Easing Manchester’s congestion is priority

By Conrad O’Neill, director, Canning O’Neill

I commute daily by car from Macclesfield into Manchester and can speak first hand how congested the roads in Greater Manchester have become. It seems that every local authority in the North West has decided to undertake major road improvements and repairs at the same time. Even when the roadworks settle down, it is clear the region’s road network is unable to cope with the sheer volume of traffic.

The failed congestion charge proposal for Manchester was rejected because it was all stick and no carrot. In London, using public transport is second nature to commuters, primarily because they have little choice, but the public transport system in London is far more efficient than that of the provincial cities and affordable.

It’s different in the North.

Commuters in Manchester need to be “weaned off” their cars. The problem, however, is we do not yet have a fully integrated public transport system accessible to all and no shared payment system. Manchester’s Metrolink system has been a great success but delivery of this has been slow and it is still not available to all. London still has the “Oyster Card”, however commuters there can now pay for transport through their smart phones. We need a similar system in Manchester, allowing commuters to make one payment to cover a journey, which uses different modes of transport. We also need less over-crowding and more reliability if more people are to be persuaded to leave the car at home.

From a property developer’s viewpoint, it makes absolute sense to develop new office schemes in locations well served by public transport. City centres offer the best public transport connectivity to commuters and, if and when the Northern Powerhouse starts to become a reality, northern cities should be better connected in this respect.

Outside town centres, office occupiers are still more concerned about on-site car parking than public transport provision – which is seen more as a “tick in the box”. Wilmslow’s popularity as an office location has always been underpinned by its’ connectivity to London but if this was so important, then Stockport would surely be years ahead of where it currently stands in terms of popularity? Wilmslow is, of course, a more fashionable location with high quality retail and restaurants plus an impressive surrounding labour pool. Stockport is perhaps not as glamorous, but also has a great surrounding labour pool. Muse Developments have a track record for getting it right and their Stockport Exchange scheme seems well-timed. It is perhaps no co-incidence that the only major speculative new office development in “South Manchester” at the moment is located right next to a mainline train station.

It is clear that office occupiers are slowly coming to terms with the fact that more and more staff will have to rely on public transport. In Manchester city centre, increasingly, we are seeing proximity to Piccadilly station as a key requirement for some occupiers. Public transport connectivity in Manchester city centre is a “given” but it is interesting that occupiers are now prioritising close proximity to stations.

Salford Quays has the lot – parking, public transport and amenities and now represents a real cost value alternative to the city centre.

Developers of new office buildings will increasingly prioritise sites near to existing public transport but local authorities need to help the viability of other sites by improving the public transport system.