Manchester Property Guide


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Are Tower Blocks On The Up?

In the early nineties, few people would buy a flat in a tower block. Run down, poorly designed and with a reputation as a magnet for antisocial tenants, they were seen as a very last resort. But in September last year, developers Urban Splash laid on camping facilities as buyers queued up overnight to buy an apartment in one of three renovated 1960's tower blocks in central Manchester. And this was not a one-off - there has been similar interest in many other towers. What happened?

[photo: Manchester tower block]

Tower blocks first became popular as a way of solving the housing crisis that arose after the Second World War. At the time they were seen as a marvellous way of solving the housing crisis. New advances in construction methods (including prefabrication and new ways of building with steel and concrete) meant they could be built quickly, solving the housing shortage and significantly adding to the density of inner-city areas without destroying the green space.

Unfortunately things weren’t quite as idyllic as they planned. Because tenants only had responsibility for their own flats, the upkeep of shared spaces fell to badly overstretched local authorities. At the same time, the selection process for tenants was suffering and the buildings began to get a reputation for attracting the antisocial element of society. By the late eighties and early nineties, public opinion had turned against tower blocks completely and many of them were demolished.

However, from the late nineties onwards, the changing economic situation created a window of opportunity which meant building towers made financial sense. Apartments in tall buildings with unusual design elements, such as No 1 Deansgate, called to mind the skyscrapers of New York and Chicago rather than the tower blocks in inner-city Manchester, and captured the attention of affluent, childless purchasers. Those early developments were instrumental in changing the perception of the tower block.

Today there are various high-rise developments around Manchester (for example, West's Skyline Central or Dandara's Spectrum development) which are marketed as gateways into the “coffee-shop culture” for young professionals eager to make the most of city living. However, studies show that apartments in high-rise buildings are more expensive than similar apartments in low or mid-rise developments, and their prices place them out of reach of a large proportion of potential buyers.

That is where tower blocks make a return to the property market. Though some were badly designed and constructed, there were also many tower blocks which were built well. Some developers now see these buildings as redevelopment opportunities. This is good news for first time buyers because these properties are often priced well below the national average – last year, Urban Splash released flats in 'Emmeline', a 1960's tower block on Dalton Street, starting at £92,000 including parking. LPC Living went one better in May 2007 when they released flats in Freshfields, North Manchester, for just £69,950.

With prices so low and the social stigma of living in a high-rise development all but disappeared, it could be that the tower block is the way of the future after all.

Related Links

Urban Splash - www.urbansplash.co.uk
West Properties - www.westproperties.co.uk
Dandara - www.dandara.com
LPC Living - www.lpc1.co.uk

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