Hot Spot: Manchester

There's a growing demand for quality flats in the heart of Manchester - but can it last?
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The Independent Online

"Love Manchester, live elsewhere. Until recently, central Manchester was a no-go area for residential occupiers largely because there werevirtually no residential properties to go to. You worked in the city and went home to Sale or Prestwich or Ashton or another suburb.

"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 insteadof 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 departmentstore. The building comes by its plural monicker because it fuses an Edwardian office building with its 1971 glass and steel neighbourinto 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 boomin 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 flatsare coming on to the market. The real test is whether the market will be sustained."

The Low-Down

Location: By road, Manchester is 35 miles from Liverpool, 44 from Leeds, and 100 from the east-coast portfacilities at Hull. Manchester has rail and canal links to Liverpool, and is 200 miles from London.

Transport: The Metrolink tram connects the city centre with the suburbs in the north and south and is extending to Salford Quays nextyear. If the council gets its way, the Metrolink will be extended to Manchester Airport and Trafford Park. Manchester Airport is usedby 95 airlines serving 175 destinations, and passenger capacity is expected to double to 30 million by 2005.

Prices: Century Buildings prices start as £100,000 and soar to £1m for the penthouse. If achieved, this will break thecentral Manchester record by a factor of three. Shenton Court ranges between £200,000 up to £350,000 or higher fortwo-bedroom flats of 1,200 to 1,800 square feet. "My prices will depend on what happens with Crest," says Birch. In Castlefield,Gleeson's M3 has 28 new flats, from £90,000.

Properties: The city has 2,227 residential units being built, 95 with planning consent and 713 awaiting decisions. Crosby Homes'103-unit Deansgate Quay and Crest Nicholson's Century Buildings "will set new standards in terms of design, accommodation andspecification, which Knight Frank believes will appeal to an increasingly sophisticated city-centre market". (Knight Frank's RegionalResidential Development Review, March '99)

Whistle-wetting: Greater Manchester restaurants serve up more than 30 national cuisines, and the city centre alone has more than 250pubs, clubs and cafe-bars.

Rubble Rousers: Major commercial projects include an International Convention Centre, a £20m entertainment scheme, theArndale Shopping Centre completion, a massive Marks & Spencer, and improvements to existing museums, galleries, retail and leisureoutlets.

Save these Dates: For 10 days starting 26 July 2002, the XVII Commonwealth Games will be held in Manchester. Cricket, ice hockey,basketball, tennis, swimming and cycling as well as football are big in Manchester, whose National Cycling Centre in the Velodrome isthe nation's only indoor cycling track.

The Numbers Game: The local authority says that 60 per cent of the UK population is within two hours' driving time. ButManchester's population overall is projected to decline slightly.

Contacts: Century Buildings 0161-833 1666; Gleeson 0161-428 4299; Shenton Court 0161-832 4777; Urban Splash 0161-2379499.

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