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The Manchester Arena Row: 3 Things We Learned Now Oak View Has Planning Permission

Oak View's new Manchester arena plan, with full Co-Op Branding

Manchester City Council has given the go ahead for U.S.-based arena operator Oak View Group’s plans for a new 23,500 capacity venue at the Etihad Campus, next to the Manchester City FC stadium.

The scheme’s promoters claim it will bring £350M in private investment to Manchester and create thousands of jobs for local people, and exploit the potential for more than 2 million extra annual arena visits, pumping £95M spending into the city centre.

ASM Global, which operates the city centre’s existing 21,000 capacity arena, its landlord Secure Income REIT and a host of city centre landlords, disagree.

What lessons can we learn from Oak View’s win? 

1. Do Not Relax

ASM Global argued that the city did not generate sufficient arena business to justify a new out-of-town rival to the existing city-centre facility. 

In a report to councillors opponents of the new arena said: “Market demand for a new arena greatly overstates future market growth … The projections are devoid of a credible evidential basis."

Past growth has in fact been comparatively flat overall (0.3% growth per year on average over 2014-2018) and projecting forward on this basis results in only 5% overall market growth by 2035 (as opposed to up to 150%), which plainly would not support two arenas, the objectors said. They added: “COVID-19 has triggered a sharp recession and the effect of growing unemployment will inevitably lead to further reductions in expenditure as a result of falling disposable income.”

The projected growth demands for a second arena are based on overstated market growth forecast based on assuming the existing arena is at 95% capacity, when it is only at 42% capacity, the report said.

“There is no credible evidence to claim that market growth will double by 2035, let alone treble, as the latest submission claims, so as to justify the substantial volume of ticket sales and additional capacity which is proposed,” it concluded.

The burden of the council’s response was that the existing arena let grass grow underneath its feet — a warning that the city council is watching you, and you cannot relax.

The planning report submitted to city councillors hints that the arena has been frozen in time whilst the arena-world has moved on providing a limited range of events and limited capacity.

The new arena’s supporters point to Greater Manchester’s rising population, expected to leap by 250,000 by 2037.

"The Manchester Arena …. has not grown in the last decade, despite considerable growth in the Greater Manchester population and economy. This same period has seen the introduction of two new arenas in the north of England: Liverpool Arena in 2008 and the Leeds Arena in 2013,” the planning report noted.

The council and the Abu Dhabi-owned football club were reported to have been in talks with operators “for some time” when the prospect of a new arena development emerged in public November 2018.

A sunny day canalside, at Oakview's new Manchesater arena

2. Abu Dhabi United Is The Winner So Far

The Abu Dhabi United Group, ultimate owner of Manchester City FC, is already the city council’s partner at the Etihad Campus, where the council is the landowner. The group is also the council’s partner in the £1B, 10-year Manchester Life initiative and has an extensive landownership in the city. Together with the city council it stands to gain from the Oak View consent. The group is the private business of Sheikh Mansoor, deputy prime minister and a leading figure in the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates. As recently as February 2020 Amnesty International was accusing the UAE of “systematic practices of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance” although this is rarely mentioned in Manchester.

3. This Fight Is Not Over

“We are considering our position, and will review all options to ensure the future of Manchester Arena, and our city centre economy, is secured, despite the pressures posed by the approval of this application,” a statement on behalf of Manchester Arena operator ASM Global said.

That is fighting talk. Councillors have already been told that the Secretary of State has been asked to call-in the application, and the council has agreed not to issue a decision notice until the government has decided whether or not to do so.