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Massive new convention centre for Manchester

Simon Binns on EventCity and how Peel Group has undercut Manchester Central

Written by . Published on November 9th 2010.

Massive new convention centre for Manchester

EventCity, the 375,000 sq ft new convention centre for Manchester, will formally open in February - Peel Group has exclusively told Confidential. In comparison Manchester Central (formerly G-Mex) is 115,000 sq ft.

Based next to Barton Square opposite the main Trafford Centre site, it will begin its programme of conventions with Great Days Out, promoting the North's tourist sector. The former Argos warehouse is currently being used as the Museum of Museums, exhibiting Tutankhamun’s Treasures.

“It conveys what we want to create. We were spurred on by the fact that there isn’t much competition in the North West of England, You probably have to go as far as Harrogate in one direction and the NEC in the other.”

Mike Butterworth, director at Peel Property, said it would be cheaper than Manchester Central. “We’ve already got a couple of exhibitions booked in and our order book is expanding,” he said. “To all intents and purposes, EventCity is open.

“There appears to be a huge untapped market for exhibitions in the North of England. Manchester Central is very busy but some exhibitions can’t get in, or can’t afford to. We’ll be cheaper than Manchester Central, although I can’t say by how much.”

The planning permission needed for the exhibition centre is similar to that of a museum, which allowed Peel to keep plans for the project tightly under wraps since they were formulated a year ago.

The firm has a sales executive working full time on booking exhibitions ahead of its official opening, however. Peel has also appointed Andy Orr, former operations director at Manchester 235 casino, to manage the venue.

“I think the space is ideal for the exhibition market,” said Butterworth. “We’ve made some minor modifications for Tutankhamun. That exhibition seems to be working well as an advert for what the venue can do.

“We’re working on plans with the local council for an express busway. You could also put tram tracks on there for a Metrolink line. That’s being reinvestigated. The money has been on the table for the tram extension for 20 years, but politics can sometimes get in the way.”

The venue will have four separate halls, one of which is currently being used as storage. Butterworth said the name wasn’t particularly chosen to sync with the nearby MediaCityUK, which Peel is building on Salford Quays.

“We just quite liked it,” he said. “It conveys what we want to create. We were spurred on by the fact that there isn’t much competition in the North West of England, You probably have to go as far as Harrogate in one direction and the NEC in the other.”

A spokesman for Manchester Central did not respond to calls for comment.


This is a sharp one eh? Get permission for a museum and then sneak in an exhibition centre. A vast one too: one that you can see, if not from the moon, then at least from Marple.

Peel Group's actions certainly show how to play the planning rules to steal a march on rivals locally and across the North. There’s a sort of Machiavellian beauty about the whole process: one of those games Peel play to be smarter than others. And at the same time make money for themselves.

Of course this is all part of Peel Group’s masterplan to create a vast US-style alternative city centre out of warehouses and hangars on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. It allows them on this, their own land, to offer cheaper rates to those who would bring conventions to the city and other locations around the North.

It’s a classic ‘cunning plan’. But sometimes it’s hard not to wish Peel would be less confrontational about their dealings, which in turn makes councils (in particular) confrontational with them.

With the campaigns they ran against the congestion charge in 2008, the application for LEP (Local Enterprise Partnerships) status recently, the move on MediaCity and Atlantic Gateway, it occasionally feels that Peel considers itself a sort of proxy regional authority already, only commercial, and thus quicker on its feet than the local authorities.

One of the latter, Bolton, has already lost Great Days Out, the convention for the Northern tourist industry, snatched from the Bolton Arena to Dumplington.

The sudden creation of EventCity is a smart move from Peel, but it will anger many people in the region who feel they already play hard and fast with established protocols. Exhibition organisers, on the other hand, may welcome a new operator to challenge the established order. Although they will have to put up with no amenities, except other Peel ventures, anywhere within walking distance of the site.

Peel yet again, plays to win, and is already gunning for its rivals’ customers. Manchester Central, you could say, it’s over to you.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GMSNovember 8th 2010.

Maybe this will spur Manchester City Council to proceed with their purchase of the Great Northern Warehouse as was mooted 12 months ago, thus gaining increased space and flexibility for the larger exhibitions?

