Property: Hot Spot Manchester: Welcome to the centre fold

There's a growing demand for quality flats in the heart of Manchester - but can it last?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Love Manchester, live elsewhere. Until recently, central Manchester was a no-go area for residential occupiers largely because there were virtually no residential properties to go to. You worked in the city and went home to Sale or Prestwich or Ashton or another suburb.

Central Manchester had, and still has, many derelict warehouses and commercial blocks that London would die for. Developers like Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash were quick off the mark in converting warehouses and period commercial buildings in such areas as Castlefield, the Northern Quarter, and the Gay Village around Princess Street. Major developers are now eyeing up the city centre.

Demand is palpable. "If I could put this property on the market today, I could sell out immediately," says Charles Birch, the managing director of Shepherd Gilmour Properties, which is building 16 flats in a former office block off Deansgate. "A massive migration is coming into Manchester, and anything new is selling out," says Mr Birch, a former chartered accountant who has a keen sense of anatomy and theology.

"The flats will be a London-style `gentleman's residence' rather than trendy lofts, having a formal entrance, marble floors and oak instead of stainless steel, traditional not minimalist. They will be the vicar's bollocks."

Crest Nicholson is more ambitious, converting Century Buildings at Parsonage Gardens, a large square behind Kendalls department store. The building comes by its plural monicker because it fuses an Edwardian office building with its 1971 glass and steel neighbour into one 121-flat block. Many art deco features will be retained, and a restaurant will occupy the ground floor.

"People would have loved to live in central Manchester but nothing was available," says Bruce Walker, the Crest Nicholson managing director. "Conversions like Century Buildings didn't exist. The council retained these buildings for commercial use, but now it likes the idea of regenerating this building and bringing people into the area."

Walker is bullish about city centre residential demand because "business has changed. The work day starts at 7am, not 9, and at night they entertain. They don't want to commute in these circumstances."

Mr Birch is banking on current demand even as he questions its depth. "No one knows how long it will last. This is not a property boom in the way that South Manchester, Wilmslow, Didsbury, and Hale are booming; it is a change in living style.

"Manchester's streets are not paved with gold. So far demand is outstripping supply, and in 12 months it may still be true, but 1,000 flats are coming on to the market. The real test is whether the market will be sustained."

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