What were the best-read stories each year in the decade since Place North West started publishing 10 years ago? For the first two years Place North West was behind a paywall and readership was small in the early days, with 100 reads for a top story, around the same number as subscribed. After going free-to-read in autumn 2009 penetration into the property community accelerated sharply, and the total number of reads for a strong story reached 1,000 in 2010. Today, the figure is close to 10,000 for a big story. If this isn’t enough festive reading, why not also revisit the Place10 series published in August here.
Preston-based construction firm Livesey went into administration in December 2007, resulting in the closure of several building sites around the region. Livesey’s work was concentrated in Liverpool, where replacement contractors had to be found at Neptune Developments’ Science Park on Mount Pleasant and Iliad’s 61-unit residential Lever Court in Duke Street. This was an early sign of worse to come as the credit crunch started to bite.
Next best read that year
Space Northwest was the trading name of the joint venture between industrial specialist Ashtenne and regeneration quango the North West Development Agency. Liverpool Innovation Park off Edge Lane was marketed as a 400,000 sq ft high-tech office park that combined the former Marconi research centre, an old Merseytravel depot cleared for development, and Wavertree Technology Park. Space Northwest closed in 2014, when the Homes & Communities Agency, having taken over the NWDA’s assets, admitted the JV had missed its repayment targets. The HCA has since sold the park to Welsh developer Valedown.
In November 2009, five years after their bosses left Lambert Smith Hampton to set up their own commercial agency, three young surveyors at WHR Property Consultants in Manchester resigned to launch a new agency together, OBI Property: Will Lewis, 27, WHR associate partner in office agency, Gary Scorah, 33, partner in investment, and Dominic Horridge, 34, partner in charge of building consultancy. The owners of WHR agreed to sell the practice in 2017 to Canadian group Avison Young. OBI is also still going strong.
When it was announced that a Tesco warehouse managed by Wincanton would close in Stakehill Industrial Estate, Middleton, more than 600 staff and their families were desperate for information. In Widnes, to where new distributor Eddie Stobart would relocate the contract, prospective workers were keen to find out how to apply for a job. Place’s strong Google ranking generated thousands of visits to the website from people on both sides of the jobs line. Tesco’s warehouse relocation narrowly beat the comprehensive list of NWDA’s halted projects published in July, in the run-up to October 2010’s severe Comprehensive Spending Review by Chancellor George Osborne as the austerity era took hold.
A year after publication, the tale of the Widnes Tesco Warehouse was still attracting readers’ comments and visits, driven by shares on Facebook and other social channels. The closure of Total Fitness on Edge Lane in Liverpool was another example of a story stepping outside the usual Place North West subscriber community – this time those drawn to the story were members left without a gym.
Architect Stephen Hodder’s designs for Motel One came out on top in 2012. Was it the new occupier name and new money into Manchester that appealed to readers? Well-resourced German budget hotel operator Motel One was taking advantage of a weak market to snap up sites. It was also one of the first green shoots of major new development the market had seen for several years. Hotels, along with care homes and student accommodation, was one of the few sectors that stayed relatively healthy throughout the downturn, as the structural undersupply of rooms in Manchester was addressed. Following its first in the city, Motel One has since opened on Cross Street and plans another off St Peter’s Square.
One of the biggest regional victims of the great financial crisis, student residential developer Opal, synonymous with Stuart Wall, was valued at £200m at its peak, with a portfolio of 20,000 beds and agreements with 16 universities. Opal failed to refinance £886m of debt with 14 lenders. Wall spent the following years pursuing legal action against RBS and settled out of court earlier this year.
Another public information vacuum, this time affecting passengers with flights booked to leave Blackpool Airport when owner Balfour Beatty said it would no longer support the loss-making centre and failed to find a buyer. The airport closed to main commercial flights, only serving flying schools, the offshore wind farm workforce and air ambulance. It was acquired in September 2017 by Blackpool Council. The airport is now part of a 356-acre enterprise zone currently being masterplanned.
The decade of best-read stories wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by Peel. The dominant North West developer and land owner announced its £1bn plans for Trafford Waters during the MIPIM property convention in Cannes in March 2015. The development on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal near Intu Trafford Centre would contain 3,000 apartments and 875,000 sq ft of commercial space, when finished, served by a new £300m Metrolink line, currently under construction.
HM Revenue & Customs selected India Buildings as the preferred location for its new Liverpool home, leasing the majority of the office space within the 350,000 sq ft landmark property. Owner Shelborn sold the building to Legal & General after the large letting completed, part of a series of acquisitions of HMRC hubs around the country by L&G. Smaller tenants exited India Buildings for Exchange Flags and elsewhere to make way for the tax workers.