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Manchester's Co-Living Skepticism Meets Economic Reality

What is the exact value of a strongly worded Manchester city council policy limiting the development of co-living?

This week planners and developers find out as two skyscraper co-living applications come before planners. Both are slated for approval despite a skeptical policy document approved in July.

Co-living at The Collective's Old Oak Common

Manchester’s reservations about co-living have not stood in the path of Downing’s plans for a 45-storey scheme in the Great Jackson Street area, nor Vita Living’s plans for two towers at the Manchester Goods Yard. The appeal of co-living to young mobile workers in the tech sector played a key part in the recommendations to approve both schemes.

Approval of the Vita scheme, if it is agreed, represents a turnaround after councillors indicated in July that they would turn down plans for Water Street. 

Council policy, agreed in July, says co-living is a novelty in the UK and is only permitted where it would add value to existing wider, economic-led, regeneration frameworks, drive employment, create place and support the talent needed to support growth.

“At the current time these opportunities are considered to be limited to within the application site, St Johns (Enterprise City) and Piccadilly Basin/Northern Quarter,” the council concluded.

Vita Living’s Union brand is proposing a 32-storey co-living development with 390 co-living apartments, including 180 one-person studios and 210 duo, trio and quad apartments. In total there are 870-bed spaces planned in the T1 tower at Water Street, Manchester Goods Yard and Grape Street. The studios would be available solely on short-term lets, up to six months.

A second, 36-storey, co-living scheme is proposed on a site on the opposite side of Water Street, known as T2.

Local councillors objected, saying the scheme breached the cautious approach to co-living already agreed by the city council.

“The 1,676 bed-spaces [in both towers] would represent an additional 10% of Deansgate ward’s 16,726 population. Co-living will not build a coherent community with a long-term interest in the city centre’s success and these proposals will promote transience and disengagement,” a report to the committee said.

The council’s policy position in July appeared quite hostile to co-living. A report to the council’s ruling executive revealed that co-living will be capped at 5,000 units across the city, will only be allowed in some areas and will require long-term management contracts and payment of council tax and financial contributions toward affordable housing — a long list of conditions developers hoped to avoid. The report concluded that co-living could be a flop in the wake of social distancing rules. 

However, responding to the Vita scheme, the council’s planning officials argued the scheme was proportionate and would support mobile jobs in the Spinningfield and St John’s media and tech clusters.

“It is considered that the proposal is of a size and scale which would respond to and support current and emerging job recruitment and retention and would connect residents with those opportunities and support those needs,” the report said.

“Co-living could support the young workforce to transition in the medium term to city living and information set out in the application assumes that 60% of tenants would become long term Manchester residents, finding other homes and staying for an average of five years, many moving to other parts of the city centre.”

In a separate application, up to 45 storeys of co-living is proposed by Downing for Plot 11 First Street. The £297M development would contain 1,349 units with 609 apartments (284 one bed, 112 two bed, 89 three bed, 46 four bed, 78 five bed and 875 studios, a total of 2,224 bed spaces total).

“The proposals would deliver a sustainable, high density, high quality and  accessible residential model that will widen accessibility to city centre living right within an employment hot-spot and reduce pressure on transport and traffic,” the report concludes.