Manchester City Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig and Liverpool City Council Leader Cllr Liam Robinson spoke about their city's approach to housing development at Place RESI on 19 October. Credit: PNW

Event Summary

Place RESI | Photos and summary

A sold-out crowd of property professionals heard directly from Manchester City Council, Liverpool City Council, and Stockport Council leaders as well as industry experts about the obstacles and opportunities in the North West’s residential sector.

“The housing situation in this country is rather dire,” said Julia Hatmaker, editor of Place North West, as she opened Place RESI on 19 October. “We do not have enough homes. We can’t build them fast enough.”

Held in the historic surroundings of Manchester Hall, the event was sponsored by WSP, Trowers & Hamlins, ClearFibre, Placefirst, Northstone, Harris Associates, and Onward Homes.

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Open for business

It’s time to draw a line under Liverpool’s political problems of the past, said Liverpool City Council Leader Cllr Liam Robinson during Place RESI’s opening ‘fireside chat’ with Cllr Bev Craig, his Manchester counterpart.

“All of my focus is about making Liverpool City Council one of the most professional local authorities that you’ll find anywhere in this country and crucially to make sure that the business community knows that we’re very much open for business,” Robinson said.

The grown-up in the room

The success of housing strategy in Manchester and beyond will be dependent on a coherent long-term plan that is neither reliant on personalities nor specific administrations, said Craig.

She added: “When I talk to business leaders the thing that they say is most important is certainty.

“Local government has got the opportunity to be the grown-up in the room because actually our job is to run a city and to plan a city for the future.”

Quality partnerships

Responding to the housing crisis in Liverpool will take as many “partners of quality” as possible, added Robinson.

The city has a target to build at least 8,000 brand new homes over the next four years, with no fewer than 20% of those being socially affordable. However, he added this is “the bottom of our ambition”.

Liverpool City Council wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work with “very good quality RSLs at scale” on a lot of significant sites, Robinson added.

These are predominantly brownfield sites, both within and outside council ownership.

A scheme at the former Festival Gardens site will move forward in the New Year which, along with the North Docks development, will bookend the city centre.


Manchester City Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig, Liverpool City Council Leader Cllr Liam Robinson, Onward’s Sandy Livingstone, and Select Property’s Giles Beswick spoke on the first panel at Place RESI. Credit: PNW

No identikit cities

Developers should work with the character of each individual area of the city centre, said Craig.

She pointed to the £1.7bn redevelopment of the former UMIST campus into a 4m sq ft innovation district and the creation of a 6.5-acre park in Mayfield as examples.

She said: “Each area has to have its own hook because that’s what makes a place. Identikit cities don’t last.”

Manchester is aiming to build 36,000 new homes over the next decade, 10,000 of which will be “genuinely affordable”, according to Craig.

A functioning housing market needs a mixture of products across the whole city, she added.

Typical city centre residents

While young people are still the driving force of city centre living, the demographics have started to slightly widen to include families, said Giles Beswick, director of Select Property and Vita Group, during the first panel discussion.

What young people are looking for in a home is also shifting due to the increase of hybrid working and changes in lifestyle, he continued.

Beswick said: “They will probably change jobs more frequently than they used to. They will certainly have different expectations about the age at which they are likely to own a home and about ownership generally.”

However, if a developer puts the effort into providing the right amenities, young people will repay that with loyalty, added Beswick, who is seeing the average length of stay creeping up.

City centre downsizers

Craig added there is an interesting trend in Manchester of over-60s ‘traditional downsizers’ moving to the city centre.

Different demographics are looking for different things from city centre living, she said.


‘A city centre won’t thrive if all it is is people who are high-end earners,” said Onward’s Sandy Livingstone. Credit: PNW

New groups

Meanwhile, Liverpool is looking to attract two specific groups to its city centre – students and families.

A successful example of family accommodation is Wirral Waters, which is linked to Liverpool city centre by the Merseyrail network, creating a “hinterland city centre community”, in Robinson’s words.

Mixed communities

A thriving city centre depends on affordable homes provided by the housing association sector as well private sector development, said Sandy Livingstone, executive director of Onward Homes.

He said: “A city centre won’t thrive if all it is is people who are high-end earners because the people who actually make the city work are the people we house.

“It’s about giving them opportunity and giving them access and encouraging them to grow as a community – and that’s how you get economic growth and regeneration.”


When asked whether co-living is likely to become popular, the panellists agreed the concept would appeal to some residents but could only form part of the city living picture.

Too much of one form of housing would risk skewing the market.


Northstone’s Hannah Flory, Homes England’s Catherine Holmes, and Placefirst’s Darran Lawless spoke about the changing residential scene in towns and suburbs on the second Place RESI panel. Credit: PNW

Biggest challenges

The second panel opened with participants’ thoughts on the challenges surrounding delivering houses in areas outside city centres.

Hannah Flory, design manager/architect at Northstone, said the lack of funding for council planning departments has led to a shortage of staff and training, causing a bottleneck in the process.

Catherine Holmes, Homes England’s head of cities and major conurbations, highlighted the viability gap caused by insufficient funding programmes.

The lack of an established market and infrastructure was raised by Darran Lawless, development director at Placefirst.

Suburban residents

Flory warned against making assumptions about “typical residents”.

She said: “It’s tempting when looking at suburban areas to just think it’s just family homes, but in reality you can accommodate a much wider community.

“All sorts of people want to live in a place where they have a garden and more space to breathe,” she continued.

“But it always has to be site specific – what is missing in that area and what needs to be built to work well in the context.”


Homes England’s Catherine Holmes: Build-to-rent outside the city centre is ‘untested’. Credit: PNW

Suburbs or town?

