Tim Heatley
Heatley (right) with Manctopia director Nick Mattingly

PROFILE | Heatley: Life after ‘Manctopia’

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The BBC documentary on Manchester’s property boom struggled to portray the nuances of the city’s development industry, but the co-founder of developer Capital & Centric who starred in the series said the show was “phenomenal” in terms of raising its profile, reports Dan Whelan.

“The reaction has been off the charts. It was massive,” Tim Heatley told Place North West in an interview. 

On a recent trip to the Lake District, the developer said he was stopped by people who wanted to talk about the show. “People are absolutely fascinated by Manchester. The scale, number and pace [of development projects] is mind-bending. In Manchester, we live in a bubble so we think it’s normal, but to a lot of other cities it’s insane.”

The four-part series, which took 20 months to film, told the story of the booming private rented sector, and delved into the lives of those losing out as a result of Manchester’s regeneration.

There was a focus throughout the series on public fears that a lack of affordable homes is forcing people on lower incomes to move further away from Manchester city centre. As such, Heatley – as the only private developer interviewed by the BBC – risked being perceived in a negative context.

After the first episode, during which Heatley said Manchester’s development boom could not afford to fail, much of the reaction on social media was negative.

“There were some people – a small group – after the first episode aired, who had a go at me saying I was part of the problem. Others said it was a disaster for me, that’s social media for you.”

But, while the developer seems pleased overall with how the show went, he admits it was always going to be impossible to change some people’s opinions. “If you have an entrenched view that developers are bad, then that is what you will see.”

Manctopia Skyline

The scale of development in Manchester is ‘mind-bending’, the developer says

Still, Heatley does not think it is fair that developers should have to contribute to affordable housing. “I don’t see any food retailers providing affordable food or utility providers or car retailers,” he said, pointing out that they choose the segment of the market they wish to tap. 

That being said, he is not opposed to the idea of entering the affordable housing sector. Capital & Centric is developing a 100% affordable scheme as part of the burgeoning Piccadilly East neighbourhood.  “We’re not obliged to do it, but it’s the right thing to do,” Heatley said.

In one episode, the developer is depicted unveiling plans for affordable homes on land at Buile Hill Park in Salford. However, the project – the proceeds of which would have gone towards restoring the dilapidated Buile Hill Mansion – was rejected by residents at a consultation meeting, on the grounds that it featured too many units.

“People want affordable homes to be built but not always near their homes. Some people think such housing will be full of all sorts of undesirables when it’s usually key workers,” Heatley said. 

The issue for residents with the Buile Hill proposal was a misconception that the homes would be built on the “green grass of the park” as Heatley put it on camera.

“The public didn’t understand what it was,” he told Place North West. “We wanted to build stunning homes on brownfield land. Some 250,000 people live in Salford but the decision was made by a quarter of the people in that room.”

Tim Heatley Manctopia

Heatley came under fire for his plans for Buile Hill Park

Despite the televised failure of his attempts to get the project off the ground, Heatley has not forgotten about Buile Hill Park. “We are still looking at solutions and we would still like to help,” he said.

Heatley, whose company is also working to deliver plans for residential schemes in Rochdale and Stockport, is keen to stress that he had no editorial input in the creation of the series, despite what some viewers claimed.

“Some people said I had paid to be on it.” Heatley said, adding that he developed a thick skin as the series continued to air. 

“A lot of the people who complained are activists, and I get that,” he said. “If something doesn’t suit an organisation’s narrative or agenda it will make them angry, and that’s what it did.

“If you are a bit more open-minded and less cynical, you will see how important developers are to the structural and cultural fabric of a city.”

Crusader Mill July 2020

Crusader Mill is ‘a couple of months’ away from completion

As the series went on, the criticism from the sidelines died down but on-screen problems arose for Capital & Centric.

The firm’s Crusader Mill scheme, a 200-apartment mill conversion targeting owner-occupiers rather than buy-to-let investors, was plagued by delays.

On more than one occasion, the BBC showed Heatley in an apparent stand-off with would-be residents, angry that their apartments were not yet complete.

