The Subplot

The Subplot | Who won 2021, Factory arts centre, Daresbury


  • Hail to the winners: 10 people who made 2021 and will make 2022
  • Elevator Pitch: your weekly rundown of what is going up, and what is not

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WHO WON 2021?

10 names to watch

Heroes, trendsetters, riders of waves and, indeed, the makers of waves: Subplot’s end-of-year list of those who made North West real estate in 2021 and will shape it in the next 12 months.

Mark Allan

The Land Securities chief executive waited until the end of the year to blast into the Greater Manchester property scene, scooping (via a subsidiary’s £190m offer for U+I) the £1.4bn Mayfield development in Manchester. Separately Landsec bought the majority ownership of MediaCity in Salford for £425.6m. Allan still has a lot of work to do, not least to smooth ruffled feathers at the Mayfield site where senior figures at the city council (joint venture partners, no less) have some anxieties about the balance of residential and office. Allan could have just done the smartest thing in his career, or he could be about to discover that Manchester eats Londoners for breakfast. Or both. 2022 will decide.

Joanne Anderson

With government commissioners crawling all over everything, and the police only recently taking themselves out of the picture, being elected Liverpool’s city mayor propelled Anderson into arguably the least desirable political job in the UK. The mood in the property world is to repeat, daily, that the new Anderson is a world better than the old Anderson, whose energy they admired but whose judgement they did not. So far she’s been handling legacy issues, rather than setting a clear agenda of her own, but if all she managed was to restore a semblance of orderly competence, this would be a major win and the property sector would praise her to the skies.

Mark Bousfield

Bousfield moved smoothly from being the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority development and investment director to replacing Nick Kavanagh as Liverpool City Council development director. Given the history involved, this was brave. Bousfield’s three years at the combined authority left property folk feeling he was a hard-working, capable person with a can-do approach and no hidden agendas. They liked him (they did not like Kavanagh). The Liverpool local plan is in preparation and the Knowledge Quarter is growing (see Colin Sinclair, below), so Bousfield has plenty of opportunities to give Liverpool’s regeneration game the kind of highly targeted professional kick it deeply needs.

Andy Burnham

It’s a funny old world in which you can be King of the North, and simultaneously the least-liked man in Greater Manchester Labour politics. His attention-seeking stand-off with the government over Covid tiers may have given voice to a lot of local anger, but a confrontational approach didn’t help the broader relationship with Whitehall, and angered local council leaders. Meanwhile, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – torpedoed by Burnham in his 2017 election campaign – limped to a disunited nine out of 10 boroughs conclusion, scarcely a glorious outcome. Then there’s the GM police debacle to bear in mind. You’ll notice talk of Burnham replacing Keir Starmer as Labour leader has evaporated. But one to watch in 2022, if only for all the wrong reasons.

Bev Craig

From those to whom much is given, much is expected. Craig takes over as Manchester City Council’s political head after an unusually long period of stable leadership. Craig’s use of the language of inclusiveness means she makes a good fit with Manchester’s socially-conscious developers and landlords. And she may have some good news to dispense in the form of development deals and public-sector-led relocations. But sometime during 2022 Craig will have to let the smiles drop and get tough if she is to fulfil her aim of spreading regeneration into the city’s eastern and northern districts, and creating a greener, more sustainable city centre. More skyscrapers or more trees? That’s when we’ll see what she’s made of.

Boris Johnson

A crop of significant North West Labour “Red Wall” gains for Johnson’s Conservatives in the 2019 general election ought to have changed the regional political dynamic. But it hasn’t. Cross-party fuming about the Covid tiers system, the crashed-and-burned Northern Powerhouse Rail pledge, the lack of any significant Whitehall of the North decisions (so far) and a resounding ‘meh’ about the levelling up white paper amount to an unforgettable year of disappointments. Former Johnson outriders like Rossendale & Darwen Tory MP Jake Berry now strike a different tone. Supposing he’s still prime minister this time next year he’ll be on this list again, and for the same reasons.

Patrick Kennedy

2021 was a good year to be young and flexible, and a long list of rising property stars have enjoyed a career uplift as a result. It is invidious to pick out names. But to be a specialist in the serviced office sector in 2021 was to be in a super-enviable position. It is one the unspeakably well-connected Kennedy has exploited with glee, resulting in promotion to Colliers’ UK regional head of flexible workspace. His deals list includes easing Deloitte into WeWork’s Hanover House in a fancy three-way arrangement; Amazon via Orega’s 30,000 sq ft landing at Arkwright House; and the latest signings at Alderley Park.

Will Lewis

A huge round of applause for Will Lewis, the young(ish) face of Manchester office agency OBI, who led the lockdown effort to give real estate a coherent voice via UnitedCity. Early 2021 was spent trying to engineer Manchester’s return-to-working-from-work and a viable future for the city centre in the midst of massive political and clinical headwinds. Lewis made an ideal facilitator for cross-company dialogue with local government because he has so many fingers in so many development and redevelopment pies. He may or may not be the Town Hall’s favourite office agent, but he’s also an ace trendspotter, so either way well worth watching for 2022.

