Car Parks: Is This Actually The Key To Manchester's Future Development?
New research shows around 30 acres of central Manchester development land is occupied by surface car parks.
Included in the list are three clusters of cleared sites, all of them currently surface-level car parks, which could be the focus for the next phase of large-scale development as car use is predicted to decline.
But can these sites, many of them in Salford, New Cross and Piccadilly, really deliver?
Bomb sites from the last war, redevelopment plans that stalled or failed, derelict backlands that never found their niche: until recently central Manchester was pock-marked by large, empty lots. Many of them were surface car parks. They met a need but you could hardly call it a vote of confidence in city centre development opportunities.
Today those surface car parks are fewer in number, fewer in acres, and many of them are optioned for new development.
Research by planning consultants EKPS suggested that in the last 10 years central Manchester's stock of surface car park sites has fallen from 83 to 59. Some, like Great Jackson Street and Greengate, now have skyscrapers earmarked for them, but others continue to provide income for the car park operators. Data shows that 19 sites dropped out of use due to redevelopment, but another 10 newly cleared sites replaced them.
The churn in surface car park use means that 10 acres of city centre land has gone out of car parks and into (mostly) residential development. But that still leaves another 30 acres of prime central Manchester land covered in parked cars. Could it be used for development? A close look at where exactly that land is helps provide the answer.
“The majority of the schemes on surface car parking sites are and will continue to be residential-led, driven by the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework target to increase the city centre population to 50,000 by 2037," EKPS Director Euan Kellie said.
"But a number of major commercial schemes have also taken land previously used for car parking, reflecting the ongoing need to accommodate this rising number of city dwellers and workers with an increasing number of employment opportunities.”
The EKPS research showed that there are three major, and one minor, concentrations of surface level car parking. The major clusters are Salford Central/Greengate, the New Cross area and Piccadilly North. A smaller cluster is located in Ancoats, but that is being eaten up fast.
Whilst the clusters present plenty of potential, they are all on the fringe of the existing red-hot development zone. Perhaps more signficantly, there are three ultra-prime surface car park sites. These are at Bloom Street, Sackville Street and the Bridgwater Hall car park at Medlock Street/Little Peter Street.
Anyone who follows the jungle drums in Manchester property will have heard a distinct warning rumble when they read the words Bloom Street and Sackville Street. Both are in the city's gay village, and both have a formidable hurdle to overcome if recent planning disputes are any guide.
Efforts to create a new development framework for the Portland Street area, which embraces a large slice of the village, ran into trouble in spring 2018 as the LGBT community clashed with city planners. One of the sites in doubt was the Bloom Street NCP car park.
Manchester City Council eventually agreed to changes to the Portland Street strategic regeneration framework after an outcry over its impact on the city's gay village.
Changes to the document mean that three of the four sites identified in the gay village are now "long-term aspirational" sites. Two of those sites, used for the annual weekend-long gay pride festival, will only be developed if alternative locations can be found for pride events.
Among the four sites is one bounded by Major Street, Sackville Street, Bloom Street and Abingdon Street and comprising the Bloom Street NCP surface car park and gay pub New York New York, which is oustide of the site boundary on the corner of Bloom Street and Abingdon Street.
Even without this kind of political difficulty, developing city centre car parks can be a formidable challenge thanks to the super-complex topography of a densely populated city core.
Nobody knows this more keenly than Aviva Investors, owners of the Major Street car park. On the face of it Major Street is a prime site ideal for residential redevelopment.
But progress has been slow because the site sits on the junction between trans-Atlantic telecom cables and the the UK telecom system. Dig down too deep and you run into potentially expensive cabling issues.
Asked in January 2018 by Bisnow to say what it planned for Major Street, landowner Aviva Investors helpfully explained in a statement issued to Bisnow: "This site isn’t empty and is an operational NCP car park."
Pressed to say if it would remain a car park a spokeswoman said: "Aviva Investors are always actively looking at their portfolio but [we are] not aware of any live plans for the site."
A year later, progress on the site is not visible.
Surface car parking on valuable city centre land is not, ultimately, the best use of a scarce resource. When property values rise (and hope values rise even faster) then fringe car parks become ideal locations for high-rise development. But if the hope value falls, and car parking revenue remains reliable and low risk, what incentive has a landlord to develop?
Meanwhile the handful of undeveloped prime surface car park sites remain undeveloped for good reason.
Whilst car parks can provide fresh-start development sites in central Manchester, the opportunities may be more limited than they seem.