University of Manchester challenge

Academic projects don’t get much bigger than the University of Manchester’s 10-year masterplan to revive its campus - which costs a cool £1bn.

Spanning everything from the students’ union, the university library and the Manchester Business School to a swathe of public realm and transport sites in the first phase alone, the project has set the campus and the surrounding area buzzing into motion and is now at the halfway mark, having been given the green light in 2012.

So with the first phase due for completion next year, how much has been achieved so far and is the project on track?

Back in 2002, Manchester had two big universities - Victoria University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist). Two years later, they were merged to form the UK’s largest university campus.

For the first time we will deliver a [Manchester] site where engineering, arts, biomedicine, business live side by side - Dame Nancy Rothwell

When the masterplan was unveiled in 2012, the University of Manchester’s director of estates and facilities, Diana Hampson, said the idea was to”bring all the academic activity together on a single site… improve efficiency, improve the student experience and reduce the university’s carbon footprint”.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, added: “For the first time, we will deliver a single site for the University of Manchester, where engineering, arts, biomedicine, business and all of our other activities live side by side, and our students will be at the real heart of a campus.”

By the end of 2018, most of the current North Campus will have been vacated and the university will have let go of a collection of ageing buildings. But vacating buildings is just one half of the equation - the other half is finding new space for those facilities. A major part of the overall project and a key element of the first phase is the Manchester Engineering Campus Development.

Regeneration opportunity

This development alone is costing £200m, a fifth of the overall budget, and is set to take its students from the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the School of Materials and the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, with the first students taking their places next year.

But what happens to the empty space created when the university clears out? Tom McWilliams, development director at JLL in the North West, says that this void actually represents a significant opportunity.

“The North Campus is the missing piece of the development puzzle in Manchester and offers a huge regeneration opportunity,” he says. “It has the ability to bridge the gap between the Oxford Road Corridor and Piccadilly and, along with the Mayfield project, will revitalise this area of the city.

This could become one of the most vibrant quarters of the city centre - Tom McWilliams, JLL

“Factor in the residential, office and hotel development already under way at Bruntwood’s Circle Square, along with U+I’s ambitious plans for Mayfield, and this could become one of the most vibrant quarters of the city centre - a true 24-hour, mixed-use location.”

Back on campus, another major project has already been up and running for some time. Among Manchester’s academic achievements, the discovery and characterisation of a whole new material, graphene, is one of the most important in its modern history, so much so that the scientists who led the project, Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 and the university has won the plaudit of being the UK centre for graphene research.

In 2015, the state-of-the-art National Graphene Institute was completed. One of the early highlights of the £1bn masterplan, the £61m facility has already been recognised nationally with an honour from the RIBA.


The University of Manchester’s ascendancy in the science world - not least with the discovery of graphene - has stimulated more interest from scientific students and professionals in the campus.

Cue the development of a key part of the new-look campus: the Schuster Annexe on the corner of Upper Brook Street and Brunswick Street.

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, physics and astronomy students will have a brand-new teaching area known as the ‘Ideas Mill’ as part of the building, which is due for completion in 2018.

Katie Tonkinson, partner at architects firm Hawkins\Brown, which is working with project manager Arcadis on the development, says that the Schuster Annexe is a “critical piece in the early stage of the masterplan”.

“It’s a big part of the rest of the campus and the wider community,” she says. “The future of the university is rooted in the biomedical side of things.”

Elsewhere, a new £32m teaching block is due next year, the students’ union is getting a £2m makeover and extension - partly to accommodate students relocating from the North Campus - and the University of Manchester Library is undergoing an £11m remodelling and refurbishment. Another pillar of phase one is the Manchester Business School, which is also undergoing a major revamp (see box, overleaf).

With so much development happening in phase one alone, the surrounding area has been subject to significant upheaval. But Suzanne Wainwright, associate director for retail and leisure at Manchester-based agency Metis, which has leased a number of sites including the Manchester Business School, says that ultimately, it too will benefit as more private companies are drawn to the area.

“It’s so close to the city centre and it’s a really busy area; there’s so much going on all year round,” says Wainwright. “The university has a strategy there - they want to get a range of operators there to attract a range of demographics.”

It is this knock-on effect that is driving another big initiative in Manchester - the wider city’s own transformation plans. Established in 2008, Corridor Manchester is a combined initiative bringing together five key partners: Manchester City Council; the University of Manchester; Manchester Metropolitan University; Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and Bruntwood. In its Strategic Vision to 2025, the partnership lays out an ambitious stall to increase the city’s appeal to ‘knowledge-intense’ organisations, businesses and occupiers and turn the area into one of Europe’s most innovative districts.

Virtuous circle

If it weren’t for £1bn worth of development taking place on the University of Manchester campus, this might seem a little heady. But as Bruntwood head of retail and leisure Toby Sproll explains, the masterplan is creating a virtuous circle for the surrounding area, which will also be home to the developer’s own ambitious mixed-use Circle Square scheme.

“The Oxford Road Corridor that backs on to the campus has been a major artery in the city for years, from north to south, in and out of the city,” says Sproll. “Historically, a lot of the institutions have faced away from the street, but these are being opened so that rather than being a place people just drive through, it’s going to be a destination in itself.

“The ambition is for this to become a leading knowledge quarter and we have to feed that knowledge with great places in which to live and socialise.”

If all goes to plan, by the time Circle Square is complete, the university’s own bold vision will have been realised. The £400m second phase of the project will see the completion of work on the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences and Life Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, as well as introduce a wave of new non-faculty facilities and public realm amenities.

Just under 20 years after the city’s two big universities merged, the unification will be complete. At the time, the merger was known as one of the most rapid in British academic history - and, if it all goes to plan, this might just go down as one of the fastest physical overhauls in recent times.

Nonetheless, promising such a major programme of works in the centre of a city as large as Manchester is not easy, not least because academic calendars place unique time pressures on a project. The next 18 months will be critical for all involved.


Manchester Business School (MBS) does a lot to put the city on the map in its own right, with alumni in the business world including former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy and former BAE Systems chief executive Mike Turner.

The MBS is undergoing a phased revamp led by Bruntwood that will add new academic buildings, including a library; revitalise the existing Precinct retail area with 40,000 sq ft of retail and leisure; remove a bridge over Oxford Street; and create a new hotel next to the school.

Bruntwood’s Toby Sproll says the developer is looking to transform the retail element to ensure the school appeals not only to students, but also to Mancunians and visitors.

“The ambition is to have a really interesting mix of food and beverage that serves this interesting local population. We could have let it very quickly, but what we are doing is trying to get that perfect mix,” he says. “The university wants great services and great provisions for the students; there’s a fantastic population in the area and they wanted a more curated mix of tenants.”

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