The Advanced Machinery and Productivity Institute will play a key part of Atom Valley. Credit: via Rochdale Council

The Subplot

The Subplot | North Manchester’s moment, city living, falling capital values

Good Thursday morning,


  • Atomic fusion: can putting together a plan for Greater Manchester’s Northern Gateway succeed at local levelling up?
  • Elevator pitch: your weekly rundown of who is going up, and who is heading the other way


Putting together a plan for Greater Manchester’s Northern Gateway

Can this local levelling-up effort succeed where the national one falters?

The 17m sq ft development of a slice of Bury and Rochdale makes enormous economic sense: the area is already fizzing, and could become a regional engine of growth. Heywood and Middleton, and the cluster of smaller settlements, industrial estates and business parks stretched out between them, are not no-hope zones. The M60-M62 link means local warehouses are among the primest of prime – Stakehill and Kingsway Business Park – and demand easily exceeds supply. There’s some good housing in decent, desirable places to live. If more land could be made available, and transport infrastructure improved, it could turbocharge the regional economy. There’s scope for 7,000 new homes. Designation of the area as the Atom Valley Mayoral Development Corporation makes eminent sense.

We’re talking about where exactly?

Heywood and Middleton, roughly an arc east from the motorway between Junction 2 of the M66 near Bury down to Junction 19 of the M60 towards the eastern outliers with Milnrow in the north east and Slattocks in the south east. Substantial infrastructure is envisaged, such as motorway junction improvements and a Northern Gateway distributor road. Others – train-trams from Oldham to Heywood then on to Bury, and a long-awaited tram spur into Middleton, are already in the system (the Middleton spur business cases is in preparation).

Things to think about

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority acknowledges the risks to success if the infrastructure doesn’t materialise. “Failure to invest in a significant scale of infrastructure in advance of the employment and housing development will not deliver a zero-carbon development that connects through sustainable and accessible transport modes to the surrounding communities,” says an official report. The GMCA solution feels a bit it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night, relying as it does on “galvanised” joint venture partners (property developers and investors) to come up with much of the cash.

Green Belt

The second risk, also acknowledged by GMCA, is that it gets nowhere, or nowhere fast, with the major revisions to Green Belt needed to open up area. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (now called Places for Everyone) has the issue covered, but anyone who has followed the framework’s up-down political history wouldn’t bet on success. Meantime, potential future prime minister Liz Truss is talking loudly about protecting the Green Belt. It’s a tough call, and GMCA doesn’t have many options here, so it is hard to lay blame for a solution which amounts to hoping developers, landowners and councils can make a sufficiently persuasive case.

Inflation again

The third risk, not identified as such but every bit as real, is that funding dries up. “Delivery of these projects will require significant investment of public and private sector funding from a range of sources,” the official paperwork says. Inflation is already eating away at public sector resources. An Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggested 40% of planned real-terms increases in funding had already been wiped out, and that another £44bn of new money would be needed to replace it. How much will be left for Atom Valley is anyone’s guess.

Not in the envelope

The Atom Valley plan has deservedly won praise. But some bold out-of-the-box thinking may be needed if the mayoral development corporation is to work, says Hari Sothinathan, partner at Gerald Eve, an advisor on similar projects around Greater London and to Homes England. He says the new MDC needs “the ability to bring forward new infrastructure simultaneously with residential and commercial space to activate regeneration,” as well as assured funding and the kind of people who can work with the private sector.

Big bold ideas

“The markets are very challenging for delivery at present. I think any development corporation structure will need to think carefully about its role in projects and be bold in listening to and adopting new delivery structures including working with the private sector from either a financing perspective or from a delivery perspective,” he tells Subplot.

The old, old story

The lack of a regional planning framework (Places for Everyone goes before government inspectors at hearings in November) will also mean that, as the Atom Valley plan proceeds, there’s more than usual amounts of improvising going on, from local councils as well as the private sector. Savills planning partner Jeremy Hinds says: “We’ve had limited progress on a strategic plan which could release Green Belt, and in an ideal world the big decisions would be done there. But we’re not there yet. On balance maybe Green Belt release is about process, and we’ll get there, and in the meantime local authorities are empowered to make decisions.”

A good location and a good idea ought to ensure Atom Valley has an explosive start. The task now is to see that it gets one. Join the debate at the Greater Manchester Development Update on Thursday 8 September.


Going up, or going down? This week’s movers

Global money is still fighting for space in the city living sector, but capital values are going down as the property sector feels the tremours of oncoming stagflation. Ding ding, doors closing, going up.

City living

Two big funding deals point to stability in at least one bit of the new-normal property market. In Liverpool, Blacklight Capital Partners has purchased Natex, the 574-apartment student accommodation scheme off Norton Street, in a deal with administrators. The original developer was Mount Property Group. Simultaneously Olympian Homes’ development at Manchester’s Portugal Street East development secured £165m forward-funding from Round Hill Capital. The 488-unit towers are due to be completed by spring 2025.

As inflation gallops there’s no sign of the city living market slowing – rather the contrary, as these deals imply. Second quarter data from CBRE suggests £2bn was invested in various formats this spring, some 80% in the regions. At some point there will be a slowdown, if only because investors at the margins might think there are less competitive places to put money. But that’s not going to be soon.

Capital values

Another straw in the stagflationary wind is provided by data – also from CBRE – showing that for the first time in ages capital values across all UK commercial property have started to fall. In July, total value fell 0.5%, with total returns down 0.1%. The rent-a-quote response would be that some obviously troubled sectors like retail (not a good summer) and the office market (still not flying) dragged the averages down, and that it’s a thin time of the year in any case, and a fraction of a per cent is hardly a crisis, but the truth is that even the industrial sector fell back.

The warehouse sector posted capital values down 1.4% in July, or 1.7% if you exclude the ever-flourishing South East. Rental values were up 0.7%, the only sector to report rental value growth worth mentioning, so still very attractive to investors, but overall returns slipped 1.1%. That the hottest sector of the property market could see values shaved like this is worth pausing for thought. It won’t turn off the investment tap because sheds are still hot compared to everything else. But a vibe shift is on its way.

Get in touch with David Thame: | 01544 262127

The Subplot is brought to you in association with Oppidan Life.

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Your Comments

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Atom Valley..I just love the name.

By Anonymous

Transport is key to this. They need that link between Bury and Oldham via Heywood.

By Elephant

So is this what levelling up means? Bold vision from North Manchester

By Anonymous

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