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City Planners Face Head-On Challenge As Manchester's Co-Economy Roars Ahead

The original 2018 plans for Allied London's Enterprise City

Can co-living and coworking succeed where build to rent has failed? 

Manchester is about to find out as the co-economy has inspired a second skyscraper at Vita’s slice of Manchester’s Enterprise City site.

Coworking will join co-living in Vita’s latest plans for a second 36-storey co-living tower, called Tower 2, to accompany existing proposals for a 32-storey one.

The new tower will include 21K SF of coworking space along with 372 co-living apartments amounting to 806 bed spaces. The neighbouring 32-storey tower includes 388 co-living apartments.

Both replace two 36-storey BTR apartment towers, dubbed Nickel and Dime, that had been proposed by the site’s former owner Allied London in 2017.

Vita acquired the site of the former Nickel and Dime towers in May 2019, after Allied London decided not to proceed. 

Build-to-rent residential schemes have failed to take off in the St John’s development, which embraces Enterprise City, and Vita is now experimenting with more novel residential concepts.

The decision to bet on both co-living and coworking, hoping it can succeed where BTR has failed, suggests that confidence in Manchester’s Generation Z-inspired co-economy is growing among developers. In another sign of changing times, the scheme provides 412 basement cycle parking spaces but no car parking spaces.

Both co-living and coworking are part of Vita’s Union brand. There will be a mix of shared cluster flats with studio apartments, which promoters describe as a residential ecosystem. There will be a mix of quad and trio apartments “to deliver a shared living experience, available on six-month-plus leases”.

According to a statement prepared by Deloitte Real Estate and submitted as part of the planning application: “Union [is] Vita’s latest concept which will deliver a living and working community perfectly suited to the creative and tech talent driving the occupancy of new workspace at St John’s and Enterprise City.

“The offer within tower two has been specifically curated for Enterprise City providing co-living accommodation, three floors of coworking space plus three floors of amenity space. Union’s standard of co-living accommodation, its operational platform, and its facilities will set a new quality benchmark for city centre living as a single-occupancy product."

The proposals present a direct challenge to Manchester planners who have made no secret of their lack of enthusiasm for large-scale co-living.

A report to city planners published in December 2019 was far from enthusiastic. "This product is new and untested in the Manchester housing market, and there is variability in the way schemes are designed, managed and operated in other cities," the report said.

"Against this backdrop, therefore, we do not believe that co-living is required, or appropriate, to address affordability pressures in Manchester, in the same way as it is in other American cities or London."

Vita is hoping that if any site in the city is deemed appropriate, a well-funded media and tech cluster will be that place.