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BIG INTERVIEW: Sir Richard Leese Building For The Long-Term

Jill Burdett on a possible end to shoe box living

Written by . Published on February 23rd 2015.

BIG INTERVIEW: Sir Richard Leese Building For The Long-Term

MANCHESTER could set its own planning standards in an attempt to raise the quality of residential development in the city.

We don’t want to sell on to institutional investors, which would be the traditional model and certainly not sell on before you have built anything

In an interview with Confidential, the leader of Manchester city council, Sir Richard Leese said he would like to see tougher thresholds when it came to quality, space and sustainability.

This is good news. London already has its own planning standards which demand more generous living spaces than the rest of the UK and more thought given to light and how new homes, generally apartments, will be like to live in.

Leese was talking about the latest building boom and the push to build homes for long term rent now that the average 20-something has been priced out of the market.

He said: “We want to raise standards and as part and parcel of that we are looking within the planning requirements at setting tougher thresholds around quality, space and sustainability. 

“We are not copying London, whatever it is it will be our own initiative but we will be looking at all aspects of design and planning.

“I’m not sure of the timing, not least because to have any weight these sort of changes have to go through a fairly lengthy consultation process or they are open to legal challenge.

“But I would like Manchester to have its own space and environmental standards.

“The  real risk otherwise is that we are going to get lots of stuff built now that is going to be knocked down in 15 years time. We cannot be doing that.”

Planning independence for Manchester

Planning independence for Manchester

He also wants the City to lead by example.

Manchester Life (ML), its joint venture with Abu Dhabi United Group, has been working since last summer on plans for the first phase of 800 or so homes on sites in Ancoats and New Islington.

The first planning applications should be made soon and more information may, or may not, come out at MIPIM – the annual property convention  in Cannes in March.

In the meantime there is apparently, somewhere in Ancoats, a mock-up of the ideal Build-to-Rent apartment which demonstrates not just the fundamentals of space, windows and doors but down to detail of plug sockets and just how many kitchen cupboards two professionals who probably eat out a lot need.

Leese is convinced this first wave of Manchester Life development will raise the residential bar.

He said: “What we want to do through ML is establish a new model of living, much the same as many of the public buildings in the 90s and started setting new benchmarks and others had to get near there if they wanted to get permission.

“Buildings like the Bridgewater Hall, the Art Gallery extension and the Civil Justice Centre. They set new quality thresholds when it came to public buildings and we want ML to do the same for residential.

“They will not be announcing anything soon. The next stage will be planning applications and work is well advanced. It is going well. I have seen the designs but we are not there yet.”

The Civil Justice Centre

The Civil Justice Centre

After a decade looking at the best and worst of resi schemes can I suggest they raise the ceiling heights, add more glass and decent width balconies, build in storage in the bathroom and fitted wardrobes in the bedrooms and have all the wiring and the TV package in place so you can just move in and log on.

All the fancy Private Rental Sector (PRS) stuff about gyms and cinemas and roof top barbecues and laundries will depend on rent levels. They need to get the basic living spaces and the common parts and the management right before adding in the toys.

PRS seems to all be about the numbers, big numbers - 300 units being the most efficient when it comes to management costs.

But some of the best schemes in Manchester are some of the most unexpected, the quiet unassuming schemes, rather than the big glitzy offerings and often quite small.

So how do you marry the aspirations of the city and developers wanting to be able to build here but still be able to make a profit?

“What we are in the process of trying to do with ML is developing a new model or PRS investment at scale,” says Leese. “But we don’t want to sell on to institutional investors, which would be the traditional model and certainly not sell on before you have built anything, which has again been the traditional model but build, hold and manage for a period of time

“If you are successful at doing that and can operate that on a successful financial model it will lead to better quality, better managed schemes.

“ML has to demonstrate a viable commercial model that allows you do that. It is about building, filling and managing for the long term.”

Proposed new houses for Ancoats

Proposed new houses for Ancoats

Leese has high hopes too that Manchester Place which brings together the land holdings of the city council and the Homes and Communities Agency will bring more cohesive and higher quality residential development.

He said: “The best way to influence quality is to have a stake in the scheme. Owning the land allows us to do that and underpin high quality residential development.”

Does he wish Manchester had set its own design / planning aspirations 10 years ago?

He said: “Wish we had done it 20 years ago! It is always a difficulty to sustain onerous conditions through the planning process if the conditions will not hold up through the appeals process

“And in truth if you think of Manchester city centre 20 years ago if we would not have had the revival, It would have been too restrictive. It is about getting the right balance.”

Asked for his favourite buildings he points to the older conversions down at Castlefield and  “some of the smaller schemes in the North Quarter”.


Last week Leese was keynote speaker at the British Property Federation annual conference, which focussed on the private rental sector. All the private rental sector, not just the big city centre blocks with one of the big discussions about the registration of landlords.

