
Fearns said it would be “brilliant” to see this neglected end of town around the Graftons and Regent Road regenerated, with plenty more development still in the pipeline, including potential tie-ups between Novo and the council.
Projects discussed with the council have included looking at a car club for the town centre, allowing flexible access to vehicles for both businesses and residents across Altrincham, although at an early stage.
Although Novo has been working closely with the council on some larger schemes, the company’s focus still remains on smaller projects, and Fearns said the company is “open to doing more to specifically allow the town to stay affordable for everyone”.