We’re home – in more ways than one. Not only are we in Manchester (which of course is technically our home), we’re also at HOME – the amazing events space formed by the merger of two of the city’s best-loved arts organisations, Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company. HOME offers theatre spaces, five cinema screens, a gallery that is home to the best in contemporary art, a restaurant and, most important of all for us, a perfect setting for our latest Mix Inspired event.
We’re delighted to say that it’s standing room only as the good and the great of North West’s design fraternity have taken the opportunity to listen to our fantastic panel of experts, which comprises Chris Reay, Director for Allied London’s Spinningfields Estate, Euan Kellie, Director at Euan Kellie Property Solutions, Dominic Pozzoni, Director at Colliers International and The Lowry Hotel’s General Manager and Head of the Manchester Hoteliers Assocation, Adrian Ellis.
Dominic kicks things off in earnest, giving the audience an overview of the Manchester market, looking at where it stands right now and where it will head over the next few years. Manchester, he tells us, is the UK’s leading city outside London in terms of prime Grade A new-build rent levels (£35 per sq ft), ahead of Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
‘Manchester has evolved tremendously over the past 20 years,’ Dominic explains. ‘The natural progression of occupiers coming into the city has meant that it has had to grow – locations such as Spinningfields, the NOMA district, First Street and Piccadilly have all developed significantly over the years. The great thing about Manchester is that it is a very condensed city. You can walk from one side of the city to the other, which is great for occupiers and prospective occupiers.
‘Manchester also has a diverse offering of accommodation – it’s not all about BCO Grade A space. It also offers good quality refurbished accommodation at a lower rate, although that rate has shifted considerably over the past few years.’
Dominic continues by telling our audience that an increasing number of businesses are looking for more interesting space in the city. ‘They want to find buildings that have the right quality of space, the right environments, the right location and the right transport links. They want to attract the right quality of staff. One of the great things about Manchester is that it has the UK’s largest student population outside of London. That student population previously used to graduate and move down to London to find work. That has changed – students are now staying in Manchester, they want to work in the city centre – although the quality of space often bores them. They want creative space – and this is changing the way occupiers in Manchester are looking at their space.’
“I wonder what the development of the core of cities is going to be like in terms of sustainably attracting the right talent to the region.”
The forecast is for some 1.1 million sq ft of Grade A office space to be occupied in Manchester in the next couple of years – so no immediate Brexit hangover here! ‘A lot of occupiers are looking to expand in the marketplace,’ Chris tells us. ‘Some will remain where they are but there is a requirement for more space in the city. Grade A space is rapidly disappearing.’
‘There has been a real upward curve over the last two years and the market is now trying to catch up with the pace of demand,’ Euan considers.
Manchester continues to be an incredibly attractive proposition for businesses, students and also for an increasing number of visitors – as The Lowry’s Adrian Ellis can confirm. ‘The corporate side of our business is good and we’re all working together to increase the number of conferences and events in the city – but the leisure side is really improving. Football in the city continues to make a huge impact but other cultural activities, such as theatres, shows, shopping trips, bars and nightclubs are also continuing to thrive. Even without football we’re full pretty much every weekend – as are most hotels. This comes from that mix of leisure activities.’
‘The trading figures for the major restaurants and bars at Spinningfields are extremely strong,’ Chris reveals. ‘The demand for people dining out in Manchester is developing really nicely. If you look at the plans for developments such as the Fire Station and St John’s, they are almost all leisure focused. Our plans will involve investing more and more in leisure space.’
‘If you look at the number of new residential schemes in the city, you can guarantee that the majority of them have an element of commercial, mixed-use and leisure on the ground floor,’ Euan adds.
We move on to talk about the issue of Manchester’s open space – or lack of it. ‘There’s not a lot of green open space in Manchester,’ Dominic admits. ‘But if you look at the buildings now transforming their rooftops into garden space in the city – they’re superb and have created a real buzz.’
‘The key thing for me is not about the quantity of open space – it’s about the function or purpose of that space,’ Euan considers. ‘It has to be used correctly. I think there are some good examples of this in the city and also some really poor examples. I think the key thing will be how these spaces continue to develop and what their function or purpose will be.’
“In the past students would graduate in Manchester and go to work in London. Now it’s difficult to afford to live in London – no matter what kind of job they’re getting. That’s why more and more graduates are now staying in Manchester.”
So, despite certain issues (and Manchester is certainly not alone in this, of course), does our panel remain optimistic about the immediate and longer-term future? ‘I think the entrepreneurial spirit of Manchester will always be there,’ Chris believes. ‘Manchester is always looking at the next chapter – at the next creative idea – and because of that I don’t think it will ever just stand still and think ‘That will do’. I think it will always push forward.’
We’d like to say a huge thank you to our Mix Inspired Manchester sponsors – Colebrook Bosson Saunders, Hansgrohe and Johnson Tiles – for their wonderful support and also to Gresham for the kind loan of the panel’s eye-catching chairs. We’re incredibly grateful to our brilliant panel for their time and expertise – and to the Manchester design community, who continues to support our events as only the Manchester community can.