Mancunians 'priced out' of city-centre living by foreign investors

By Stuart Pollitt & Dan Box
BBC News

image captionThe new One Smithfield Square development

Ordinary people are being priced out of living in Manchester city centre by foreign investors buying properties, the BBC has been told.

In one new Manchester apartment block, nearly two-thirds of flats have been snapped up by international buyers.

Academics and developers say this trend is forcing up house prices and rents.

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese welcomed investment in the city but acknowledged there was not enough housing for low-income families.

Using Land Registry documents, BBC Inside Out North West identified the owners of all 77 apartments in the One Smithfield Square development in Manchester's fashionable Northern Quarter.

The investigation found:

  • 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
  • 20 are owned by British property companies or buy-to-let landlords
  • 9 appear to be owned by the people who live in them

Many of these companies are registered in tax havens, with only a small minority of the flats owner-occupied.

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

"What should be homes for Mancunians [are being] turned into assets and security boxes for offshore wealth," said Dr Silver.

'Flipped on'

Manchester is currently experiencing a housing boom, with more than 14,400 residential units being built and the number due for construction over the next three years likely to exceed the previous 10 years combined, according to Deloitte.

Local developer Tim Heatley, from Capital & Centric, estimated 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 said.

"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."

image captionSam Evans is looking to get on to the Manchester property ladder

First-time buyer Sam Evans, who was born in the Greater Manchester suburb of Failsworth, said: "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."

Sir Richard Leese defended 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 did 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 which are 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."

You can find out more by watching Inside Out North West on Monday 4 March at 19:30 GMT on BBC One. The film will be available for 28 days thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.