At this special event, U+I and Place North West hosted leading figures from the worlds of development, architecture, construction, technology, and culture to examine the next era of city growth, including U+I’s ambitious plans for the 24-acre site next to Manchester’s Piccadilly station.
Hosted at the Fairfield Social Club, set within the arches of Mayfield, the audience heard how the Mayfield site will be reimagined to form a whole city neighbourhood, with influences from overseas and at home blended with innovative design to form a unique new part of Manchester.
See below for gallery + slides
Speakers included Matthew Weiner, chief executive of U+I; Richard Upton, deputy chief executive of U+I; Joanne Roney, chief executive of Manchester City Council; David West, founding partner of Studio Egret West; Tom Younger, head of cities at Uber; Catherine Dewar, planning director, Historic England; Steve Oliver, founder, Music Magpie; Cathy Parker, chair of the institute of place management at Manchester Metropolitan University; Joanna Rowelle, director of city planning at Arup; Jonathan Downey, founder of London Union; Stephen O’Malley, founding director of Civic Engineers; Tom Walker, partner at Gillespies; Sara Grohmann, partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley; and Sarah James, membership development officer at Civic Voice.
Chief executive Matthew Weiner opened the day, calling the Mayfield project “the most exciting opportunity that Manchester has seen in a generation”, and outlined how the developer wanted to make the area “a place that is globally recognised for its architectural splendour”.
Weiner said the developer and its team would need to be “creative, agile, and flexible” it its delivery of Mayfield, and emphasis that it would have to “embrace more than the cold hard facts of commercial viability” for the scheme to be a success.
A vision for Mayfield
Weiner’s opening address was followed by a presentation from David West, founding partner of Studio Egret West, the architect working with U+I on Mayfield.
- West outlined Mayfield in its historical context, describing the site as “monolithic in scale” and emphasising it had never been used as public realm – meaning the architect and developer have had to be think cleverly about its design: “Is the site too big? We think no, but we need to be careful about how we design it”
- Citing global examples – Zurich West in Switzerland; the Zollverein in Germany – West explained how the plans are designed “to give what’s already here a second life”, and said Mayfield would not seek to copy these international projects, but improve upon them
- Influences have also been taken from elevated linear parks and walkways, with proposals put forward to link Mayfield to Piccadilly, but West added: “If we do elevate, we need to make sure it connects”
- West also emphasised the flexibility of the site’s masterplan, denying it was a rigid set of guidelines for Mayfield. Options that could form a part of the site include arts space, cultural institutions, and higher education
- “We’re 100% sure this won’t be final plan that we build out by 2030,” he said. “Flexibility is the absolute key for the project – we want to be changing and responding all the time”
The presentation was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh, where West was joined on stage by O’Malley, Grohmann, Rowelle, Walker, and Dewar.
- On the role of city centre environments, O’Malley said changes to the high street and retail made “re-imagining” urban space all the more important: “Cities should be about experience and connectivity, not just what’s built there”
- Walker said he was “heartened” by an increasing emphasis on the natural environment within cities, especially at Mayfield where an urban park is proposed to form a key part of the site
- “There has been a shift where we’ve been polishing up historical cities with restrained and respectful public realm and now we’re moving towards the introduction of nature and wildlife – a lot of research points to how contact with nature can make a real difference to people’s wellbeing,” he said
- On the historical nature of the site, Dewar said that not all heritage assets should be “ring-fenced” but emphasised how retaining historic environments “creates challenges for designers, which in turn creates better places”
- While acknowledging the viability challenges that heritage assets can bring, Dewar argued historic buildings can add value in both the monetary sense and for wellbeing and environment, citing research which pointed towards people responding more positively to environments that incorporated historic elements
- West said that while around 10 years ago, knocking down Mayfield station “might have made sense for the city at that point in its evolution”, he added it was “fortunate the zeitgeist lets us see buildings like [Mayfield] in a different way”
The discussion then moved to the connectivity of the site and its links not just to the city but to the wider Greater Manchester region and beyond.
