Craning Ahead - What's Next For Manchester's Skyline?

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Manchester’s skyline is still amassed with cranes. Despite Brexit uncertainty, confidence in Manchester has never been higher. Neil Armstrong of member firm Myerson solicitors discusses

Neil Armstrong
At the end of summer 2018, Manchester boasted 64 tower cranes present in the city centre, more than ever before. Manchester Evening News reported in January 2019:

“According to Deloitte Real Estate’s annual Manchester Crane Survey, 3,345 more units are under construction compared to the same time last year and the projected delivery over the next three years is greater than the total number of residential units delivered between 2007 and 2018”.
Furthermore, a quarter of all new 2018 office space in the city centre was pre-let, up 10% from the previous year. The building of residential units also reached its highest level since 2006, with 2,569 units completed.

Despite the shambles that is now Brexit and fears of a global downturn, Manchester is experiencing a residential and commercial property boom, especially in the city centre.

The question is, what is driving this confidence in Manchester?

Primed for innovation

The Northwest of England, and particularly the city of Manchester, was at the heart of the industrial revolution 250 years ago. And today the city’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit has placed it front and centre of the digital/AI revolution poised to sweep the world and dramatically change how we live, work, and play.

The Northern Powerhouse, initially conceived by then Chancellor George Osborne in 2014, is very much alive, having made considerable progress, including the development of:

• The National Graphene Institute (NGI)
• The Henry Royce Institute – national centre for research and innovation of advanced materials
• The N8 Research Partnership - A collaboration of the eight most research-intensive universities in the North of England: Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York.
• A network of 17 business enterprise zones including several smart data and technology business incubators across the North.

Deloitte named Manchester as one of Europe’s fastest growing cities in 2018. Outside of London, it is the city of choice, not only for tech start-ups but for multinationals eyeing up a UK base.

Datacentreplus Account Manager, Stephen Hobson told Business Up North:

“The growth and development of the infrastructure in Manchester is one that attracted many to the region. If you compared the skyline from a couple of years ago to the one today, you can visually see the progress and growth that Manchester has undergone and the development that is still taking place today.”

In her article, The Manchester Paradox,(so-called because it examines the contrast between the race to build more residential properties and rising homelessness), Jennifer Williams comments:

“The last chancellor’s “northern powerhouse” policy—some serious devolution, a dash of infrastructure investment, the trade delegations to China—has helped money flood into housing, as ambitious local leaders have opened their arms to developers. And the results are now playing out. Currently, there are nearly 80 cranes on the city’s skyline [March 2019], hoisting up a forest of apartment blocks to mainly house young professionals, a generation starting to turn their back on London for a better quality of life.”

Although the expansion in tall buildings shows that developers, investors, and entrepreneurs see an exciting future in Manchester, as with all innovation and growth, there are negatives as well as positives. One of those down-sides may be a progressive lack of light.

Leave the light on

With more high-rise buildings comes less availability of light. Most Manhattan neighbourhoods are in shadow for at least half of daylight hours, and lack of sunlight is well-known to negatively affect people’s mood.

Council planning committees have a duty to consider the impact a proposed development will have on light. Indeed, the ‘Right to Light’ is protected under common law and in England and Wales by the Prescription Act 1832.

Right to light generally becomes contentious when a new development affects the ability for natural light to fall on a neighbouring property.

Property owners can bring claims for the destruction of their Right to Light via private nuisance.

Property developers need to ensure due diligence is conducted around Right to Light matters. Before the 2010 case of HKRUK II (CHC) Ltd v Heaney it was rare for the courts to order any changes to a development which was found to block a neighbouring property’s Right to Light. Therefore, developers simply took out insurance or tailored damages claims into their cost of the project. However, in HKRUK II, the court ordered the developer to remove two whole floors of a building.

The decision in HKRUK II was appealed but was settled before it was heard. Because the case was decided on its facts, it is not clear the decision would have been upheld. The law, therefore, remains unclear so developers should proceed with caution.

Pro-active action is essential if a Right to Light issue is uncovered during due diligence. Options include negotiating with the affected party or taking out insurance. Another alternative is to take out a light obstruction notice. Under the Rights of Light Act 1959, the owner of the adjacent land may prevent rights being acquired by applying to the local authority for the registration of a notice that is equivalent to the obstruction of the light, known as a light obstruction notice.

Possible reform

In December 2014, the Law Commission published a report on Rights To Light and made the following recommendations:

• a statutory notice procedure should be developed which would allow landowners to require their neighbours to tell them within a specified time if they intend to seek an injunction to protect their Right to Light, or to lose the potential for that remedy to be granted;
• a statutory test to clarify when courts may order damages to be paid rather than halting development or ordering demolition;
• an updated version of the procedure that allows landowners to prevent their neighbours from acquiring rights to light by prescription;
• amendment of the law governing where an unused Right to Light is treated as abandoned; and
• power for the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal to discharge or modify obsolete or unused rights to light.

As at the time of writing, the government had not taken any action on the Law Commissions proposals.

Rights to light issues will become more prominent over the next 5-10 years, given the new developments which are underway.

Future developments

There are several new developments being constructed around Manchester at present, which will add even more diversity to the city’s skyline. These include:
• Deansgate Square - based at the bottom of Deansgate between Commercial Street and Owen Street, this development includes the South Tower which will reach height 201m, the West Tower which will be the third tallest in Manchester at 141m, while the East will be 158m and the North 122m.
• Angel Gardens – a 34 story apartment complex located in the north of the city.
• Axis Tower – residential apartments in the Deansgate area
• Trinity Islands – dubbed Manchester’s first vertical village, this will contain the tallest UK building outside of London (213m).
• Landmark – a new office block located in St Peter’s Square.

With urban space limited, the high cost of land and development, and the increasing demand for residential and commercial space in Manchester, it seems cranes will not disappear from our skyline anytime soon.

Neil Armstrong, Partner, and Head of Construction at Myerson Solicitors

If you require detailed legal advice regarding property development, construction and/or investment, please call us on 0808 168 6042.

For more information please contact Ashley Reynolds, Marketing Manager on 0161 941 4000 or email

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