“I was gutted about it. Sometimes things don’t go well but ultimately the buck stops with me,” he said.

Major delays to a large scheme are not ideal at the best of times, even less so when you have television cameras following you around. But Heatley resisted the urge to shoo the cameras away.

“As a business, we make mistakes but we always put them right and face up to them. We told the producers to come along [to the meetings with residents].

“You might ask why on earth would we do that, but we were doing everything we possibly could to fix [the problems]. We had nothing to hide but it was tough to watch back,” he said.

Capital & Centric Rochdale

Rochdale Council has teamed up with Capital & Centric to deliver 200 homes close to the train station

Crusader Mill is still “a few months away” from completion but all the major issues have been resolved, according to Heatley.

The developer admits that part of his motivation for appearing on the programme was to raise Capital & Centric’s profile – but the main reason was to try to educate the public about the industry.

“We thought there was more to property development that the public needed to know,” he explained. “We knew that we would never be able to explain it all because it is very, very complicated but I think it was an interesting programme that engaged a lot of people.”

Ultimately, it will take more than a four-part BBC documentary for people to fully understand the nuances of the industry and even more to convince detractors that not all developers are bad.

From a personal perspective, though, Heatley said he has both enjoyed and endured his time in the limelight, and has drawn his own conclusions from the experience.

“Everyone said I came across as honest. Which is not necessarily a compliment. But if people trust you because you’re honest, you’ve got a chance.”

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The “Tim heatley” programme was based around the city of Salford and Manchester. It shown him confront angry residents a few times, seen him around his new housing developments and then it shows how there is no affordable properties being built in Salford and Manchester, then it shows how the homeless people are not getting any flats for them, which at the moment should be a priority. .

By Darren born bred Salford

I live facing Buille Hill Park and knew nothing about the proposed plans or meetings until I saw Manctopia. I would love Tim to develop the site. The few bigoted nimbys are not a true representative of people living in Salford.

By Daryl

Ive been saying this for years, and Tim is spot-on regarding forcing developers to provide affordable housing – no other industry is forced to provide free or discounted clothing, food, smart phones, etc to people.

Affordable housing is clearly needed – this should be 100% funded by public sector taxation. If in addition we create high quality design guides for developers – we will allow private developers to deliver higher quality schemes and ultimately deliver better quality places for everybody and true affordable housing for those that need it. It will also generate more housing all round as will be a more efficient system.

By CJ

I know there are at least 8 to 10 well connected developers out there who could have provided us with a more concise dynamic insight into Manchester development boom. The show portrayed a very weak view of what’s currently happening and didn’t really focus on future private investment maybe because it was a one sided view from Heatley.
Highlighting many of the splendid developments recently completed and or under construction would have provide TV punters with a better view and understanding of really what is happening in our great City.
Disappointed with the final outcome – missed opportunity to promote Manchester

By CBA

The programme wasn’t reflective of wider Greater Manchester – very narrow

By TJL

Must’ve been watching a different show. It actually didn’t show that there was no affordable houses at all Darren. It showed how most of the new building was taking place on empty car parks, that some of the local residents were in favour of the building boom and and that inner city is stuffed full of low density affordable housing already – although more is needed.

By Real Daz Salford

Would be interesting to see how far behind schedule Crusader Mill is now – it still does not have a roof on most of it. Also the development next door, Phoenix still looks empty?

By Dan

When I watched it I thought that Tim had been stitched up like a kipper by the show. It did not show him in a good light whatsoever, and he came across ‘not great’ – so didn’t think it was very fair on him. I would question whose advice he took to go on the show!

By Mr Dawson

Property development seems like a very easy way to make a lot of dosh.
Just leverage a load of money from foreign countries and hope the market doesn’t crash.
You don’t need to know anything about construction, architecture or even much about business.
It also seems to help if you are an ex-football player.

