Researchers question Council land sales in Manchester

A new report by researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield raises concerns about the privatisation of Council-owned land in central Manchester.

The report highlights a lack of transparency around public land deals and questions whether Manchester City Council is getting value for money when disposing of its land assets to private developers.

The report estimates that Manchester may be paying nine times more for land in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods of Ancoats and New Islington than it has received in revenue for land in the same neighbourhood. In some cases, prime city-centre land appears to have been leased to developers for hundreds of years for free, or a nominal amount of £1.

The researchers ask additional questions about the use of public land to build luxury apartments that are unaffordable to the majority of Manchester’s residents. Despite the Council’s own policy that all new developments should include 20% affordable units, the report identifies numerous developments on public land that contain no social or affordable housing.

One striking case identified by the researchers is ‘Oxygen’: an £82 million, 32-storey luxury apartment complex that includes a gym, cinema room, 25-metre swimming pool and 5-star spa. According to data obtained by the researchers through the Freedom of Information Act, the Council leased land that matches the address of the Oxygen site to Store Street Developments (a company registered at the address of the Property Alliance Group) for a total of £1. No affordable or social housing provision is included in this development.

The report also raises concerns about the Council’s ‘Manchester Life’ partnership with Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), the private equity company owned by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. The report estimates that over 4 hectares of public land have been transferred to ADUG in order to build over 1400 housing units, none of which are classed as affordable. On top of this, it has been reported in a Sunday Times investigation that the Council receives none of the rental income from Manchester Life’s property portfolio.

The report calls for Andy Burnham to use his strong new mandate to follow the example of Liverpool City Region and establish a Greater Manchester Land Commission. This would mean that representatives of the public, private and voluntary sectors and academia can develop proposals for how best to use public land in order to address social and environmental needs.

The research was undertaken by Dr Tom Gillespie (University of Manchester) and Dr Jon Silver (University of Sheffield) in collaboration with local housing campaign group Greater Manchester Housing Action.

Dr Tom Gillespie, Hallsworth Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, said:

“Like many cities, Manchester is currently facing a housing crisis and a climate emergency, and there is a shortage of both affordable and social housing and public green space in the city centre. In this context, it is worrying that the Council appears to be using public land to enable private developers to build unaffordable luxury apartments. The questions raised by this report indicate the need for greater transparency and accountability around public land disposals in the city”

Isaac Rose, campaigner from Greater Manchester Housing Action and Greater Manchester Tenants Union, said:

“The findings of this report indicate that the question of how we use our remaining public land assets as a city is of vital importance in the years ahead. We are calling on Andy Burnham — newly re-elected with a huge mandate — to keep to his manifesto commitment and establish a GM Land Commission, along the lines of that being developed in the Liverpool City Region. We are also encouraging councillors to do ward-level audits of disposed land and existing public land assets in their area, to begin a community-led strategy of using these resources for public good. This would mean prioritising council housing and green space on existing public land assets.”

Chloe Jeffries, campaigner from Climate Emergency Manchester, said:

“Climate Emergency Manchester welcomes this important report. We hope it sparks a discussion about what is built, where, by whom and for whom in this city. As we have seen with Manchester City Council’s response to the climate emergency and its failure to reduce city-wide emissions, the development of public land is another example where there is a significant lack of transparency and failure to demonstrate taking into account the long-term interests of the city’s residents”.

Dr Jonathan Silver, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, said:

“Public land is a valuable asset and in this work, we’ve tried to understand how this is disposed of and under what terms. We’d really welcome the Council responding to this research and explaining to the public the way they value land and whether in their opinion they are capturing the true value for the Manchester public. Land disposals are shaping our future city and we think this should be a key issue to be discussed and debated by the public who are ultimately the owners of such land.”

Download a copy of the report.

For more information:

Tom Gillespie, Hallsworth Research Fellow, University of Manchester: thomas.gillespie@manchester.ac.uk.

Isaac Rose, campaigner, Greater Manchester Housing Action and Greater Manchester Tenants Union: isaac@tenantsunion.org.uk.

Chloe Jeffries, campaigner, Climate Emergency Manchester chloe@climateemergencymanchester.net.

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