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Why Manchester’s Airport City is a key player in the Northern Powerhouse

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 August 2015 | UPDATED: 17:12 24 October 2015

Manchester Airport City

Manchester Airport City

not Archant

This stunning new Northern Powerhouse development is not just about aeroplanes, writes Martin Pilkington

Manchester Airport City Manchester Airport City

At Manchester Airport a project that will change the region’s economic landscape is underway. Strangely, Airport City is as much about trains and trams – and shops and offices – as it is about planes.

The concept is simple: to develop a mini-city on land around the airport, making it an attractive centre for international companies to establish their UK or European HQs, while providing the other amenities – retail, hospitality and leisure – that a modern workforce demands.

Since ground was broken on the site in 2013 there has been little let up in news about developments, and there’s no sign of things slowing. ‘This is a big year for Airport City, particularly on the north site, with strong foundations laid in 2014,’ says CEO for Property at Manchester Airports Group Lynda Shillaw. ‘As well as our office scheme, the next few months will see further announcements for the project.’

It’s good to hear that Manchester’s offer can’t be matched elsewhere in the country. ‘No other UK airport outside London has the infrastructure, capacity or route network to make such a project work,’ says David Partridge, managing partner at Argent, the firm overseeing the development. ‘Given constraints in the south east of England, Manchester is probably the only place in the UK that can realistically support an airport city development.

Manchester Airport City Manchester Airport City

‘It’s clearly interesting for business people to be able to fly in from overseas and then be at their desk 10 minutes after clearing formalities. We also hope people living and working in and around the airport will benefit from the new facilities. For example, you might meet friends at Airport City for shopping, or go for a meal after work.’

The project could be a major boost for local architects, designers and other building professionals. ‘With lots of different types of buildings – hotels, offices, car parks, warehousing, shops, advanced manufacturing – you need different sorts of specialist architects,’ David explains, though he emphasises there will be a definite ‘look’ to the place.

‘We believe very much in building up the city as a whole with some common themes, perhaps materials for example, and there’ll be common design factors like the buildings lining up nicely so they hold the edge of the street, but certainly they will not be identical.’

The idea is to create a liveable community, making commutes by public transport easy with tram and train improvements in hand, and having retail and leisure facilities to serve workforce and visitors alike. ‘We want to do something that provides workers with amenities that make it attractive to stay around, just like in a traditional city centre – bars, shops, restaurants etc – before they jump on the tram or the train and head for home,’ he adds.

Airport City will be built across two sites. The first, Airport City North, is adjacent to the airport station, and spreads across to an area north of the M56. Here the focus is new hotel, office, retail and advanced manufacturing sites. The second site, Airport City South, will be to the west of the airport, providing a World Logistics Hub.

DHL became the first occupier late last year, and two other significant elements have been signed up in 2015, so the time when the developers can begin ‘place making’ – building the public and leisure spaces to complement the business activities on site - is coming ever nearer. ‘People go to the airport to jump on the plane, not for lunch,’ says Mr Partridge. ‘This changes that view. Airport City is not just for airport travellers.’

City in numbers

* £800 million development over 10-15 years

* 160 acre site

* 16,000 new jobs forecast

* 5,000,000 square feet of high quality new buildings

* Joint venture between Manchester Airports Group, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, Carillion PLC, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, and developers Argent


March 2009 announcement of MAG’s Airport City plans

January 2012 launch of the Airport City Masterplan

May 2013 Chancellor George Osborne breaks ground on the project

November 2012-January 2013 outline planning permissions granted

October 2013 Joint Venture Agreement with financial backers announced

October 2014 the first occupier

February 2015 logistics scheme development – ALPHA - announced

March 2015 75,000 square foot office scheme announced

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