English Cities Fund's plans for Salford are unusually big. Full stop. But there's a bigger picture about the rarity of these sorts of broad canvas urban regen projects that is interesting as we watch the development landscape change. Sites running into dozens of acres, building kit worth many hundreds of millions of pounds and getting through CPOs and public inquiries have never been cheap. Today it gives all but the strongest developers indigestion before anyone even mentions pre-planning fees. Not surprisingly these biggies have clearly dwindled in number in the past year and many won't see the light of day again.
ECF is backed exceptionally well by Muse (Morgan Sindall), HCA (see the Government for invoice queries), and Legal & General. It also has the Central Salford URC and council buy-in to help it steer through CPOs etc. Muse again in Blackpool. The Co-op in Manchester. Genr8 (Chelsfield Partners) in Rochdale. All show what's required.
But for a lot of our towns and cities the concept of big will have to shrink. When Grosvenor walked away from the £700m Preston Tithebarn it said quicker, tighter schemes would be the order of the day. Expect some announcements in the coming months. When Alliance and Moorfield hooked up this month it was in search of assets worth 'in excess of £50m' it jumped off the page where it wouldn't have taken such a leap a couple of years ago. Big is still clearly better for returns and the scale of change but the bar is lower, owing mainly to the cost of borrowing. The £100m Jessica fund launched by the NWDA to take equity in difficult town/city centre schemes is likely to be spent on a few large projects rather than lots of lesser ones. The fact the agency felt the need to step in speaks volumes itself.
Anything over 1m sq ft or worth more than £100m that is actually delivered this decade will be in rare company.
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- Thanks to the Everyman for a fascinating tour of the currently cramped backstage quarters this week. Plans are due out in the spring for the new building that will replace the iconic theatre on Liverpool's Hope Street. The architects have a job on their hands configuring all the functions required of such a space. The highlight of the tour though was a comment from a fellow journalist who said she won a competition to be a rat in Dick Whittington at the Everyman when she was a kid. That takes some beating.