Q: In terms of real estate, what are the key investment opportunities in Manchester? 

A: If you look around this [Manchester real estate pavilion], you’ll see no pictures of property, but lots of pictures of people. Manchester as a place to live, a place to do business and a place for property. One follows from the other. 


In terms of key projects, we have invested £130m ($162m) in the Factory, which is the new art centre. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world and it will be the anchor of a new business district across St Johns, the old Granada studios in Manchester. There’s Mayfield, an old goods station that is an enormous new site for mixed-use development park. Another projects is ID Manchester, the former site of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. By 2022, all engineering will have transferred to the university’s main campus and the the new engineering block.

There’s also an enormous site available immediately adjacent to Piccadilly station – they are seeking a development partner – and we’re talking about £1.5bn worth of development around that site. We are also looking at opportunities in some of the town centres, particularly Stockport and Altrincham. These are parts of the Manchester city region, and have good transport links into the city centre. Lastly, we’ve got the Northern Gateway project, which is largely aimed to be an advanced manufacturing site for the north. It will be very close to the M60. 

Q: Beyond real estate, what some other key opportunities you’d like to highlight?

A: Bioscience. Manchester Science Park, home to precision medicine and more, is where there’ll be growth in the health sector over the next 10-15 years. The oncology market, currently about £20bn, will grow to £60bn over that period. Cardio not too far behind. We’re in the process of developing an institute that will be a top five global oncology research centre, directly adjacent to the Christian Hospital, one of the UK’s best cancer hospitals.

GCHQ is opening a new base in the city; that means cyber security, AI and big data. GCHQ is looking to grow very significantly across Manchester in the coming years. Before even getting here, they have increased by 50% their floor requirements. AI machine learning – all of those things will be growth sectors in the coming period. Over the past three years, if you look at who's taking space in the city centre – and we keep breaking records for the space being taken – tech has been the biggest taker of space, outstripping financial services.

Another growth area is ‘creative employment’; we have about 40,000 people, next biggest is Glasgow with 18,000. This is not just art and culture, but PR and other communications [as well]. 

Q: Do you see investors hesitating as a result of Brexit?

A: Yes and no. As we know, there are a lot of businesses, domestic and foreign, holding off investment decisions. Nonetheless, in central Manchester we currently have 2 million square feet of offices under construction, and we’re still in danger of running out of supply. So from a property point of view, demand is still growing very significantly.

Q: Not being the capital, but a Tier 2 city, how does Manchester capture more of international investors’ attention?

A: There is evidence that countries that invest in tier two cities receive great benefits. The UK has a particular problem of scale, in that Manchester, along with greater Birmingham are the two biggest cities after London. Both are about a third of the size of London, so we’re slightly out of balance. The Northern Powerhouse vision is a way of correcting that.

What we’ve done in Manchester is used the fact that in our travel-to-work area we have 7 million people; we have an enormous labour force, we’ve invested in quality of place. New neighbourhoods across Manchester are regularly described as some  of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world, places where people want to live. We invested in affordable space for new digital media companies. We’re investing heavily in infrastructure and Manchester airport, which now has direct links to China, the Middle East, India, and America, etc. 

Q: How could the government better develop Tier 2 cities across the UK?

A: They could do more in all sorts of ways. Firstly, they could do more by doing less: namely, by devolving power and resources to us. There’s still a reticence to invest outside London out of the south east. A lot of the investment policy is about investing in the past, not investing in the future. The HS2 [high speed] railway, it’s a lot of money, but it’s an infrastructure for over 100 years; we need it. We’ve described our railway network as pre-Victorian. [It] needs to be part of a new national network. And yet there's still clearly enormous levels of opposition to it.