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Manchester is a city brimming with living history, its skyline composed of various landmarks from the industrial revolution. But with space becoming a highly-contested commodity amongst developers, the city is left to decide how it will progress: leave these landmarks as they are – a tribute to the past – or transform them for the sake of the future.


When considering the importance of Manchester – and the participation of its citizens – in the Industrial Revolution, the city’s role is undeniable. Its streets are littered with historical reminders of the industry that took place within its limits, and have become part of a living backdrop, expected to be seen by visitors and still held in esteem by locals.

As time has gone on, however, the shrinking amount of real estate versus growing demand for commercial and residential premises and amenities has forced companies, councils and the government to look elsewhere for development space – and naturally, historic buildings are at the top of their list.


The Real Estate Crisis

Although it’s been a long time coming – with the population climbing and our demands on the planet growing – it’s still seemingly a surprise to some people to find out that we’re running out of space. A report backed by Cambridge University has given an estimate date for this expected land shortfall: 2030. By this point, we’ll experience a shortfall of 6 million hectares of land – roughly three times the size of Wales.

With this date looming ever closer, and the realisation that we need more affordable homes and amenities to match demand, the pressure is mounting on developers and the government to find a solution.

There is – as you’d expect – some talk of emulating Hong Kong’s idea of living vertically, which has led to the development of almost 8000 buildings over 35 metres tall, with people eating, sleeping and working in various skyscrapers. Earlier in 2018, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid proposed reforms which would make adding extra storeys to buildings a much easier process – helping people to live closer to the city centre, rather than the outskirts, thanks to more space being made.

Vertical living isn’t without its criticisms, however, and some architects – including William Lim – have pinpointed high-rise buildings as a cause of traffic congestion, arguing that better planning is needed. So, it seems that before Manchester starts to build up, it needs to use the space occupied by historic buildings first.


Why Historic Buildings?

There are two ways in which historic sites can be used in the context of offering more residential and commercial properties: firstly, a regeneration of an existing building, and secondly, the demolition of a site, with a fresh start to follow.

Both come with benefits, but the latter is disadvantaged by its insistence on destroying a remnant of history. That being said, these buildings are likely chosen because it prevents green spaces being eaten into, such sites are often unused and, in some cases, unkempt – turning into eyesores when not properly maintained.

For sites that are regenerated – rather than demolished – there’s also the added benefit of the area around the site becoming regenerated by proxy, paving the way to attract creative businesses, vibrant individuals and a thriving community – all without putting history at risk.

Either solution brings the city one step closer to growing safely, though I personally would prefer to see historic buildings remain on the skyline.


A Plan in Motion

If you’ve ventured into any city recently, you’ll already be aware that plans for historic redevelopment is already under way. Across the UK, city landmarks are being re-invented for new usage, such as the Wills Building in Newcastle – formerly a tobacco factory, and now home to glossy new flats (with the exterior kept as-is).

In Greater Manchester, we’ve seen this plan in action for some years now, with creative businesses taking up residence in some of the Industrial Revolution’s most eye-catching buildings. Seemingly at the helm of this practice is the duo of Sam Lawson Johnston and George Haddo – a pair of property investors with a portfolio that stretches across the city’s historic Albert Estate and Canada House.

The duo’s properties are already home to brands such as Tunafish, Headspace and Puma, each one breathing new life into the recycled landmarks. For the businesses, there’s high quality property in a stunning location on offer; for the venue itself, there’s a new lease of life.

Elsewhere, other historic landmarks aren’t as lucky, and yet must accept their fate if Greater Manchester is to continue to address the needs of its residents. The site of the Hovis factory in Wigan, for example, will soon become host to just short of 150 homes in a bid to make use of the space for affordable housing; Kellogg’s original factory, meanwhile, is set to become the site of the University Academy ’92.


Building on the Past

No matter how Manchester’s development progresses – and how much is reliant on re-using historic landmarks – conservation will always be the first port of call. Despite the approval for the University Academy ’92 (of which they are part-owners), Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville’s £200m planned regeneration of the city has been snubbed twice. As conservationists pointed out, a planned skyscraper on Jackson’s Row (one of two in the pair’s plans) would cause ‘cumulative harm’ to nearby listed buildings.

This just goes to show that, although necessity has brought us to the point where we must recycle or remove historic buildings in order to grow Manchester, the city and its residents are still fiercely loyal to the history on display.

But what better way to honour history is there than building on the past to ensure the city’s future? If we don’t make the decision now, we may never find out.


Kaleida is a bespoke software development house based in Manchester. We create tailored software by building upon our clients’ challenges and needs, developing a solution unique to them. To find out more about us – or to book a free software review – get in touch with our team.

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