Abandoned Development in Manchester

by Melissa García Lamarca

Old and new development in Manchester's city center. Source: Diego Borbalan

Having recently moved to Manchester, the paradigmatic post-industrial city in northwest England, I've been wandering around to get a better sense of my surroundings. The center offers a fascinating juxtaposition of historic industrial buildings and flashy new development, the latter including a handful of skyscrapers that shake up the urban landscape.

The remains of Grand Central Manchester on Cambridge Street. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

There is much to write about, but I'll start with a fenced-off site that I walk past every day. Judging by the weathered look of the fencing, the site has been empty for quite some time now.

Source: Melissa García Lamarca

A defunct website for Grand Central Manchester is still visible on advertisements along the fence. Some further research uncovered more information about the project, a 22-story luxury complex with 231 apartments and penthouses. The developer, Asquith Properties, bought the site for about £6 million (over $9 million) in 2006 and launched the project in November 2007. It was shelved six months later, as only 10 percent of the flats were pre-sold and the bank withdrew funding. The marketing agency complained that Asquith's pricing strategy was ill-advised: The price they were pitching was unacceptably high, but they thought their product was premium and that people would be queuing up. ... We decided it would be better for us to walk away."

The Grand Central Manchester site in early 2009. Source: Skyscraper City

The same location in Nov. 2012. Source: Melissa García Lamarca

By March 2008, Asquith was reportedly planning to either sell the land or add an additional 30 stories to the residential building — the latter idea clearly a pipe dream. The site is now one of several "in-between" spaces in central Manchester.

Planned site for the Origin development on Whitworth and Princess Street. Source: Diego Borbalan

The Origin is a high-end project that, according to developers, occupies one of the last prime real estate locations in Manchester. Its proposed 60,000 square feet of office space, 185 apartments and 17,000 square feet of retail include a luxury spa and a W Hotel. The development is undoubtedly intended for the upper crust, or — more crudely put in an online comment — for "aspirational wankers."

Renderings of the Origin development. Source: Origin

Similar to Grand Central Manchester, the Origin project was approved in 2007. It encountered problems in 2010, when several members of the developer's board resigned. The site was placed on the market a year later. In early 2012, Morgan Stanley bought a portfolio of loans backed by real estate in London and Manchester (including Origin) from Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency for an undisclosed sum.

The Origin site today. Source: Diego Borbalan

Abandoned development in the city center is a highly visible sign of economic problems that affect the quality of life in Manchester. What does the future of these sites hold for the people who walk by them every day?


  1. nice the way you can see the grass growing over the Grand Central site in the second picture. if only this could happen with more lots and we could just remove the fences. maybe there could be a design exhibit on ways to use them, possibly with fundraising on kickstarter. something that would persuade morgan stanley and the city to try something different from those high end developments that nobody needs.

  2. As someone from Stockport, which neighbour's Manchester, I think it should be pointed out for balance the number of very successful developments in the city in recent years, including Noma (http://www.noma53.com/) and the Beetham Tower.

  3. the next abandoned development might be already on its way at the former site of the BBC on Oxford Road, which turned not into a fancy retail / hotel / residential development but a car-park. The council tries to change the use of the land by putting a planning application through.