I'd like to hear more on Peel's 'tram line' comment. As far as I had heard the only reason that a tram line was not running to the Trafford Centre was that Peel were not prepared to fund this in any part, preferring to rely on their free parking USP. A half truth at best, one would suspect.

Eddy RheadNovember 8th 2010.

"........ which allowed Peel to keep plans for the project tightly under wraps since they were formulated a year ago." Anyone with any sense and who knows Peel's modus operandi knew what they had in mind when they bought the Argos shed. As your editorial says though- you have to admire the cunning they adopt to get their own way. Even if the planners at Trafford werent already fully compliant to Peels every whim Peel, as this case shows, will only circumnavigate them anyway should minor issues such as planning laws get in their way. Their whole business model is based on car usage and the hell hole that Dumplington has already become will now be even more choked with traffic. Cynical in the extreme and another step in Peel's masterplan to ruin Manchester.

Bobby PeelNovember 8th 2010.

Yeah this one could be seen a mile off. Museum of Museums? Give me a break, this 'Museum of Anything Worthy of Being Half Classed as a Museum' was always a means to an end.

As others have said, fair play to John Whittaker at Peel, he owes Manchester nothing so why not go for them at every turn.

He's dived in where others had given up. 'The Manchester Docks' as they were known when this industrial heartland was booming were dropped like a hot brick and called Salford Quays as soon as it was decided they were a liability rather than an asset.

Peel saw the inherent value and got stuck in. It's taken many years but Media City is going to be a stunning destination and national powerhouse for media production; how Manchester ever thought they could compete with the ailing Ask Developments' First Street is laughable - Still the City managed to keep Ask alive by overturning the decision to move its temporary offices to Spinningfields and go to First Street, but that's another story!

Manchester has been dining out on the Commonweath Games for years and Manchester Central is only JUST beginning to be run like it should be if it has any hope of becoming an international convention centre. Hopefully this competition will encourage the corridors of power in this fine city to pull their finger out. If they take this 'war' on with some effort, the only winners will be us, the residents and workers of Manchester so I'm all for it.

Let the games begin!

AnonymousNovember 8th 2010.

I can see this as an exhibition centre car driven of course, but as a convention/ conference centre some refreshment other than fast food, and some accommodation and some fun perhaps? In the TC?

I'm sure media centre will be 'stunning' for cash strapped media co's but how do you get there.

I see Man Co was beaten by Manchester Guides in offering tours.

MaverickNovember 9th 2010.

How exceptionally funny. Really clever from Peel.

Piers MorganNovember 9th 2010.

Anon, who are Manchester Guides and what did they beat this lot with? (baffled)

Jasing PellingNovember 9th 2010.

It is really clever and you can see them really taking all the big exhibitions of boats and planes as such.

Vella EddyNovember 9th 2010.

This could be good for Manchester. Central gets all the intelligent conferences and exhibitions and EventCity (yuck) gets all the caravan and ideal home shows.

Traffic CentreNovember 9th 2010.

It will always be the Traffic Centre. And it will always be in Dumplington. Trafford can keep EventCity and grind to a halt. Serves it right for agreeing to such big bloody developments with useless infrastructure in place. Good news for Mcr - all the really shitty events can go to EC and we'll keep all the nice ones.

GMSNovember 9th 2010.

At over three times the size, this may be more of another string on the city's bow, rather than genuine and direct competition for Manchesetr Central.

With the cheaper pricing structure and obvious contrasts in locations it could further complement the Manchester conference offer.

The Trafford Centre and surrounds could do with being more accessible from the city centre for this to truly work for and with the city centre. Get Peel to put their money where their mouth is and fund the tram line extension. Let's see if the money really is on the table.

AnonymousNovember 11th 2010.

Yes, I think the point is Manchester Central has hosted some pretty high profile conferences over the last 10 years, New Labour's first one comes to mind. Now if that had been held at he Peel place, Blair and Brown would've been walking around the food-hall of the Tragic Centre, trays of KFC in hand, trying to find a free seat.
The funniest part is the new guy from Manchester 235 Casino (an unqualified mess of a place)going on about the Egyptian exhibition as though it wasn't a front.

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