Are Mancunians being priced out of homes in the booming city centre?

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Dozens of cranes and rising tower blocks on the Manchester skyline are proof positive that the city is booming.

More than 14,400 residential units are currently being built and the number due for construction over the next three years is likely to exceed the previous 10 years combined, according to analysts at Deloitte.

The developments are taking the population of the city centre to unprecedented levels. But who is getting the benefit?

Not Mancunians, according to Inside Out North West, being screened tonight on BBC One.

The documentary team’s findings suggest that ordinary people are being priced out of living in Manchester city centre by overseas investors buying up properties and forcing up prices.

The programme focuses on one new apartment block in the city’s fashionable Northern Quarter, where only nine of the 77 homes appear to be owned by the people living in them.

Using Land Registry documents, the BBC researchers identified the owners of all the apartments in the One Smithfield Square development.

The investigation found that 48 are owned by foreign buyers based in countries including Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; 24 are owned by companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, which have no or relatively low rates of tax; and 20 are owned by British property companies or buy-to-let landlords

The results are “a really good example” of what is happening across Manchester says Johnathan Silver from the University of Sheffield, who wrote a recent report on the issue for the Greater Manchester Housing Action campaign group.

He tells the BBC: “What should be homes for Mancunians [are being] turned into assets and security boxes for offshore wealth.”

Local developer Tim Heatley, from Capital & Centric, estimates that 90% of these new apartments will be sold to investors rather than directly to owner-occupiers.

“A lot of investors will sell that apartment two, three or four times before it ends up as a completed apartment,” he says.

“It might have sold initially for £150,000 then before it’s completed, it could be 160, 170, 180k. So they get flipped on and on and that’s how they make their profit – and that pushes the prices up.”

Featured in the programme is first-time buyer Sam Evans, who was born in the Greater Manchester suburb of Failsworth. He says: “There is a lot of uncertainty from a young person’s perspective.

“Developers do want to sell to the highest bidder and that’s not often young people. Prices are only going up at the moment. It is a challenge… I think it is a difficult place for a young person to buy.”

City council leader Sir Richard Leese, however, appears relaxed about the issue and defends the role of overseas investors, saying: “Money is international, so working with good partners who are in it for the long haul is clearly a way of helping us build places and build communities.

“What is being built is really, really good and we need more of it.”

He does acknowledge, however, that “there isn’t enough being built for sale to owner-occupiers and there absolutely isn’t enough that’s being built for low-income individuals and low-income families.”

Asked about the proportion of homes in the One Smithfield Square development owned by foreign buyers, Sir Richard said the same was happening in other British cities.

“That’s not peculiar to Manchester. I’d quite like to see a reduction in buy-to-let but that’s not what’s happening at the moment.”

Inside Out North West will be screened at 7.30pm on Monday 4th March on BBC One.

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