- Grohmann said architects were increasingly designing schemes which have no car parking but in public consultations there was “still a desire for people to have parking”, and that it would be important for Mayfield to find a balance between the two positions
- Walker argued that “insisting” on car parking space could “wipe out important public realm” and noted there was “a long way to go before attitudes change on the need for parking
- “It’s a cheap stunt to blame the planners and we have to shift away from our own dependency on cars,” he said
- Rowelle said it was vital to involve the end-users of the development in the consultation process, just as much as talking to current stakeholders
In conversation with Joanne Roney
Following the panel, Middleton-Pugh was joined by Manchester City Council chief executive Joanne Roney to discuss how the city’s growth can be balanced with inclusive opportunities.
Roney said Manchester is “bold enough to tackle its fundamental issues”, and said the city was closer to closing it inequality gap than when she took over as chief executive on 1 April last year.
Asked on how Manchester was tackling the issue of homelessness, she said: “Homelessness is a complicated issue, and our approach is simple: to increase the level of temporary accommodation and emergency accommodation; and encourage people not to give to homeless but to give to charities instead.
“I’d like to say by the end of the year is that we have enough bed spaces for everyone,” she added, “but for every one we get off the streets there are more people coming into the city.”
On the consultation and masterplanning process, as well as the social value that developers can add to the city, Roney cited numerous examples of developer-supported projects across the city including investments in schools supported by Section 106 agreements, and investments in green spaces.
She said that partnerships with developers remained flexible and added the city was open to a range of different types of joint ventures and support: “In Manchester we don’t have a blueprint that says it has be one type of partnership – it’s about what’s right for the city.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Roney said she was disappointed that central Government “did not share [Manchester’s] ambition” for its proposed HS2 hub sitting between Piccadilly and Mayfield, but revealed she was “lobbying hard” alongside Mayor Andy Burnham and Transport for the North to get Government support.
Closing the discussion, Roney was asked what she would like to see more of in Manchester, with a simple answer: housing. “I do want to think about the spatial design of what we’re doing,” she said.
“I love Ancoats, and that balance of building new versus bringing old buildings back to life; and green space is our next big challenge here, and our public realm.
“And where’s the council’s contribution with declining budgets? It won’t be easy but we need those social value contributions to help us put together the infrastructure we want.”
Uber: Shaping 2030 cities
Following a networking break, Tom Younger, UK & Ireland city lead for Uber, presented on the tech and transport giant’s role for future city growth and connectivity.
- 95% of cars are spend most of their time sitting idle, he said, with a fifth of space in cities given over for car parking spaces – rethinking this could provide more space for hospitals, schools, and green space
- People living in less accessible areas are “essentially forced into car ownership by design”, and Younger said Uber would be looking to align with transport planners, construction companies, and developers to work to make cities more accessible
- He pointed out that Uber was designed to complement public transport rather than compete with it, citing the example of London’s Night Tube, where Uber had seen a drop-off in city centre journeys on Friday and Saturday nights but a major increase in suburban travel, where Uber was being used as a “last-mile” mode of transport
- He also outlined future Uber products under development; an electric bike rental platform; Uber Rent, where cars are rented with a shared app leading to fewer vehicles sitting idle; a partnership with Masabi covering trains, flights, and travel tickets to make Uber a “collective transport platform”
- The company is also working on UberAir to provide on-demand aviation within cities. Tests are due to be carried out in Dallas and Los Angeles, and while Manchester is an unlikely destination for the service so far, the company wants to launch its first commercial flights through the platform in 2023
- Younger said this presents massive opportunities for re-purposing space, including car parks and rooftops as transport hubs.
Younger’s presentation was followed by Cathy Parker, professor of marketing and retail enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University.