By Ken

I thought the programme was very balanced. There is an absolute imperative for the public and the administrations they support to constantly check what they’re doing and why. For decades now Manchester has approached regeneration as “get people with money into the city centre and we’ll sort the social justice and poverty issues out later”. Well….way to go if you want your city to end up like a Paris with a well-off centre and troubled periphery. Let’s not dwell on the architecture of it all….which I believe in general is poor, but each to their own. There is a definite tenure mix problem in the Manchester developments. The administrations should tackle this head on by ramping up their own council house / social rent arm (while finding ways to keep stock out of Right to Buy) instead of relying on developers to bail out the city’s lower income housing issues. Nobody misses the days of “Britain’s Detroit” when the only thing moving in Manchester were deeply serious indie bands searching out moody photo opportunities. But Howard Bernstein’s legacy needs a serious evaluation. Principally…who is this investment for? Why are you doing it? Do local people benefit and how?

By Sceptic

Like Paris? City centre flats are not for the rich, they are full of working class people. look at Deansgate Square. Fake news about Manchester not being affordable.

By Floyd

It was either a brave or even naive move to allow BBC cameras to follow Capital and centric around for so long. But then not many developers would be up for that and not many can convey with authenticity the positive message that Tim Heatley did for our industry. I didn’t know of him as I’m in the social housing sector, he did a great ambassadors role to defend property developers reputation. But it could’ve been covered in 2 or 3 hours, not 4.

By David Jones

Typical BBC show, came with a headline to shot us Northerners down but failed to deliver an answer or a understandable view of what has happened since the IRA bomb and built on two cities with a large airport, 2 football teams, 3 universities, media city, comedy and music venues, shops and restaurants that would never have come to Manchester previously

No depth

No context

No details on the homeless and other city problems that are the same the world over

Tim came across as naïve and out of his depth – comments like “it has to work” and “it cant fail”, not the best developer to have for a national audience, made us look like a set of amateurs which we are not!

We are 2 great cities living the dream (some / most of the time)

By Salfordian

The development in Rochdale looks nice. Rochdale is trying hard to reinvent itself. It has a grand centre and they have reopened the river so this could be a good move. I know it is easy for some of the inhabitants on the south side of the city to mock the old mill towns but they have the best scenery in Greater Manchester on their peripheries, so I think Tim is right to look at rejuvenating their centres.Rochdale has good links to Manchester by train and tram.

By Elephant

All these new housing developments being built everywhere around the city of Salford and Manchester.. There is still hundreds and hundreds of homeless people sleeping rough everywhere and still thousands of citizens on the council waiting list sleeping in temporary accommodation in B&Bs and hotels waiting years for a decent place to live.

By Darren born bred.

This programme was all about the property developer Tim heatley and the divide with the struggling lower class and the upper class people buying the overpriced apartments.

By Regular northerner.

I live in Stockport and currently Meadow Mill is being redeveloped by people from Saudi Arabia.I feel our towns and cities should be redeveloped by the local people that live here, with valuable input from local residents that understand the autonomy of the area and not from some out-of-towners that think they know best.

Take the disaster that is Red Rock, no better than what the town originally had and a waste of £54M which could have been spent regenerating this area with smooth pavements for all to access. Currently, it is still as inaccessible as before, if you are disabled it is a race to get to the centralised toilets, if they’re open, as we need more facilities easily accessible in closer proximity to a disabled bay. Manchester has made itself an impossible city to visit for the disabled motorist, often penalised with fines for crossing once-accessible streets and nowhere accessible to park or access smooth pavements to decamp.I had a mobility scooter for years until the assaults and limited shop access(WH Smith and Clinton Cards – spent hundreds each month in them until they narrowed the aisles) became unbearable.For the same money Motability stepped in and gave me back my safety. Now, we shop and dine in another county where they care!

I am of the view that this is just strengthening Amazon’s grip on the retail market, which isn’t reinvesting back into the local community.
This has somehow been forgotten by these developers but it is fine, one can just do away with the unreachable items on the shelf and buy online.
Developers are only interested in using our land to build wild notions plucked from smoggy air and give us what they think we need.
All they are doing is displacing us and taking the little character with us. The same character that attracted them to the area in the first place.
No affordable homes means no affordable access. You may as well build a concrete jungle in a desert and probably by the same people that have.

By Andy Grey Rider