Anyone with an interest in the future of Manchester property now has the opportunity to display their original thinking and creativity, after a group of developers and regeneration experts launched a new competition this week.
Mancunian developer Urban Splash, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and urban regeneration firm New East Manchester (NEM) are looking for an exciting and original project to make use of an empty space at east Manchester's New Islington site. The area in question is around 0.7 acres, flat and square.
The competition has been organised in partnership with Property Week magazine – specifically its Site Life initiative, which wants to revitalise areas of the Manchester property market which have garnered less interest than many others in recent years. Entrants are being asked to propose a “visually attractive” idea for the site, and the winning choice will be realised and remain in place on the New Islington site while the rest of it is developed for a 12-month period.
Urban Splash chairman Tom Bloxham told the magazine: “New Islington was an area filled with poor quality housing and disused public spaces; one of the most rundown areas in Manchester. Now it is somewhere that is beginning to change.”
“The aim of the competition is to find somebody with a short-term project that can complement these efforts. We want designs with vision, ambition and most of all somebody who can deliver something that is going to make an impact on the area as a whole.”
NEM chief executive Eddie Smith added: “New Islington is starting to take shape. Within the next few months, the final pieces of public realm will be constructed with £4.4 million of North West Regional Development Agency funding, allowing the public into the park and canal boats into the newly created marina.”
Mr Smith said that although the New Islington project faces a number of challenges in the current harsh economic climate - challenges common to the entire Manchester property sector - the initiative is a long-term regeneration scheme, and the competition is aimed at “making the most of this prominent, cleared site while it awaits development.”
The Manchester property market is awash with incredible buildings and highly desirable properties in a variety of styles. This is due to the city's great diversity of districts, its embrace of many distinct architectural styles and its industrial heritage. Here, we take a look at five of Manchester's most impressive buildings, old and new:
1) Manchester Town Hall. Probably one of the world's most impressive civic buildings, the town hall is a true monument to the Industrial Era, being designed and built in 1877. The town hall is located in Albert Square on a triangular site and attracts admirers from around the world, eager to gaze upon its many turrets, chimneys and rooftops, as well as the granite statues outside the left-hand entrance. Inside the visitor will find a selection of murals depicting the history of Manchester by Ford Maddox Brown.
2) The Express Building. Designed by Sir Owen Williams and built in 1939 to house the Manchester offices of the national newspaper, the structure on Great Ancoats Street is a near copy of its Fleet Street relative and has added immense architectural value to the Manchester property scene since its construction in 1939. Since the demise of Fleet Street, the building was converted for office and residential use.
3) The Lowry Theatre and Art Gallery. Nestling beside the river in the attractively redeveloped Salford Quays area, the Lowry first opened its doors on 28 April 2000, and is a impressive sight with its glass and metal facings. Named after “matchstick men” painter LS Lowry, the building plays host to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
4) The CIS Tower. A rare and welcome exception to the many monotonous and uninspiring Manchester property developments of the 1960s and 1970s, this impressive structure, with its two asymmetrically balanced towers brightens up the entirety of Balloon Street, where it is situated. Until the construction of the Beetham Tower in 2006 they were the tallest towers in the city.
5) The First Church of Christ Scientist. Located on Daisy Bank Road in Victoria Park, this Art Nouveau structure was the first custom-built church for the Christian Scientists, and was built between 1902 and 1906. On Boxing Day 1971 it closed as a church and was ransacked by vandals and thieves, placing the building in jeopardy until it was rescued by the city council. Today it is known as the Edgar Wood Centre.
One of the most eye-catching yet neglected buildings in the Manchester property sector may have been saved from an ignominious end, according to reports this week.
The iconic Ancoats Dispensary building on Mill Street – a fantastic Grade II-listed Victorian structure which serves as a powerful reminder of the city's industrial heritage – has been lying idle now since 1996, constantly appearing in the sales listings of the Manchester property listings as development company Urban Splash has tried and failed to either re-purpose the building or sell it to someone who can make use of it. For the last year, the building has lain under the threat of demolition after no sale was made, but this week it emerged that developes have found a buyer – the Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust, which is taking the Dispensary off their hands for the princely sum of £1.
The former hospital was built in 1896 after the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary on Great Ancoats Street moved to a better location, necessitating a new building, aimed at serving the health needs of the many people flocking to live in Manchester due to the booming industrial health of the city. It continued operating as a hospital until the building was closed in 1996, and it is now the final remaining dispensary building in the Manchester area.
Due to the current poor state of the building, it will need £3 million to restore it to modern standards associated with Manchester property in the present day. The most recent chance of getting hold of the cash lay with a potential grant from the North West Development Agency, but its abolition by the government last year saw this offer withdrawn.
The Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust said that developers are prepared to give them the money that would otherwise have been spent on knocking the building down to help preserve it – but there is still an urgent financial issue to be addressed. Campaigners desperately need funds to purchase and erect the scaffolding needed to support the building until repairs can be made.
Trust spokesman Mark Watson told the Manchester Evening News that “Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust and its parent company have a long track-record of saving buildings in similar conditions to the Ancoats Dispensary and are prepared to take the risk and develop the building when better times come along, as we are sure they will.”
“Our immediate problem is the scaffolding. It is owned by a firm who have a contract with Urban Splash. We are trying to find out more about the terms, but it is proving difficult to unpick the story.”
Launching an urgent appeal for donors to help out with the expensive business of acquiring the scaffolding, he noted that it was “ironic that we could lose this very important building simply because of scaffolding costs.”
Plans for an elected city mayor received a blow recently when the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GMLEP) warned that it would not be good for Manchester property sector and not in the interests of the people of Manchester either.
A referendum on whether to begin directly electing mayors in some of Britain's cities will take place in May, and the government has been consulting with interested parties on the issue. The consultation ended yesterday and the GMLEP's submission concluded that “the government's proposals as they currently stand conflict with the arrangements which have been driven and developed locally within Greater Manchester."
Last month, the group commissioned a report by Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein on the issue, in which he concluded that any large-scale changes to the way Greater Manchester was governed would have a negative effect on "balance between city regional accountability and neighbourhood delivery."
The official GMLEP statement warned that electing a mayor would "bring no advantages" and "does not align with the governance structures already in place across Greater Manchester," and argued that such a move would be bad for the region's economic growth, especially Manchester property.
GMLEP chairman Mike Blackburn added: "We're currently in dialogue with the minister for cities on a 'city deal' which is focused on an agreement for Greater Manchester as a whole."
“The government's current proposals for a directly elected mayor for the City of Manchester alone do not align with this dialogue, which the GMLEP believes should be the focus of any discussion about further devolution of powers to Greater Manchester in support of economic growth.”
Mr Blackburn added that the group was also “concerned that the government's proposals as they currently stand conflict with the arrangements which have been driven and developed locally within Greater Manchester in response to Greater Manchester's particular opportunities and challenges."