The University of Manchester has “halted” capital spending, according to vice-chancellor Nancy Rothwell, delaying the fit-out and opening of the £400m MECD building and casting uncertainty over the £1.5bn ID Manchester.
“Everything has stopped which can possibly be stopped,” Rothwell told a live-streamed meeting of the university’s senior leadership team last week, as the university takes measures to control its finances in the wake of Covid-19.
The Manchester Engineering Campus Development is the largest scheme in the university’s campus expansion plan, and is integral in allowing the university to move out from North Campus, formerly Umist, to make way for the development of a £1.5bn innovation district to be known as ID Manchester.
In March, Place North West revealed the university had shortened its longlist of potential development and investment partners for ID Manchester to four bidders; Bruntwood SciTech with Stanhope, Peel and Urban Splash, HBD, and Mapletree. The university then announced bidding would be paused for eight weeks as Covid-19 lockdown hit, and the process is yet to restart.
The 800,000 sq ft MECD block, which will have room for 1,300 staff and 6,700 students, was due to complete this year. However, the halt in spend means the fit-out of MECD has stopped, Rothwell said, “so we can’t move from the North Campus.”
As the economic picture evolves, the university’s approach to ID may also change, said Rothwell.
“The North Campus plan was us putting in nothing other than land, and then hopefully getting back significant receipts over future years. That may change.
“It is possible, but not a great thing to do at the current time, that we might look for more capital receipts, i.e. cash. That’s not great as capital is depressed massively, anything you sell at the bottom of the market is a huge loss.”
While Rothwell said ID was “halted, partly because of the construction industry and partly cash conservation”, she said the university was in talks with Government over funding and insisted “the North Campus is an important potential future for us.”
Meanwhile, when asked for further comment, a statement from Diana Hampson, director of estates and facilities at the University of Manchester, said discussions were under way in order to continue the hunt for the ID development partner.
“The University remains committed to the delivery of ID Manchester and our ambition to create the European capital of innovation is unwavering.
“In March the University rightly hit the pause button on progressing to the detailed dialogue stage with our four shortlisted bidders to be our development and investment partner on ID Manchester. We are now in discussions with the bidders regarding restarting the process and we will announce the restart date once it is confirmed.”
ID Manchester would include 4m sq ft of mixed-use space including large areas of public realm. The focus will be on attracting science, research, development, cultural, and tech companies, along with some residential development; overall, there is expected to be 2.6m sq ft of offices and work space.