Property: Hot Spot Ancoats, Manchester: Urban village people are mad for it

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THEY DON'T make clothing the way that they used to. Or ice-cream, for that matter. Ancoats won't be third time lucky. It's too risky to rely on luck. Warehouse conversions and urban regeneration are a much surer route to urban health and happiness.

Ancoats is currently off the map, but only in psychological terms. The area is mostly derelict and almost entirely depopulated - except for a small pocket of historically significant council housing and (here comes the ice-cream bit) the remnants of a once-thriving Italian community whose presence in this part of Manchester dates back to last century. If the planners succeed in rejuvenating Ancoats, the area will be seen for what it is, and where - an architecturally distinct area in a convenient prime central Manchester location.

About three-quarters of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian warehouses in Ancoats are currently vacant. This means that there is plenty of property to develop, something that has not escaped an impressive array of government and private organisations, which intend to transform Ancoats into a veritable "urban village".

And an ethnic urban village at that. The Italian Heritage Association and the Italian Pensioners Association are already up and running. Serafino DeFelice, a trustee of the Ancoats Building Preservation Trust, says: "Only a few Italian families still live here. Italians used to be a potent force here, 4,000 strong. Many have settled in surrounding areas, and we hope to bring them back."

The chairman of Ancoats Urban Village is Tom Bloxham. He is the owner of Urban Splash, the company that is responsible for several of Manchester's most highly regarded warehouse conversions and is now also active in Liverpool.

"As chairman, my role is to see loads of scaffolding going up in the area, which is something I believe in," Bloxham says.

However, the potential or apparent conflict of interest between his corporate and his civil roles means that none of that scaffolding will have the Urban Splash name on it. He will be chairman only, not developer.

Warehouses will be converted or torn down and replaced with new builds. Big-money developers have been eyeballing the properties for some time, but construction is still some time away.

It may be too early to rush to Ancoats with deposit or reservation money, but it is not too late for pioneering amateur developers, whether individually or with like-minded associates, to consider developing their own property.

"We've shown how successful such schemes can work in areas which were previously thought to have poor reputations," says Mr Bloxham. "People don't mind moving into shabby neighbourhoods provided they seem to be moving up."

Where is it? Urban Splash's Smithfields Buildings conversion in Oldham Street helps to place Ancoats geographically. Smithfields Buildings is just west of Great Ancoats Street, the main artery from Victoria Station to the north. Piccadilly Station is equidistant to the south. The two stations, Smithfields Buildings, and much of central Manchester are within walking distance.

Transport: The tram sidesteps Ancoats, stopping at Victoria Station. Bus service is solid, and nearby roads are radial routes.

Population: 500

Schools: Not so much bad as scarce and fading rapidly, due to customer shortages. New ones will open as the population increases. Manchester has excellent public schools.

Urban Village: The plan is to have up to 5,000 people living and working in Ancoats. The village area will be small enough to walk across in 10 minutes, car use will be discouraged and it will cater for a mix of income groups, household types and businesses.

Canals: Even the Rochdale Canal is a shadow of its former self, shallow and non-navigable. Rejuvenation plans call for the canal to be dredged, restored, and beautified.

Yuppies only? No. The Urban Village scheme is designed "to appeal to, and cater for, people of widely different levels of income working side by side. Housing should include the following categories: owner-occupation, affordable rented, market rented and equity sharing, other forms of ownership/tenure".

Ice-cream? The meat and fish at Manchester's Smithfields Market required ice. An ice building was erected. Ice plus Italians equals ice-cream. Ice-cream manufacturing has left Ancoats, but ice cream vans still come and go.

Agencies: Too early for estate agents, never too early for bureaucrats. Manchester City Council has responsibility for the regeneration budget covering Ancoats and other areas (Ancoats Urban Village Company: 0161- 950 4300; Eastside Regeneration: 0161-950 4300).

Sankeys Soap: Today it is the Beehive Mill, but the large lettering at the top proclaim Sankeys Soap. Current tenants include music and media moguls and the aforesaid bureaucrats.

Milanchester: The redundant Romanesque 140-year-old Church of St Peter will be a community centre and focal point for a bona fide Italianate piazza.

Conservation area: Ancoats has historically significant council houses as well as warehouses, and the area was designated a conservation area in 1985.

Current residential area: Victoria Square, George Leigh Street and Anita Street.