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The Rollerblade Test And 3 Other Rules Manchester's Property Market Needs To Remember

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Manchester is riding high. Investors are piling in. Cranes cluster on the skyline. So job done, because Manchester is now a commercial real estate success story?

Not so fast. According to the panelists at Bisnow's Manchester State of the Market event, there are four rules the city must follow for future success.

Rollerblade rollerblader roller blade summer street young

1. The Roller Blade Rule

How can you tell if your city is cool, green and attracting young talent? The answer is to apply the Rollerblade Rule.

“It’s great to have massive glass office buildings, but we don’t want to look the same as every other city,” Watch This Space founder Michelle Rothwell said. “So I’d like to see a bit more community and you can do that by closing roads like Deansgate and Albert Square to create a more community feel, because there’s a real lack of that. I’m excited to see the new public spaces in Spinningfields, but we still need more communal and green spaces.”

Rothwell said she had asked Manchester City Council Strategic Development Director Eddie Smith how he judged the success of greening the city.

“Eddie said he will know when we’ve got it right because he’ll see young people rollerblading through the city.”

2. Forget Cars

Once, not long ago, when two Manchester property people got together they inevitably talked about car parking ratios. But not any longer. Today the car is no longer king in the city centre. Capital & Centric Co. founder Adam Higgins said car parking provision is now minimal on most new developments, and destined to get smaller.

“Most of our city centre schemes don’t have any car parking on offer, and we are not getting negative feedback about that,” Higgins said.

Left to right: Capital & Centric Founder Adam Higgins, Paragon Director James Onions (moderator) and U+I Development Director James Heather
Manchester state of market event 15 May 2018
Capital & Centric founder Adam Higgins, Paragon Director James Onions, who moderated, and U+I Development Director James Heather

3. Size Does Matter

Manchester has a relatively small economy compared to many U.S. cities. Savills Director James Evans said this is changing, but needs to change some more.

“Ten years ago, if we are honest with ourselves, Manchester wasn’t an international competitor, today we are and we have to cement that position and go to the next level of world recognition. That means more scale, more building,” Evans said.

“Too often we talk to occupiers who say to us they are surprised by the lack of opportunity for them in Manchester’s office market, which is quite an alarming statement.”

Savills data suggests 35,000 new jobs will be created in Manchester city centre in the next 10 years, the equivalent of 3.5M SF or another Spinningfields. But Evans warns against pricing out tenants for whom mid-range rents matter.

“Affordability is a big thing in the city. We shouldn’t lose sight of the big market beneath the surface, the Manchester engine which churns out smaller deals. We have to be sure we can offer space to people who only want to pay £20/SF.”

Left to right: Adam Higgins, James Evans, Michelle Rothwell, Neil McGonigle, James Heather, and James Onions
Manchester state of the market May 2018
Capital & Centric's Adam Higgins, Savills' James Evans, Watch This Space's Michelle Rothwell, Uber's Neil McGonigle, U+I's James Heather and Paragon's James Onions

4. Focus On The Big Picture

Focusing on a single scheme, or a cluster of schemes in a single neighbourhood, can distort the way the city looks and feels — and not in a good way. U+I Director James Heather, currently working on the Mayfield regeneration, called for big-picture thinking.

“This is not just about pockets of development but how we bring forward the city as a whole in a more considered way to produce housing and green spaces," he said. "Squares and parks today are really woeful, but we have an amazing heritage and buildings, and we need to build on those.”

The Reimagining Manchester panel was moderated by Paragon Director James Onions, and included U+I Development Director James Heather, Uber Head of Northern Cities Neil McGonigle, Capital & Centric Co. founder Adam Higgins, Watch This Space founder Michelle Rothwell and Savills Director James Evans.