Contact Us

NOMA In A Coma: Can Hermes Wake Up Manchester's Sleeping Giant?

Manchester’s 20-acre NOMA development site was always going to be big ask, but no one could have known it would be this hard.

The 4M SF office-led redevelopment of the Co-Operative movement’s Manchester HQ campus around Corporation and Miller streets was launched by the Co-Op in 2007.

The Noma Vision with 330K SF Co-Op HQ on the right

Ten years and several false starts later, Hermes Investment Management, the Co-Op's joint venture partner since 2014, has taken control of a project that has lurched through several delivery models. They include a projected Co-Op/Delancey/Landid joint venture which ran into the sands in 2013.

The Co-Op — humbled and winded by financial and other problems, including the loss of their NOMA project director in 2016 — has given up the game. Now it is up to Hermes to help the scheme shed the cruel 'Noma in a coma' tag some have put on it.

The official word from Hermes is steady-as-she-goes. “We take a long-term and responsible approach to investing, and NOMA fits into our strategy of creating mixed-use estates," Hermes Investment Management’s Head of Private Markets Chris Taylor said.

Noma will follow King’s Cross in London, Paradise in Birmingham and Wellington Place in Leeds in Hermes' portfolio of city-centre schemes.

Pressed on the timetable Taylor said: “Our vision for NOMA is to continue moving it forward.”

Any movement Hermes generates will meet equal and opposite force from rival sites in the south and west of the city — from Allied London’s 25-acre St John’s, through to First Street, and the Oxford Road corridor from Baring Real Estate’s 180K SF Landmark down through Bruntwood/Select's 1.2M SF office scheme at Circle Square, Oxford Road.

According to city brokers and analysts there are three ways to wake up the NOMA project.

1. A Big Pre-let

Amazon's new Manchester address: the 109K SF Hanover Building

NOMA is reported to have missed out on the first 175K SF slice of the Government Property Unit’s 800K to 900K SF central Manchester requirement. But it could still be in with a chance on the larger 600K SF requirement and it also has a shot at a series of tech and digital requirements lead by Amazon, who are reported to be looking for around 90K SF.

“NOMA is right next to the Northern Quarter, the Shoreditch of Manchester, and there are very few opportunities in the Northern Quarter for tech occupiers to expand," said JLL Development and Agency Consultant Ken Bishop, whose firm is NOMA's letting agent. "So where do they go? The same is true for larger space users who can’t fit into the Northern Quarter. The answer has to be NOMA, given that it has the location and the transport links.”

Bishop points out that NOMA is next to Manchester’s Victoria Station, recently refurbished and due to see a massive improvement in north-south and east-west services thanks to the completion of the Ordsal Cord rail link.

NOMA already has Co-Op Digital, who took 16.1K SF and are among the many tech occupiers at the 71.3K SF Federation House. The building has provided the kind of workspace that Northern Quarter occupiers love.

“NOMA has already pretty much filled up the Federation House workspace," OBI Property Transactions and Asset Management Director Richard Lace said. "Hermes needs to build up the momentum, go with that Northern Quarter feel and hope it brings them a big occupier.”

Short-term hopes are pinned on the £34M speculative remodelling of Hanover House to create 91K SF of new office space, due for completion this summer.

2. Build Things Quickly

Amazon's Manchester office in collaboration with WeWork: The Grade II-listed Hanover Building, Corporation Street, Manchester

This is not a very popular option, though it has some adherents who point to the relatively slow pace of delivery at NOMA since the Co-Op’s 330K SF HQ at 1 Angel Square was completed in 2013.

OBI’s Lace said there is a balance to be struck with the obvious downside risks if Hermes sit on their hands, and the risks if they build.

“Hermes will be aware that a speculative start at 100 Embankment is rumoured in the first half of 2018, and that things are heating up at Allied London’s St John’s development," he said. "Hermes face a lot of competition and if they don’t do something they could miss the boat. On the other hand, there are a series of speculative schemes in Manchester ahead of NOMA, and Hermes would be brave to come out with a speculative start.”

Of course, the speculative redevelopment of Hanover House is already due for completion in August. But perhaps with Lace’s thoughts in mind, the most popular option for NOMA is …

3. Shout About It

Place-making at Spinningfield: An Outdoor Film Screening

And by “shout about it” Manchester’s property professionals mean more than just sharpening up NOMA’s marketing — they mean investing in something to market.

That is the advice from CBRE Regional Managing Director John Ogden, echoing the widely shared view that Hermes must put its hands into its deep pockets.

“The Co-Op didn’t have the wherewithal, or the skills, or the inclination, really – so Hermes now have to take an aggressive approach," he said. "The NOMA/coma thing is a bit cruel but it’s right, so they need to inject some excitement and be a bit less apologetic.

"This is a difficult location, but not a bad one, and potentially it’s a good one because it's next to the cool Northern Quarter, the big residential schemes and all the transport an occupier could need. Hermes needs to put its money where its mouth is and get on with it. But you can’t just do big spec without good marketing.”

In other words, Hermes could take a leaf out of Allied London's playbook at their Spinningfield development, Deansgate, Manchester. Their place-making included events and a regular free summer cinema season.

“Hermes have got to get their cheque book out,” Ogden said. The kind of thing he has in mind is place-making.  “NOMA needs some really cool landscaping because today it looks like its sitting in a surface car park. Hermes need to create a destination, get the public coming through the site, making the approach from the Northern Quarter and Corporate Street more pedestrian-friendly. I’m thinking pop-ups, short-term lets, amenities. And they have to go at it really hard.”

JLL's Bishop said there is plenty to shout about. “The refurbished Federation House is let, the 91K SF offices at Hanover will be the finest refurbishment in the city and we’ve already got serious interest on this. We’ve got a 45K SF office scheme at Danzig Street starting this quarter and we’ve got so much interest it's ridiculous.”

Bishop concludes: “Hermes taking over at NOMA is nothing but good news.” That is one sentiment with which nobody in Manchester will disagree.