The month in property | January

Neil Tague

A sideways glance and the news, moves, and deals taking place over the past month.

Ask me, Ask me, Ask me…

Farewell to Ask as we know it, as Carillion swoops to buy out the founding shareholders of the firm – the three who had their initial in the name (Andy Dodd, Simon Bate and Ken Knott) and the one who didn’t, carrot-topped Simply Red crooner Mick Hucknall. John Hughes stays on as MD. In what it delivered and the way it did it over 15 years, with public/private work aplenty, Ask was the most New Labour of developers in the most New Labour of cities. Ask’s legacy is also as a breeding ground for some who’ve gone on to do smart things elsewhere; Adam Higgins at Capital & Centric, Stephen Cliff at Vision, and Les Lang at Till.

MetquarterNo quarter given

Liverpool’s Metquarter is to become a premium dining destination, with new owner Queensberry Real Estate (backed by Bywater Properties) announcing plans to repeat the success it has found with Manchester’s Corn Exchange. There’s no denying the Corn Exchange has found a proper identity now, in a way it hasn’t since it was hit by the IRA bomb in June 1996. The Metquarter’s been up and down under various owners, never really sure of how to pitch itself once Liverpool One opened. The retailers doing well will stay, with dining to beef up the North West end primarily, targeted at bringing in some of the Cavern Quarter tourist dosh.

All about US

Urban Splash are back. Not that they ever went away; like Ask, Tom Bloxham’s outfit is one of the great survivors. But having sold off bits and bobs, such as Fort Dunlop, and chunks of Castlefield, activity has been on the up. This month Splash signed up Greater Manchester Property Venture Fund to invest in an initial 43 units at its “flexible housing” hoUSe concept at New Islington, designed by US’s fellow grammar-manglers shedkm. The Liverpool architect is the go-to firm on this sort of kit, with funky upcoming types Capital & Centric also working with shedkm on housebuilding arm Nowhaus, launched with the almost unique selling point of actually delivering houses for councils. It’ll never catch on.

Sheona Southern managing director Marketing Manchester

Southern takes over from Stokes at Marketing Manchester

Southern comfort

January’s a big month for new starts. Aiming to fill the not-inconsiderable shoes of outgoing boss Andrew Stokes at Marketing Manchester is Sheona Southern, formerly of Windermere agency Cairn, while Stokes has taken a role at Visit Britain. Elsewhere, ex-Trafford Council leader Matt Colledge will take a handy contacts book to lobbyist Lexington Communications, while Caroline Simpson, formerly director of economic growth and prosperity at Cheshire East, is off to Stockport’s regeneration team – on the face of it a tougher brief, but probably less tumultuous than life in Macc’s corridors of power.

Royal flushed out?

Could Royal London be on the move from its Wilmslow stronghold? The insurance giant has been locked in a rather terse set-to with Cheshire East Council over expanding office space at its campus on Alderley Road, Wilmslow. It owns the land, but planning restrictions are in place, and the firm has confirmed it is looking at “other location options”. The council might be wise to tread carefully here – after all there is a tempting scheme close by with Enterprise Zone status and effectively, its own international airport, all of it in the jurisdiction of rival authority Manchester. An authority that was not entirely chuffed to lose out to Cheshire East when Waters consolidated into a spanking new Wilmslow HQ a few years ago.

City Place externalHave I got Muse for you

Progress this month on two Muse projects, with the announcement of a six-month road closure in Stockport softened by progress on the 115-bed Holiday Inn and 50,000 sq ft office block that mark the next phase of Stockport Exchange. In Chester, the 70,000 sq ft One City Place office building has been completed. Some may scoff at the safe and steady nature of Muse, and it’s true that there’s something of a template – get the car park and budget hotel in, follow up with office block, add a bit of resi. But the model works, and provides work for many others. Those who prefer flashier stuff are probably still waiting for shiny things to appear as promised pre-2007, like the 58 and 54-storey Inacity and Albany’s Crown towers near Manchester Piccadilly. That may take some time.

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