Leese said: “I think universal licensing of landlords would be enormously popular in almost every part of Manchester, the question is whether it would work. The impact of rogue and in some case crooked landlords is not just bad news for the tenants and for the city but bad news for the whole industry.

“The bulk of industry had vested interest in helping us sort it out and if universal licensing is not the answer – and I accept it is not unreasonable that good landlords do not want to pay for sorting bad landlords out - then we have to find something that is.”

He is convinced that here too quality will win out. Landlords who invest in their property, who provide decent homes, get a better long term return and we want to encourage that.”

Manchester city centre looking north and east

Manchester city centre looking north and east

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

DanFebruary 20th 2015.

This can only be good news- so long as it is implemented and not just used a talking piece.

DanFebruary 20th 2015.

I have lived in the city centre for five years in an apartment building managed by Artisan (we'll get onto that later). I think it's time developers realised that people who live in apartments still need sunlight (we have two windows in a five room flat) and also need storage space. There is an ongoing issue in the UK with room sizes, most of Europe has minimum sizes before a room can be considered a bedroom. We recently viewed a one bedroom flat in Islington Mews and the bedroom so small that it would be impossible to have a double bed in the room- and be able to open and close the bedroom door without obstruction. This was a brand new purpose-built building... with a bedroom that you couldn't fit a bed in! I think another issue that would help city life before more, well livable is to tackle feckless building management companies. Our building is managed by Artisan, and they are completely horrendous and treat residents with utter disdain. Residents have suffered numerous break ins, burglaries and thefts and Artisan don't even bother to return calls. Word to the wise: STEER CLEAR OF ANY BUILDING "MANAGED" BY ARTISAN.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
WayneFebruary 22nd 2015.

Totally agree mancunians are cash cows for selected developers who don't give a damn about who lives there...anyway Dan if you did have windows all you would see is the crap left on the floor and vomit left for the birds to eat...

DanFebruary 23rd 2015.

Well that's true!

AnonymousFebruary 24th 2015.

Which building is this.........?

AnonymousFebruary 20th 2015.

This is absolutely fantastic news and cannot happen too quickly. This will NOT be popular with many developers but full credit to the council for tackling this issue which is of fundamental importance to people's quality of life, and indeed, the sustainability of the city centre residential community as a whole. Well overdue but I'm thrilled to hear moves to address this finally.

Steve5839February 20th 2015.

What are you guys twittering about, if you don't buy the flats / rent the flats then they will change their build specs.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Shit biscuitFebruary 20th 2015.

Yes, because that's exactly how the property market works. Moron.

AnonymousFebruary 20th 2015.

You're assuming there is a functioning market Steve.

WayneFebruary 22nd 2015.

EDITORIAL COMMENT. This rant was removed. Oh come on Wayne you can't infer that without proof. Send the proof of the allegations to jonathans@theconfidentials.co.uk and we'll take a look.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
DanFebruary 23rd 2015.

Can you also take a look at the complete joke that is Artisan? I know Mancon have ran articles about them previously and exposed their incompetence. The current position in our building is that thieves have access codes to the building but Artisan don't feel that it's important to have the codes changed (approximately five months after I told them about it).

JoanFebruary 24th 2015.

Dan. If you'd like to email me I'll see if I or a colleague can assist. cllr.j.davies@manchester.gov.uk

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2015.

With this in mind,it is to be hoped that we get some architecture worth looking twice at. This council is the same one responsible for Piccadilly Gardens so I won't hold my breath about anything aesthetic to the eye anytime soon. The CJC is the best new building in Manchester by a long chalk but for every CJC we have ten Arndale centres. Look at the wasted opportunity on Aytoun Street,just another tedious hotel that is more suited to an Essex new town. I would love to see a cluster of skyscrapers near to the Beetham. That amazing wedged Skyscraper planned for Spinningfields has been scrapped for another Milton keynes High street monstrosity. Come on Sir Richard you need to Think on and make our city one of the most spectacular in Europe. Every week I hope to read that we are to get a signature building and every week I am disappointed to read that another uninspiring piece of mediocrity has been sanctioned. Early this century with Number one Deansgate,the Urbis and Beetham things were looking very promising. Where has that momentum gone?

12 Responses: Reply To This...
DanFebruary 23rd 2015.

What's the CJC building?

rinkydinkFebruary 23rd 2015.

Civil Justice Centre

AnonymousFebruary 23rd 2015.

Try grasping the other end of the stick, Anon.,

AnonymousFebruary 23rd 2015.

