End Of The Road: Does Anyone In Manchester Property Care About Cars?
Car parking ratios used to be a massive talking point in Manchester property. Without a good car parking ratio an office block or apartment scheme was doomed.
Today, does anybody care? Occupiers are turning their back on parking spaces, whilst residential and office developers rethink their transport plans. So is this the end of the road for cars in Manchester city centre property?
Once upon a time car parking was big news in Manchester. Sometimes it seemed like car parking ratios were almost as important as rents and yields, perhaps more so in the eyes of some professional and financial occupiers. The largest schemes had the largest car parking allocations, and those allocations were generous: 200 places for 200K SF of offices at Barbirolli Square, the professionals-focused 1990s office development that rebooted the city centre office market. Law firm Eversheds secured 60 spaces with 70K SF when they moved to new Great Bridgewater Street offices in 1999, and the deal was the talk of the town. The same would not be true today.
At Kampus, Capital & Centric's Aytoun Street joint venture with Henry Boot, there are just 60 parking spaces for 535 apartments. You might think that scarcity on that level would mean fierce competition for parking spaces, but you would be wrong. The spaces are not shifting fast.
"It's just not on the essential list for many of today's buyers," Capital & Centric co-founder Adam Higgins said. "They'd rather rely on a whole range of transport options, say the flexibility of renting a car club vehicle, than have an expensive car sat outside unused."
"In a relatively short space of time, people have wholeheartedly embraced new ways of getting around a city," he said. "Manchester without doubt is leading this change in attitude. Uber, Mobike, Metrolink — the way people get into and around the city has rapidly transformed."
Higgins is delighted, at least in part because it makes his job more flexible.
"It actually makes for more interesting projects," he said. "Look back to some of the residential sites turning 20-25 this year. The first floors are caged car parks. It means you don't have a vibrant mix of ground-floor uses or any ownership or buzz on the roadside.
"The neighbourhoods become almost ghost towns because everyone parks their car and heads upstairs and there's no real street scene. By freeing up that prime space, you can open up the ground floor for shops, bars, offices that actually add to the community."
Higgins has taken his own lesson to heart, and rejected the idea of turning the central courtyard at the 201-unit Crusader Mill into a car park. Instead, it is a residents' garden, with trees, shared BBQs, wifi and Bluetooth speakers.
"For our buyers, that green, community space is so much more of a selling point than a car parking space. That says it all for me," Higgins said.
Cushman & Wakefield partner Rob Yates cycles to his city centre desk from Didsbury. "Five miles, about 20 minutes by bike, but about 30 minutes by car, so I prefer the bike," he said. "The one thing that is constant in this city is that driving in Manchester is an absolute nightmare, and if you can use an alternative then people do."
Yet some occupiers remain wedded to the internal combustion engine, and although property people are far too polite to say it, you get the feeling that in the few instances where cars are important to an occupier, status issues lurk somewhere closeby.
Yates has been advising on the relocation of some of the professional firms leaving generously car-parked 1990s blocks like Barbirolli Square. "You've got firms moving from blocks where every partner had a parking space — and they've got used to it. In fact, they got fixated by it, obsessed with it. Car parking was what was driving their relocation deals," Yates said.
"At the same time we have other Manchester occupiers who go the other way. We let 77K SF to the Department of Work and Pensions at 2 St Peter's Square and they had just two allocated parking spaces which they converted into bike racks," he said. Distralec, who took 16.5K SF in the same block, took a similar view.
Look At All The Space!
“I live in Media City and commute to Ancoats on the tram which [is] great. It takes me around half an hour which allows me to catch up on emails and make phone calls," Lord said. "My usual tram route has been suspended the last few weeks for maintenance and so I’ve driven in to work which has been painful and has really made me appreciate the convenience of the metrolink. Sitting in traffic isn’t productive for anyone.”
Cert needs no persuading that losing the car parking spaces is a good idea, not just for his own quality of life, but for the sake of cold hard property economics. At Cert's 35K SF Hilton House office redevelopment in the Northern Quarter, Lord has swapped basement car parking for more useful modern facilities.
“We’re increasingly seeing less demand in the market for parking and tenants needs are definitely changing. We’re redeveloping Hilton House in the Northern Quarter and have taken the decision to use the basement car parking for additional amenity. We know tenants will place more value in bike stores, a gym and showering facilities, than they would on parking," Lord said.
“Of course there will always be a demand for inner-city parking but it’s certainly diminishing. We’re based in Ancoats and over half our staff live within walking distance of the office and for those that don’t, over 70% use alternative forms of transport to get to work.”
Car Parking Doesn't Pay
JLL Director James Devany is a tram commuter from Chorlton three days a week, and a driver for two, and he isn't much keen on either. "The tram is probably best described as overcrowded. It takes around 20 minutes. I suppose it could be worse," Devany said.
JLL have a relatively generous car parking ratio because No 1 Piccadilly Gardens dates from 2003, back in the days when the car was king. Yet when Egencia, part of the Expedia travel empire, took 10K SF next door to JLL on the fourth floor, they decided not to bother with their (generous) seven parking space allocation.
"For landlords this is an issue, because there are rents associated with those parking spaces, and so it's going to affect valuations," Devany said. "Landlords are now wondering what alternative uses they can make of that space, for office amenity purposes. It has not happened yet in our building, but it's being talked about, and the same is true of other blocks with generous car parking like 201 Deansgate."
Devany reckons that cycling facilities will be the obvious replacement, and for new developments the decline in on-site car parking promises to save a packet on construction costs.
"I guess the car parking ratio on new schemes is about 1:3.5K SF, or maybe more, and an increasing number of developers aren't bothering at all which of course saves them the construction costs of digging out basement car parking. The alternative at sites without any parking is to offer contract spaces in nearby multi-storey car parks."
Manchester has never been a city obsessed with cars. (Could anyone who enjoyed driving have constructed the Mancunian Way?) But the love is now dwindling even further. For city centre workers and residents, this is the end of the road.