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What Made Done's Northern Quarter Resi Tower Fourth Time Lucky?

Persistence is always rewarded, so the saying goes. But Fred Done-controlled property developer Salboy has exceeded expectations by winning planning permission for a 17-storey Manchester Northern Quarter residential tower at the fourth attempt.

And not just winning. The tower plan now approved for the site at Shudehill/Turner Street is five floors higher than the original proposals rejected on the grounds that they were too tall.

How did they manage it? Bisnow has some answers.

Shudehil Back Turner Street Manchester tram metrolink
Left, the site of the Salboy tower development at Shudehill

Salboy's plans for a 65-unit residential scheme centred on a 17-storey tower in the largely low-rise Northern Quarter district of Manchester. It encountered opposition since the planning application was made in 2017.

Yet not only did Salboy overcome objections, but it eventually succeeded in winning consent for a tower five stories taller than the original plans which had been rejected due to their excessive height.

Coming as the Manchester Planning Committee inflicted a severe reduction in height on Logick Development's plans for a Castlefield residential tower, the approval can offer insight into what is happening in the city council's planning body and what can be done to push through or reject a proposal.

Things Are Happening In The Labour Caucus

It used to be fairly clear how the Manchester City Council planning committee worked: senior Labour councillors agreed a position and the caucus voted for it. That system has been under pressure from a grassroots rebellion as the Old-New Labour regime of Sir Richard Leese confronts a localist Momentum upsurge. The result has been tension on the planning committee and several upsets in the last 12 months.

Yet there are also pressures pushing in the opposite direction, from which Salboy has benefitted. The oldest and most reliable rule of thumb in local politics has kicked in: The winner in any dispute is the one who can hold out longest. Persistent developer applicants like Salboy, and senior councillors like Richard Leese and Pat Karney who have been in charge for two decades, are therefore beginning to reclaim ground.

Objectors Played A Poor Game

Another iron rule of local politics is that local residents almost always react to problems too late to have much impact, and when they do, they devote too much energy to the aspect of the problem where their influence is least likely to be successful. Take a contender slow off the blocks and poor at compromise versus a developer on the front foot who understands that compromises will be necessary, and the result is a foregone conclusion.

Salboy rethought the original hotel plan, rethought the retention of some historic buildings, rethought the design (opting for something light and glassy that the heritage watchdogs liked) and recalculated its profit. The objectors, on the other hand, continued to make largely the same objections to a tall building, regardless that heritage bodies had already given it a green light in principle. Indeed, Heritage England encouraged the developers to go taller than the original 12 storeys, saying it would "create a positive landmark that would improve the area’s legibility," according to the report presented to councillors.

Scratch That, Objectors Played A Very Poor Game

It is even worse than it looks for objectors, whose original concern was that the block was out of sympathy with the Northern Quarter, and risked the area's distinctive character. Part of that anxiety is about an influx of expensive apartments with little affordable housing. By overplaying concerns about heritage, and therefore pushing developers to keep a larger proportion of the site's historic buildings, they have helped secure a scheme with no affordable housing and apartments up to £480K each, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Changes in the rules which grassroots campaigners hoped would increase the volume of affordable housing instead ended up helping the developers reduce it.

In this case the figures showed a benchmark land value of £1.45M and a build cost of £16.4M. Assuming some variations and contingencies, total cost was £20.35M, meaning the developer took a profit on cost of 2.89%, some way short of the 20% assumption allowed by the rules. This gave Salboy an opportunity to play the generosity card by announcing they would proceed the development despite the low profit, and "agreed to enter into a legal agreement which will include a provision for a reconciliation which would require a contribution to be paid if values change at an agreed point."

Developers Picked A Good Place To Stand And Fight

The prominent Shudehill site had been derelict for years and before that had spent decades underutilised and shabby. It was not a good place for Northern Quarter partisans to fight a "save our lovely neighbourhood" campaign. Indeed, heritage observers largely favoured change. The new, taller development "would reinforce the cohesion of the urban form and improve the character and quality of a site that has poor aesthetic value with a sense of inactivity and dereliction," a report to councillors said.