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Opponents slam new Manchester arena plans

A group of Manchester’s leading entertainment, retail, hotel, property and hospitality businesses have today spoken out against a planning application for a 23,500 capacity arena in Eastlands, concerned over the project’s impact to city centre trade, at a time of challenge for many businesses.

The group includes ASM Global, operators of Manchester Arena; Manchester Arndale; Aviva Investors; DTZ Investors, on behalf of Printworks and King Street; Living Ventures, owners of Australasia and Grand Pacific, and founders of iconic Manchester venues such as The Oast House and The Alchemist; Manchester Hospitality Network; and Prestbury Investments.

Initial plans for a second arena emphasised that the venue would in fact benefit leisure offerings within the city centre.

However, the planning application, submitted by OVG Manchester (which is ultimately owned by American developer Oak View Group) and now includes plans for a 181,000+ sq ft out-of-town Class A food & beverage and retail space.

Independent analysis from global consultants Charles River Associates (CRA) has found significant flaws in the evidence supporting the planning application. It raises legitimate concerns around the impact a second major venue – for which there is no market need – would have on Manchester Arena, its redevelopment and the vibrancy of the city centre economy.

Independent research conducted by Grant Thornton and Oxford Economics in 2019 showed that two 20,000+ capacity arenas in Manchester are not sustainable and would drive events and footfall to an out of town location, with a negative impact to the city centre economy.

CRA’s recent analysis shows that OVG’s projections for event attendance are completely at odds with historic projections. In fact, the event attendance levels needed to sustain two major arenas in Manchester are even higher than the proposal’s projections.

Further analysis from Air Quality Consultants and transport consultants Blacc has also raised a number of concerns related to the city’s air quality and transport network.

ASM Global said in a statement:

We have clear reasons for opposing a new arena in Eastlands, and have never shied away from making our voice heard. We firmly believe that this planning application presents a very real threat to not only our venue and transformative redevelopment plans, but to our neighbouring hotels, bars, restaurants and stores, at what is an already fragile time.

 This application relies on evidence that fails to consider the full picture in Manchester, and during these times it is essential that any major changes to the city are in the best interests for its people and businesses. It is also counter to planning policy in the Manchester Core Strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework, which aims to protect city centres and towns from major out-of-town developments.

 Independent analysis clearly demonstrates there is no demand for a second major venue in Manchester. To introduce another would risk running the other out of business, taking with it the visitors and spend it positively contributes to surrounding businesses. Analysis from leading consultants demonstrates the astounding nature of the market projections included within the planning application – projections which rely on cherry picked data and ignore historical growth.

 We ask that this application receives proper scrutiny, and takes into consideration the concerns of local people and business, especially given the risks it poses to Manchester’s culture, economy and environment.

Andrew Coles, Director, Real Assets, Aviva Investorssaid:

Aviva Investors is one of the largest investors in Manchester’s built environment. The Covid-19 crisis is the biggest challenge to businesses and communities within the UK for a generation. Sadly, not all business will survive. The crisis has and will continue to have profound impacts on even great cities such as Manchester.

The situation in the city centre and its businesses is vastly different to what it was at the start of this year. We believe it is in everyone’s interest to protect and support the recovery of the city centre. The basis of the Eastland Arena application was written before the full scale of the economic impact on Manchester was understood. We would urge the relevant authorities to carefully consider how to ensure the vitality and viability of the city centre, which reflects the economic reality on the ground. As such, we believe a full retail and leisure impact assessment of a scheme of this size is needed.

DTZ Investors said in a statement:

DTZ Investors has extensive ownerships around Manchester, including large holdings at Printworks and on King Street. Printworks attracts over 8m visitors a year and forms a key part of the city’s retail and leisure core including the Arena, Arndale Shopping Centre and Corn Exchange. There is a healthy symbiotic relationship within this core and a positive correlation between our footfall and tenant trade on days when Manchester Arena hosts events. The protection of city centre commerce is crucial at a time when the retail and leisure sector faces significant challenges, with fresh justification needed to ensure that this proposed out of town development is complementary to the city as a whole.

Living Ventures co-founder Jeremy Roberts said:

Support for the city centre has never been more important as we recover from COVID-19, and Manchester City Council need to support the considerable investment which has already been made to the city centre brand and identity, not just for current investors but also for future investor confidence in the city’s hospitality and leisure entertainment sector. We are delighted to see the redevelopment ambition at Manchester Arena and the dividend that it will clearly bring for city centre footfall; we would urge Manchester City Council to provide support to this project and the city centre in general – now is not the time to destabilise our city centre economy.

Mark Donnelly, COO, OVG International, said:

Manchester is a city with a proud music and sporting history and a huge appetite for live entertainment but it’s currently losing market share in the national live entertainment industry. A new venue, with world-leading technology, would help to grow the overall entertainment market within Manchester and attract a wider range of larger and more impressive live events to the city.
 
Manchester has developed a thriving tourism and entertainment market and we are completely confident that a new venue at Eastlands would happily co-exist with the current arena, as well as other venues in the city centre and across the region.  Economic analysis submitted as part of our application shows that a new arena would bring an additional £36m per year in direct annual local spending and at least £1.3bn of additional economic activity from two arenas over 20 years. City centre business would account for 85% of visitor expenditure from two arenas, significantly increasing jobs and economic activity compared to the current position. 

We look forward to reviewing the existing arena’s full analysis as the little released so far seems to paint a negative view of the market, and the city’s position within it, which we and expert industry analysts simply do not recognise. The live entertainment industry is supportive of our proposals as they foresee ongoing growth in the market post-Covid, with a great opportunity for Manchester to play a leading role in that.

Other major UK cities are thriving with two or more arenas and we are so confident in Manchester’s potential that we are willing to commit £350 million entirely privately funded investment to the city, creating 3,350 jobs during the construction phase, and a further 1,000 once open in 2023. We want to partner with businesses and the wider community in Manchester and, following a successful planning process, OVG could be onsite as early as October, beginning to create new construction jobs straight away – vital to help the region recover economically from the current crisis.

@PanStadiaArena