Even more depressing when every new development seems to involve the destruction of something of merit, Northcliffe House for Spinningfields, the collection of Victorian buildings and the Twisted Wheel for Motel One, Coronation Street for St Johns Quarter, Mayfield for HS3, Century House for 2 St Peters Square, and none of the replacements better what was there before. Lets try and preserve some of the old whilst bringing in the new? Most other cities manage it, why cant we? Bizarre.

Shit biscuitFebruary 23rd 2015.

"Even more depressing when every new development seems to involve the destruction of something of merit" Except that is completely untrue. Most new development happens on empty or derelict sites. Yet more empty uninformed hyperbole from the ignorant moaning department, ruining the quality of public debate. Feel free to look at where new building is actually taking place, and report back on what was there before. "Mayfield for HS3?" There are no firm plans for HS3. Perhaps you meant HS2? Indicative concepts show the new platforms built on the other side of Piccadilly from Mayfield.

AnonymousFebruary 23rd 2015.

Have you read the article Anon? Your rant is ompletely irrelevant and uninteresting.

AnonymousFebruary 23rd 2015.

HS2 is to the North HS3, the link in the North. I'll lend you a couple of hairs to split of you are short? Mayfield being demolished along with the listed Star and Garter. www.manchester.gov.uk/…/hs2_piccadilly_regeneration_framework_aug_2013…. Recommend looking at page 4. "Yet more empty uninformed hyperbole from the ignorant moaning department, ruining the quality of public debate." God what an obnoxious prat you must be. There is no public debate, what public debate? The decision has been made, no changes will be made. But yes, happy to be right, would you like me to put a big arrow on it to make it a bit easier for you to follow? "uninformed hyperbole from the ignorant moaning department". Absolute tosser.

Shit biscuitFebruary 23rd 2015.

Good job on proving my point. Page 4 on that document shows no mention of HS3 whatsover. It does show Northern Hub platforms, but that's not the same thing as HS3, and NO BUILDINGS are proposed to be demolished to build those platforms. That document is just an suggested framework for the development of the area - and if you think that means that they're definitive plans, that "the decision has been made", you're even more ignorant than I first thought. I might be obnoxious but so is ignorant ranting.

AnonymousFebruary 24th 2015.

Hmmm, are you actually capable of putting your own trousers on? I SAID - in case you didn't quite grasp it, that whether the High Speed development of Piccadilly was for HS2 or HS3 was splitting hairs. No, Mayfield is not being demolished for new platforms, those big rectangular building shaped things make that pretty clear - BUT, yes BUT, it is proposed that it will be knocked down as part of the redevelopment. You grapsed that? I've got a 3 year old nice who's got it, would you like me to get her to draw you a crayon picture if it helps you understand? And on the subject of splitting hairs, the plans show that the lazy s will be flattened for the new platforms. That's a building last time i checked?

Shit biscuitFebruary 25th 2015.

You can't get your facts straight without having your hand held to read a document properly. Accusing me of splitting hairs doesn't change that. The point remains that there are not even any serious, concrete proposals to demolish Mayfield (the document you linked to is nothing more than a theoretical masterplan drawn up by consultant architects, not a serious proposal), so your citation of it as an actual example of buildings of merit being demolished for new development is flawed because not only has it NOT HAPPENED, it hasn't even been seriously proposed. The fact also remains that "every new development seems to involve the destruction of something of merit" is hyperbole so inaccurate that you should have no expectation to be taken seriously. Take a look at the list of developments on this forum www.skyscrapercity.com/forumdisplay.php… and see how many are being built on derelict land or by replacing valueless buildings. It's almost all of them.

Shit biscuitFebruary 25th 2015.

I will give you the trousers jibe, that's a quality insult. Maybe stick to that.

AnonymousFebruary 25th 2015.

@ Anon. Councils don't propose buildings, private developers do. The planning system cannot force a developer to add 10 storeys to a building, use a radically different form or demand the use of all glass cladding. These things are the largely determined by market forces and / or financial considerations. So well done for a very angry but totally ill comceived, vaguely loony rant.

Voice of the Ironing BroadFebruary 25th 2015.

Come on...if its c**p in the city centre its even worse in the suburbs. Manchester doesn't even adhere to separation distances and that is how a friend of several councillors gets to knock down a bit of the conservation zone to build a hanger. One councillor in particular said that** insert name influential local community organisation** had withdrawn objections ..even though they hadn't and I do have proof. Contact me if you want. Another councillor, one day elected with no planning training, wrote an impassioned plea based on human rights saying that a four bedroom detached house wasn't any bigger than a 2 bed single storey building. Why not start to train the rubbish fodder you put up as councillors first then you might get some meaningful decisions.

Kevin PeelFebruary 25th 2015.

City centre councillors have been banging on about this for the last four years so we're glad to get the backing of the council leader. Now the demand is there we can afford to be choosy and invest in quality rather than quantity. In addition to better apartments we want better environments around them, which means public realm, green space and amenities.

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