One of the largest development opportunities in Greater Manchester is under way after Trafford Council gave the nod to the first phase of the Future Carrington project, in a move that many anticipate will unlock significant and ‘transformative’ new development in the area.
In April, the council approved initial plans for up to 725 new homes and 1m sq ft of employment space, as well as parks and a rugby club, on the HIMOR-owned, 1,660-acre Carrington Estate to the south west of Manchester.
The plan for the site, which includes a former Shell processing plant, Carrington Business Park and neighbouring land, is one of 12 projects in the government’s Northern Powerhouse Investment Opportunities Portfolio and a key part of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). The development is expected to be one of the key drivers of the regional economy in the coming years.
So what is HIMOR’s vision for Carrington? And what hurdles need to be overcome before the site can be developed to its full potential?
With the backing of most local leaders and politicians, significant future development is almost certain. But it won’t all be plain sailing. Getting planning consent to develop the wider area and securing funding for the infrastructure needed to make it logistically viable will be challenging.
If successful, however, the scheme will better connect relatively deprived and poorly integrated neighbourhoods into the Greater Manchester economy, says Richard Roe, director of growth and regulatory services at Trafford Council.
At the same time, he says, it will create new housing and employment opportunities.
Rob Haslam, planning director in Savills’ Manchester office and formerly head of planning at Trafford Council, helped establish the original planning framework for the site. He says it is the single biggest strategic opportunity in Greater Manchester. “It’s a massive regeneration project that offers a real opportunity to make big changes in terms of delivering new communities and new business and infrastructure.”
The scheme certainly has a lot going for it, not least the fact that the majority of the site is in single ownership. “Having a development site of that size in single ownership has a lot of benefits in terms of our ability to bring that site forward for development,” Roe explains. “It will be an important part of delivering the level of growth in residential development that Greater Manchester wants to see.”
The project also has the potential to bring about a range of benefits to the surrounding areas. The development is on the border with Partington, which Roe describes as one of the more “challenging” areas in the borough, particularly in terms of its isolation.
“It’s not the easiest place to get to,” he says. “Carrington sits between Partington and the built-up areas of the Manchester conurbation. This is an opportunity to improve transport as well as social and community infrastructure and to open up access to employment for that part of the borough.”
Future Carrington should also help create a more varied mix of housing for Greater Manchester as a whole.
“A lot of the development in Greater Manchester in previous years has been driven by the apartment market in Manchester and the city centre fringe of Salford,” says Roe. “This is primarily a low-rise development, catering to a different market that probably has not been served as well in the past.”
The ultimate aim is to build 7,000 to 7,500 residential units and around 8m sq ft of employment space. The commercial space will be used primarily for logistics, but Roe hopes the scale of development will attract a range of businesses including manufacturers and smaller-scale entrepreneurial start-ups.
There are significant placemaking challenges to be overcome, however, including the level and cost of remediation works needed to clean up the industrial brownfield site and the need to create a residential neighbourhood from scratch.
“If you do a site visit, it takes a great leap of faith to see the vision,” says Haslam. “There is a lot of heavy industrial kit there and it is a challenge to perceive Carrington as a place people will want to live.”
Fully developing the site will also entail substantial green-belt amendments, which have been the subject of much debate in the region. “In my view, they could probably get the first 4,500 [houses] away with no problem, but the rest are tied up with green belt,” says Haslam.
That might not be as big a hurdle to overcome as it appears. Manchester has huge economic and housing growth aspirations and stopping green-belt development in all locations will be difficult. Haslam says the area’s green-belt land is “not the most cherished” and, since there has not been a major review of the region’s protected land since the 1980s, many argue now is the time for re-examination.
The election of Andy Burnham as mayor of Greater Manchester may complicate matters. After all, Burnham has expressed doubts about the release of green belt for development outlined in the GMSF.
However, Darren Jones, managing director of HIMOR, says the mayor also has great potential to help galvanise action and drum up funding. “We now have someone looking at Greater Manchester as a whole and in a wider context,” he says. “Burnham will have to take the other leaders with him, but I think it is good to have one person representing Greater Manchester: one person, one voice going to government. We are in it for the long term and our aspirations are the same. We will work with the mayor as best we can.”
There is broad buy-in for extensive development from a range of other important sources. Jones says Trafford Council, local Labour MP Kate Green and the adjoining Conservative MP Graham Brady all support the Future Carrington project.
For his part, Haslam agrees that local support is solid.
“Sean Anstee, Trafford’s leader and a local Partington boy, fully backs it and it has support at the Greater Manchester level. All 10 leaders [in the region] have endorsed the current version. The mayor will be an influential figure but does not have full sway and must bring the other 10 leaders with him.”
Infrastructure is perhaps a bigger challenge. Some improvements are already in progress. The main road on the site will be widened, upgraded and extended to the Warrington spur with £6m of funding awarded to date. Further funding will be needed to unlock wider development, explains Jones.
“That will be predicated on the GMSF and it will come down to where Burnham stands on that,” he says. “To unlock the full scheme we need more significant infrastructure. There is a conversation going on now with Transport for the North and Highways England.”
Roe would like to see improved transport connectivity and says better links to the adjoining areas will be vital. “We have considered a tram and a guided busway. There are a number of opportunities to connect into Altrincham.”
A route with a bridge over the canal and into Salford would be of benefit to local residents too. “That level of investment in infrastructure is clearly significant and there’s not a single source of funding for that so we have to look at what part of that should be nationally led, how much is Greater Manchester and how much is done through the developer unlocking investment and at a local level,” says Roe.
Taken on its own, the development of Carrington would be unlikely to be enough to justify the investment in infrastructure the project is seeking. But taken as part of a corridor of employment land it becomes strategically important, according to Haslam.
“The Greater Manchester leaders have been looking at that corridor and they see it as of regional significance,” he says. “It has got a huge chance of being built but we will have to see how the first tranche goes. If the product is right in the early phases that will set the tone.”
It’s still early days, but with the backing of the 10 local authority leaders Future Carrington is well placed to overcome the hurdles it faces. And if the city region’s new mayor falls in behind the scheme, its chances of success will only increase.