Manchester targets civil service hub for former retail park

City council says there is “potential interest” from Government Property Agency in the edge-of-centre site
The Central Retail Park in Manchester in 2008. The site has since been cleared. Photo: Google Maps

By Jim Dunton

08 Dec 2022

Manchester City Council has set its sights on redeveloping a former retail park at the edge of the city centre as a new base for government departments.

A draft strategic regeneration framework for the former Central Retail Park site, which is set to be approved by the authority’s cabinet next week, says creating office space for up to 8,000 workers is a response to “potential interest” from the Government Property Agency.

The council said the GPA was “exploring options for delivering office solutions in Manchester, to meet the needs of various civil service departments”, supporting its commitment to move roles away from the capital and the levelling-up agenda.

In February the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced plans to open a base for 400 staff at Marble Street, in Manchester city centre. In June the Cabinet Office confirmed proposals for a new government hub at First Street, which will open in 2025. In October, HM Revenue and Customs officially opened its 3 New Bailey base just across the River Irwell in Salford, to the west of Manchester city centre.

The 4.2-hectare site of the former Central Retail Park is off Great Ancoats Street, to the north-east of Manchester city centre, around 500m from Manchester Piccadilly Station. Previously home to retailers including JD Sports, Toys R Us, Argos, Mothercare and Currys, it was acquired by Manchester City Council in 2017 and has since been cleared.

Earlier blueprints for its redevelopment included a mix of retail, residential and commercial uses. But the updated regeneration framework set out for backing next week puts its focus on commercial office space, along with a new park and other public space – including a plaza fronting the Rochdale Canal.

The report to next week’s executive committee meeting says securing investment from the GPA would be a “significant boost” to the future economic growth for the local area and the region.

“Were GPA to commit to offices at the former Central Retail Park, this would provide the catalyst to deliver the masterplan and provide socio-economic benefits, including new high-quality jobs,” it says.

City council leader Bev Craig said the former retail park was “one of the final pieces of the puzzle” in the regeneration of the New Islington area, and had the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

“For decades the site has created a physical barrier between Great Ancoats Street and the growing community around New Islington Marina,” she said.

“Developing this site will create a new public link through to the existing Cotton Field Park behind and create a green space at the heart of the low-carbon commercial district.

“We have a real opportunity to create a flagship, highly sustainable development of renown.”

The plans for the retail park are due to go out to public consultation early next year.

A government spokesperson said: “We are exploring a number of potential sites across the country to become civil service hubs.

“This will support our programme to move 22,000 civil service roles out of London by 2030.

“No decision has been taken and we will announce any plans in the usual way.”

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