Q&A with CallisonRTKL: a focus on Manchester’s BTR landscape

We spoke to John Badman, Principal at CallisonRTKL about Manchester’s Build to Rent landscape and what 2023 holds.

Map of Manchester. CallisonRTKL Q&A - a focus on Manchester’s BTR landscape | BTR News
Map of Manchester.

We spoke to John Badman, Principal at CallisonRTKL about Manchester’s Build to Rent landscape: future growth districts, potential threats to the market, what 2023 holds and more.

Which areas of Manchester are undergoing significant development at present and where are the future growth districts?

Over the last decade, many of the masterplans driven by the Manchester City Council (MCC) and Salford City Council’s (SCC) strategic frameworks have taken shape on brownfield sites around the edge of the inner ring road, drawing developers and long-term investors from far and wide. The most dramatic of these frameworks for the region’s skyline have been Great Jackson Street in Manchester and Greengate in Salford, including our very own Embankment West community.

In the recent Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt announced that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail would be pressing ahead, meaning the masterplans for Mayfield and Piccadilly East will become all the more connected and will soon boast east/west and north/south connectivity, thanks to this new rail infrastructure.

Our project The Castings, a 330-unit scheme designed in collaboration with Packaged Living for City Development Ltd (CDL), is rising above the skyline in Piccadilly East and its neighbouring developments are beginning to show that the density of these masterplans allows for the creation of fantastic places at ground level for residents in the city.

Like many of the other current high-rise Build to Rent construction sites in Greater Manchester, they are clustered around the national transport infrastructure of Piccadilly Station, Victoria Station and Deansgate Station. These clusters are also coincidentally, or maybe not, located on the banks of Manchester and Salford’s three rivers, The Irwell, The Irk and The Medlock.

So it is to these blue sites that we should look for future development opportunities rather than the brownfield sites of the last decade. And rightly so as more and more people are looking to connect with nature in this post-pandemic world.

If we follow the Medlock out of town from its now un-culverted form in the beautiful Mayfield Park, we can see great opportunity for Holt Town to create a link between the hugely successful New Islington and Eastlands’ burgeoning entertainment and innovation districts.

As the Irk leaves the back of Victoria Station, it is easy to see this in action already at developments around Victoria Riverside, Red Bank and Meadowside. The most exciting is yet to come through with the potential of Far East Consortium’s (FEC) Victoria North, the North of England’s biggest urban regeneration programme.

Moving north from Greengate, The Irwell offers great opportunities for both cities. The area around Strangeways and Great Ducie Street has been earmarked by Manchester for quite some time. Is now the time? Further along the river on Salford’s side, things are a little further ahead; with English City Fund (ECF) almost complete at New Bailey and Chapel Street, they are now looking at the super exciting mixed-use residential, education and industry Crescent community.

And whilst we are talking water in Manchester, we can’t forget the Manchester Ship Canal. With Trinity Island, Pomona Island, Trafford Wharfside, Salford Quays and Trafford Waters; the future for Build to Rent in the area is looking very blue; much like the football.

Manchester and Salford are playing into the strengths of their varied blue and green infrastructure, and bringing forward the primary development zones in close strategic alignment with the cities’ ESG visions.  

The Castings Build to Rent scheme | BTR News
The Castings Build to Rent scheme.
Map sketch which includes Manchester and Salford’s three rivers, The Irwell, The Irk and The Medlock | BTR News
Map sketch which includes Manchester and Salford’s three rivers – The Irwell, The Irk and The Medlock.

Has the product and amenity offering evolved during your time working in the city?

Yes! Massively. From the variety of the Build to Rent product and its price points, to the amenity size and type along with the service offering that residents now have access to, it has all evolved as the Build to Rent sector has grown. As one matured, so did the other.

We’ve experienced this first hand and have continued to play an active role in the advancement since opening the CallisonRTKL Manchester studio in 2015, when we found ourselves working on the first Manchester Life development, Cotton Field Wharf (open and operating since 2018) and on Affinity Living’s Embankment West and City Suites (open and operating since 2021).

During our time in Manchester, we have seen the number of Build to Rent homes go from zero to 10,000 in operation. With another 12,000 currently under construction or with planning approval, we are further encouraged by the increased commitment to addressing not just the critical needs of residents looking to rent (such as varied bike storage solutions, inclusive bills and on-site maintenance, etc.), but the real increase in amenities as a differentiator.

Keeping pace with the behavioural and societal changes brought on by the pandemic, we see the form and function of such amenities continue to change in kind. Just as how we work, shop and play has changed, so has the brief for home itself changed. The effects of this can be seen in the Build to Rent product where demand is growing for more shared working facilities, which we experienced first-hand with a change during construction at our Lampwick Quay community, increased community engagement and amenities we might previously have associated with urban hotels or co-working facilities.

Communal space at Lampwick Quay | BTR News
Communal space at Lampwick Quay.
Lampwick Quay Build to Rent development | BTR News
Lampwick Quay Build to Rent development.

Are there any potential threats to the market?

There is a significant supply and demand issue with housing across Manchester and the whole country. The need now is for a range of housing typologies that can be offered at varying price points and tenures.

As part of this, we need to consider the role of Build to Rent and how this specific way of living can, and should, sit as part of a wider housing ecosystem that includes a diverse and inclusive mix of other tenure models from for sale, affordable, co-living and shared ownership. Build to Rent at density can bring a lot to a city but it can’t solve everything. The government’s housing policy should remain encouraging of the Build to Rent tenure, while not over burdening what is still a pioneering housing typology.  

Can you tell us about the Embankment West transformation?

Embankment West, now branded as Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point, has been open for a year, so we have access to feedback from residents and can utilise platforms like HomeViews to report on its performance and success in real time. We are proud to say that from all of the current reviews, the design impression and experience has been rated 4.89 out of a possible five.

We attribute the success of the design in large part to the decision to remove the existing railway arches of the old station platforms that reintroduced Salford Approach at grade connecting Blackfriars Road with Greengate. Where these arches were running through the development, removing them enabled us to create a unique public space between City Suite I and the new City Suites II, Laurence Place and Exchange Point. The result is an entrance experience that brings together residents of both Affinity Living and the short stay apartments at City Suites with its own swimming pool, spa and luxury residents’ lounge.

I would encourage you all to head to the new public space – a peaceful haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and enjoy a relaxing drink from the Embankment Café Co whilst sat at the table integrated into the green wall. Whilst you are there, don’t forget a mindful moment taking in Liz West’s fabulous piece of public art.

Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point | BTR News
Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point.
Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point developments | BTR News
Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point developments.

When it comes to the exterior, one of our favourite views of the scheme is from the Salford side of the tracks where you can see the simple forms offset against each other. This was inspired by old photos that depicted trunks and cases sitting on the platform awaiting collection as the steam train rolled in. This distinctive character and the building composition has since become part of the development’s identity and the city’s urban tapestry.

Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point Build to Rent development | BTR News
Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point Build to Rent development.
Street level view of Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point | BTR News
Street level view of Affinity Living Laurence Place & Exchange Point.

Looking forward, what does 2023 hold for the Build to Rent market?

Cautious optimism! There has been some talk of oversupply in Manchester, while others question the need for more Build to Rent apartments. I personally don’t agree with any of that – the Build to Rent market is robust; it is still emerging, and we are seeing funding continue to flow into the sector.

As 2022 comes to a close, we are given cause for encouragement with projects that are driving forward at pace and opening the doors to new residents, who want what we all do – a sense of community and belonging and a home that matches their lifestyle, social and sustainable ambitions.