Asked whether towns near major cities should be considered as suburbs or their own places with their own economies, Lawless said local residents may want to see investment brought into their towns rather than be an adjunct to a more dominant city centre.

He said: “They would want the same access to facilities, amenities and good quality housing that city centres in the UK have had delivered in the last 15, 20-plus years.

“A lot of people move away from those towns either for employment, education or a lack of suitable housing. It’s about giving people the flexibility and choice to remain in those towns.”

Suburban rental market

Renting is growing in popularity due to residents not wanting to commit to maintaining an elderly property or because of uncertainty over bills due to the cost of living crisis.

Holmes raised the lack of a build-to-rent model in suburban areas.

She said: “There is still very much a market for home ownership, it’s just that availability of finance, access to mortgages, etc., means that isn’t at the moment available to all.

“There probably are too few rented properties available outside of the city centre because we know there’s a market there. Once you move out of the city centre, it’s a bit untested.”

Public engagement

Engaging with the public early is essential to bringing the local community on board with development projects, said Flory.

She advised asking the right questions to enable you to look beyond negative and positive comments. She referenced how one project received hardly any letters of support, and yet when Northstone asked people if they’d be interested in purchasing a home they had hundreds of replies.


Place RESI’s third panel featured Strategic Land Group’s Paul Smith, Cushman & Wakefield’s Caroline Baker, Centre for Cities’ Anthony Breach, and Stockport Council Leader Cllr Mark Hunter. Credit: PNW

National housing policy

The final panel opened with a debate over what should be in the Labour Party’s promised Planning Reform Bill – if it should even exist at all.

Anthony Breach, senior analyst at Centre for Cities, argued in favour of a comprehensive overhaul of the current system.

He said: “Our planning system is really internationally unusual. It has this really bizarre case-by-case discretionary decision-making process.

“You need to fix that if you want to meet those long-term aspirations Labour has for economic growth.”

Non-legislative changes

Making the opposite case was Paul Smith, managing director of The Strategic Land Group, who described the proposed Bill as “the last thing we need”.

He said: “The anticipation of planning reform has actually caused the system to stall.

“There are things in the Levelling Up Bill that will make a big difference to the speed of local planning preparation, but the changes Labour can make if they really want to speed up delivery are non-legislative: like national planning policy, planning practice guidance, a written ministerial statement to reinforce the presumption in favour of sustainable development.”


Stockport has proven it can deliver housing, even without a local plan, according to Leader Mark Hunter. Credit: PNW

Local plans

Hatmaker asked what can be done to fix local plans, which have had mixed reception with many taking years to develop.

Stockport has been working on its local plan since 2017. The plan has yet to be finalised, but Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of Stockport Council, did not appear phased when questioned about the lack of progress at Place RESI.

“We’re in good company,” he said. “There are 60-plus local authorities of all stripes up and down the length and breadth of the country who have paused progress on the local plan for lack of clarity.

“What we have demonstrated is that we can build new homes through the [Stockport Mayoral] Development Corporation,” he continued, referencing the council’s Stockport 8, Royal George Village, St Thomas’ Gardens, Weir Mill, and Stockport Interchange.

“We have firm plans for 4,000 new homes for Stockport town centre,” Hunter said.

Design codes

The panel agreed that design codes introduced in the right way could be useful to developers.

Design codes are not supposed to be about preserving specific architectural style, said Smith.

Instead, they should give developers more certainty on the types of schemes that would be approved.

Brownfield is the key

Energy is better spent on reclaiming brownfield sites rather than tackling controversy around building on Green Belt or greenfield, said Caroline Baker, managing partner at Cushman & Wakefield.

She said: “If we were able to bring more brownfield sites forward because we had more investment for reclaiming contaminated sites, particularly in the North West because of our industrial past, there would be much less controversy as opposed to spending a lot of time, energy and money trying to deal with some of the green areas.”


Place North West’s next event is on 9 November. Credit: PNW


What’s next?

Liverpool City Region boasts ambitious sci-tech campuses, a thriving logistics industry, higher education institutions and more, contributing to an economy of £28.3bn. Join Place on Thursday 9 November for Liverpool City Region Development Update, where our panels of experts will talk through the major storylines in the region and debate the best ways to unlock Merseyside’s potential. Book your ticket.

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Your Comments

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Savvy Mcr boosting their city centre population by allowing tall buildings, meanwhile Liam is non committal on that topic and talks only of family housing in the city centre, albeit on the Wirral?
Liverpool keeps avoiding the obvious, let the market do its business and things will improve, confidence will grow, and trust will break out on both sides. You won’t provide housing via social provision alone, work with the private sector and accept they have to make a profit like the social sector makes its surplus.

By Anonymous

Has Cllr Liam Robinson agreed to an interview yet with PNW?

By Liverpolitis

    Cllr Robinson will be participating in an onstage Q&A with me at our Liverpool City Region Development Update on 9 November. I have several readers’ questions ready to put forward to him and we will also be taking questions from the audience.

    By Julia Hatmaker

The more you move people into the city centre the more of the legendary nightlife / culture you lose


DH Nightlife is the least important aspect of any city and I wouldn’t describe liverpools as culturally significant either. Plus city centres across Europe are densely populated and it doesn’t affect “nightlife”.

By Anonymous

DH 2.49pm, you’re wrong.

By Anonymous

Thank you Julia:)

By Liverpolitis

In response to Anon at 2.04pm,Money goes to money. Skyscrapers go to Skyscrapers. Manchester is upping the ante every single year. Tall buildings policies, are fine in some cities, because nobody wants a 70 storey tower overlooking York Minster or shadowing the Royal Crescent in Bath but big cities prosper because they are forward thinking and progressive and increase their populations. The irony is ,that the one city made for skyscrapers is Liverpool.

By Elephant

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