Colin Sinclair

Partly because the tide is moving towards science property, partly because nobody else fancies the risk, and partly because his avuncular leadership style gives him an edge, Sinclair has become Liverpool’s principal (perhaps only) serious office developer. Sciontec, where he is chief executive, has a pipeline including the 116,000 sq ft Hemisphere, due for completion in late 2024, and No5 Paddington Village, 90,000 sq ft with £21.5m of city council backing. If you want to keep an eye on the Liverpool office scene, keep an eye on Sinclair.

Trees Not Cars

The Ancoats campaign group had a stunning year and in the process focused attention on Manchester City Council’s approach to greenery, cars and sustainable development in a way that COP26 never got near. Their legal action stopped the conversion of the 10-acre Central Retail Park into a temporary car park, and got council leaders visibly riled. A huge win. They will be hoping to repeat the triumph in 2022: careless developers and politicians, beware.

Daren Whitaker

Some rolls don’t last. Others do. Renaker, under Whitaker’s managing directorship, is on its fifth or sixth or maybe seventh year of rolling, and it’s hard to see where this stops. A slow-down in Chinese investment (the Great Financial Wall of China) might have posed problems, but it won’t because some time ago Whitaker adroitly pivoted his exit strategy to include the institutional buy-to-let market. The latest sky-scraping monsters – 43 and 50 storeys at Colliers Yard, Salford, and a £741m plan for Trinity Island, which landed on planners’ desks last week – make Whitaker the high-rise king of Greater Manchester and by extension the UK and Europe.


The Subplot Elevator Pitch 07.12.21Going up or going down? This week’s movers

Manchester’s hyper-troubled Factory arts centre could begin to rise in 2022, just as city centres plunge back through the floor. Meantime, Daresbury and Airport City’s new owners are going up.

Factory arts centre

Usually, silence on a big public sector projects means something bad is happening and they don’t want us to know about it. The £186m Factory arts centre development on Manchester’s former Granada TV studios site is a “high risk project” according to the city council, itself the developer, so silence since July 2021 rings alarm bells. Covid, supply chain problems, and escalating costs have soured the mood around what ought to have been a big smiley success. That the opening date slipped from 2019 to late 2022 hasn’t helped. But could a corner have been turned? A revised business case emerged over the autumn and the “opening” (as opposed to completion) is now firmly lined up for 2023. “It remains the case that the construction of the Factory is due to complete by the end of 2022 with internal systems commissioning and fit-out due to run into early new year,” the city council tells Subplot. Fingers crossed.

Columbia Threadneedle

Columbia Threadneedle has bought the 19,000 sq ft office block Clarence House in central Manchester, in an off-market deal with CBRE Investors. The price was undisclosed, but would be somewhere comfortably north of £10m. For the record, CBRE Investors paid £6.9m in 2016, buying it from HIMOR which paid £2.8m in 2011. In 2004 it changed hands for £4.25m. A high turnover of owners is always a sign of something. Judging by the £25/sq ft quoted on the existing vacant suite, rents could almost certainly be managed up by the incoming owner. The more interesting story is that this shows Columbia Threadneedle isn’t done with Manchester despite its £413m purchase of Manchester Airport Group assets in 2020, a move which made it the dominant party at the 5m sq ft Airport City. In October 2021 a sister company revealed plans for 84,000 sq ft of industrial to meet airport demand.


Redrow is to try its hand at 22,800 sq ft of offices as part of the 550-home Daresbury development. There will be four offices of 5,700 sq ft each on a roughly two-acre site next to the Daresbury Expressway. It is the first slice of up to 160,000 sq ft of employment floorspace. Daresbury’s office market is one to watch. The Greensill collapse will return up to 100,000 sq ft to the market after a spate of Greensill deals including 27,000 sq ft at Columbia Threadneedle Investments’ (yes, them again) Daresbury 2100. Rents are expected to rise from today’s anaemic £17.50/sq ft and Redrow’s decision seems to suggest that’s what they have in mind. Development at Sci-Tech Daresbury has changed the occupier dynamic and, by adding another 220,000 sq ft to a market that barely touches 600,000 sq ft in total, also opened eyes to the potential. Redrow probably won’t be the last to give this interesting location some close attention.

City centres

Wild conjectures last week suggested that by today there would be 1m new covid infections a day, thanks to the Omicron strain. As Sky’s Ed Conway pointed out, if you aren’t careful exponential growth projections rapidly turn silly, and this one would mean literally everyone in England would be infected by Friday. Whatever the eventual outcome, one thing is certain: none of this is good for the health of town and city centres, still reeling from the last wave of Covid restrictions. Over the holidays investors will re-examine their assumptions about high street retail, hospitality and leisure. The likely outcome is a sell-off, albeit on a modest scale because almost everyone who could (or would like to) get out already has. The happy consequence might be a serious and overdue collapse in high street rents leading to more independent retailers and leisure operators?

On that joyful note, Subplot wishes you a satisfactory year end, and will return on Thursday 6 January 2022.

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

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Your Comments

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Offices, resi, skyscrapers- what about the sector that’s outperformed them all – Sheds. Another outstanding year for the sector, but not a single reference. 🙁

By Anonymous

Still no coverage for the shed sector… disappointing!

By Anderton

Looking forward to seeing what Bev delivers. The time has come to build a greener city that is still pro development.

By Anonymous

Anonymous and Anderton: agreed, sheds are so special, they will have the 6th January 2022 edition to themselves.

By David Thame

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