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Will Lewis, director of OBI Property – on mixing it up

Mixed-use property development is suddenly all over the news in Manchester again, with some major projects moving forward that will see some heritage assets and large tranches of the city centre redeveloped.

The powers that be in Manchester have always given strong encouragement to mixed-use development, letting it be known for some years that they don’t want a ghettoised city – office zones where all the lights are off by 6pm, streets of apartment blocks with no amenities.

Developers like it because it often allows them to fund the riskier, but potentially more lucrative, elements, such as new Grade A offices, by kicking things off with a multi-storey car park, or a budget hotel. For the people who use cities – that’s you and me – mixed-use means a wider spread of amenities than might otherwise be the case. That’s not just better for convenience purposes, but means that in general, more of the city is cleaner, busier, and safer. There are fewer forgotten corners.

A key site for Manchester is the 13.5-acre St John’s Quarter, around the former Granada Studios complex, where Spinningfields developer Allied London is to bring forward a strategic project described by chief executive Mike Ingall as “not just a mixed-use neighbourhood, but bringing together enterprise, innovation, culture and entertainment”. As well as vertical villages with sky gardens in a new era of city living, this area will include the “event hotel” Manchester Grande and The Factory, an events space that among other things, will become the home of the Manchester International Festival.

Across the city, it looks likely that the London Road Fire Station site close to Piccadilly station, which Britannia Group is finally selling, will include a mix of uses. Of the various proposals put forward by bidders, elements including apartments, workspace and live-work studios are mentioned, along with hotel rooms which seem likely to be the dominant use.

And just this month, developer Bruntwood has chosen Select Property Group as its joint venture partner for Manchester’s former BBC site on Oxford Road, a development that will see Select’s Vita Student brand, which delivers high-end student accommodation with a focus on international students, bring 650 units to the site. The commercial element here is 1.2 million sq ft of office space, anchored by the 400,000 sq ft Sir Henry Royce Institute for Materials Research & Innovation, a key part of Manchester’s ambitions to establish itself firmly as a world-class city of science.

The obligation to build mixed-use can be taxing to some smaller developments – you’ll see some apartment blocks with shop units at ground floor that sit un-let for years and years if the location simply isn’t right for retailers. But as an over-arching, guiding principle it’s on the money. The emphasis on mixed-use makes cities more interesting and it makes them safer, ultimately making it more likely that people will enjoy it and businesses will want to invest. That’s got to be good for everyone.

www.obiproperty.co.uk

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