- Parker outlined research the university has been working on in partnership with Manchester City Council to look at city districts and the sense of attachment that people have to their local areas
- The university also carried out a study on 10 towns in the UK, addressing town centre decline and how to address it. This showed that it was not often a lack of investment that was the problem, but rather making the wrong investments
- This highlights the importance of place management; Parker cited the example of Piccadilly Gardens, as space that has been designed in such a way that it makes it difficult to maintain management and improve
- On planning towns, Parker pointed to the make-up of high streets and the services provided in them: for example, while councils have looked to include childcare facilities as part of town centres and high streets, there is little evidence that this actually has an impact on the success of a town centre
- Similarly, research shows footfall at town centres peaks in the middle of the day, but in the evenings when commuters return, centres aren’t geared up to offer them the services they need
- Research also showed that while advertising and tourism can help to grow visitors from elsewhere, the people who actually live there can find this inauthentic – increasing the importance of finding a balance between place management for residents, and attracting new visitors
Placemaking for the future
Both Younger and Parker then joined a panel discussion featuring Steve Oliver of Music Magpie; Jonathan Downey, co-founder of London Union; and Sarah James, membership development officer at Civic Voice.
- Oliver said tech and IT companies such as his had found themselves in a “massive dogfight” over talent, with younger professionals wanting to live and work in both city and town centres. Music Magpie chose to relocate to Stockport Exchange in a bit to attract professionals due to its access to the city centre and the area’s own local economy
- Downey, who runs a street food business, said that while street food and pop-ups had been seen as a “meanwhile” solution in the past, he was reporting developers offering longer leases. As a business London Union is now targeting leases of 10 years or more and is open to acting as an anchor tenant for wider developments
- On consulting residents and stakeholders on the placemaking process, James said it was vital to think about how future users of the space will interact with the people who already live there: “Have difficult conversations up front and be honest with what’s being planned”
- Parker said it was vital not to force residents into groups, with residents and stakeholders needing to be able to “organically select” who they want to work with. “Some groups just won’t work together and it’s hard to do anything about that, but it’s vital to recognise it”
- Responding to a question from the audience about the potential to include urban farming in a development such as Mayfield, Downey said any proposals would be difficult due to space requirements and land values, with sites that could be set aside for urban farming being “much more valuable as residential sites”
- However, he said there was great scope for produce, rather than farming, for example baking, and making fresh pasta. And while he said that a service like UberEats and street food were at “opposite ends of the spectrum”, both services are “delivering what people want and in different ways”
- Younger agreed, and said that while urban farming may prove to be difficult due to viability issues, he expected “dark kitchens” – i.e. restaurants only providing services to platforms like Deliveroo and Ubereats – to become more prominent. These were unlikely to compete with restaurants as they are not designed to overlap with the experience of eating out
Drawing the event to a close, Richard Upton, deputy chief executive of U+I, and Matthew Weiner, chief executive, joined Middleton-Pugh on stage to talk about the developer’s vision for Mayfield.
- Weiner said the developer was founded on the concept that “quality of place and profitability weren’t mutually exclusive, but self-enforcing”
- Upton said “building for and with a community” is part of the company’s passion, and the raw materials of a site like Mayfield create immense challenges for the developer’s design team
- On the importance of the public sector in bringing forward sites, Upton said it was often “impossible” to work without public-private partnerships. “Government in the round is the largest owner of brownfield land in the country: it needs the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a private partner,” he argued
- However, he criticised some projects for “calling themselves regeneration schemes when in reality they are gentrification”, arguing development needed to be both “local and thoughtful” to make the most out of city-centre sites
- This, he said, would help to make Mayfield both authentic and “world-class” as a site to promote Manchester on the world stage, as well as making the city more attractive to global businesses: “If Google or Uber were going to come to Manchester, where would they want to go?”
- Weiner outlined the importance of public realm and green space to Mayfield, arguing the “quality of the public realm needed to reflect the fabric of Manchester”
- On the 2030 vision for Mayfield, Upton concluded: “We won’t get everything right, but we will be open and transparent”
Click any image to launch gallery