Pre-pandemic, the Manchester skyline was changing dramatically – the city was starting to resemble Manhattan. Manchester was carving its name on the global property map and there was a palpable air of confidence and excitement.
Commercial and residential schemes were flying up. Companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft had opened new offices in and around the city centre as they identified Manchester as a strong location for supply chains and labour which cost less than equivalent rates in the capital.
However, recent global events and the need for the majority of employees to work from home has raised questions about what the future holds for the Manchester property sector post-COVID-19. Can the city survive as businesses look to adapt their working models? Or will we face a property recession similar to the one in 2006/7?
“We are part of an international business, so we were aware of the impact that COVID-19 was having on our colleagues in China from the outset,” says Andy Carroll, director at global architect firm, Chapman Taylor. “This allowed us to prepare and adapt quickly for when it arrived in the UK. However, not everyone has the quality of space they need to work from home comfortably or effectively. As we emerge from lockdown, people will be more aware of social distancing and will want to have a feeling of personal space within their office. This is likely to drive the need for spaces with lower densities and more private meeting space and larger communal facilities. This means businesses may actually need to take more space for less people.”
Andrew Cooke, director of Manchester at Bruntwood Works, says: “Despite the increase in remote working, this doesn’t mean there is no longer any need for an office. We will just see spaces used differently. Before the onset of coronavirus, many businesses were already thinking long and hard about the space they needed, often utilising hot-desking, wanting more collaboration spaces and environments to meet and interact with their clients. The coronovirus has brought about the same change, but it is now happening much faster.
“On-site could be the new off-site, where the office will now be the hub where people come together to have that vital interaction that spurs creativity and productivity. This will be aided by an increased focus on sustainability, health and wellbeing in building design, something that was already becoming commonplace in offices pre-COVID-19. The pandemic has now placed a greater emphasis on these things as people return to more comfortable working spaces”.
Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital&Centric, believes that even though the economy is struggling and the future is uncertain, there are reasons to be positive.
“We built Capital&Centric through the last recession so we’re pretty well prepared for whatever lies ahead. We’ve switched to marketing properties remotely, using virtual viewings for apartments and workspaces, and we’re interacting with prospective residents using web chat more. As well as signing and securing some great deals during lockdown, we’ve also been doing what we can to help out others that have been affected. We set up an emergency supplies depot at our Swan Street site, near Mackie Mayor, where businesses donated vital supplies to help homeless people impacted by the crisis.”
Carroll suggests that an expected dip in the property sector could seen as more of a pause and reset, rather than a longer-term slowdown.
“Manchester has continued to boom over the last couple of years, despite the political Brexit uncertainty. This comes down to confidence. Investors see that there is a strong culture and identity in Manchester. Our city leadership has created a positive environment that encourages high quality development in a structured framework that has seen Manchester transform over the last 20 years. We have an inclusive and diverse community with excellent universities, independent businesses and world-renowned brands and a high standard of living that retains talent within the region. Not to mention football.”
Higgins believes that, as a region, the North West is well placed to weather any impending recession.
“The towns around Manchester are undergoing massive regeneration and the rebalancing of the economy that’s taken place over the last few years, for example with the BBC moving to Salford, puts us in a much better position than last time. Hopefully in 12 months’ time, the property market will be back to where it was, with decisions made on steady economic growth and not short-term gain.”
It seems that time will only tell what the long-term impact will be on the Manchester property sector. But Mancunians are known for their spirit and determination, and the comments from property leaders across the city suggest a desire to seize this moment as an opportunity to refocus, hit the market with renewed energy, and come back fighting.
Main image: Crusader and Phoenix. Image courtesy of Capital&Centric.