One of the consequences of the growth of small households has been a revival of interest in inner city living. Young singles and childless most new inner city flats were built as social housing for families. The much smaller numbers of private flats were generally sited in prime locations such as rivers, seafronts or the boundaries of major parks. These days most flats are being built by private developers to meet the growing demand from young urban professionals. Economic changes have opened new opportunities for commercial multi-storey housing. A great deal has been built in London’s dential developments have taken place in dockside or former industrial sites in the centres of Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and other provincial English cities where previously there had been almost no tradition of living in flats.
Couples find no disadvantage in living in flats and every benefit in having their homes near centres of employment and recreation. By 2002 the numbers of flats completed reached its highest level since the 1970s. In the past In Manchester there has been a concentration of flat building along Whitworth Street. This is an area of large commercial Victorian buildings up to 10-storey high. Some have been converted and some redeveloped. In all some 2600 flats were developed in the areas during the 1990s. Recent development include 224 flats in the 10-storey Whitworthwest building by Redrow and the 12-storey Hacienda development by Crosby Homes. What all these inner city developments have in common is that they all comprise small apartments and they are all densely of crowded on their sites with little or no communal amenity provision. Despite their claims to provide ‘stylish, luxury living’, very few are distinguished by good design or architectural merit.
Rope Works is one of the most recently completed Manchester developments. It lies at the very end of Whitworth Street on the site of a former factory. The site is bounded by existing streets to the north and south. The development fills the site almost entirely and is divided into two blocks, one rising to five storeys and the other to eight. All the flats are either one or two bedroomed, and clearly best suited to small adult households. Most flats are similarly planned and are a little larger than Parker Morris space standards. In the south-east corner there are a few flats with more generous space standards and four penthouses with terraces at roof level. All of the flats are fully finished. Bathrooms are provided with both bath.
The standard of the flat interiors seems to be good and the blocks are planned with living rooms and bedrooms vertically stacked and adjoining. This is a key factor in reducing the risk of noise nuisance. The access system, however, is more questionable. Each block is served by a single lift which could cause problems in the case of breakdown. In each block, too, there is a single main entrance with a secondary staircase. This means that one main access point serves 44 flats in the smaller block and 74 flats in the larger block. These entrances are secured by electronic door entry systems with video links to every flat. Experience in social housing blocks suggests that such systems break down if made to serve much more than 20 flats, causing a range of abuse to the common areas. It may be different in an owner-occupied block with a largely adult population. In many private blocks, though, security staff is employed to monitor the entrances.
The potential problems with the access system are compounded by a single central corridor in the larger block. This allows the use of a deep plan form which has advantages in design economy by reducing the ratio of external wall to floor area. But this has two disadvantages. Such corridors are oppressive, denied natural light and views out. They are not overlooked and can be prone to crime and antisocial behaviour. The second disadvantage is that, of necessity, the flats on either side of the corridor have to be single aspect. In this case it means that while many flats enjoy a southerly aspect, the remainder face north.
The development is short on amenity. About one-third of the flats have private balconies and a number have ‘quasi-balconies’ – inward opening glazed doors protected by a railing. A substantial number have no private outdoor space, however, and apart from a small court-yard between the blocks, the development does not provide communal recreation space. The surrounding environment is also poor. To the north there is a railway viaduct onto which many of the flats face. To the south there is a large open site which is currently used as a commercial car park. Overall, the amenity and security enjoyed by residents would have been enhanced if the site had been developed with fewer flats all facing south. At the least, more effort could have been made to provide generous private outdoor space and some shared recreation space. These short-comings are partly offset by the location of the development and the access this provides to the facilities of the city centre.
Little Peter Street, Central Manchester
George Wimpey City (http://www.georgewimpey.co.uk)
Carden Croft (http://www.cardencroft.com)
Number of dwellings:
2 bedroom/4 person flats 49
1 bedroom/2 person flats 69
One office suite
One large three-storey commercial space
Previous use of site:
Approximately 260 dwellings per hectare
Approximately 620 habitable rooms per hectare
Forms of tenure:
All flats were built for sale
Meeting demand for city-centre apartments for small households
None other than compliance with increased insulation standards of building regulations
Within walking distance of city centre Good links to bus, tram and mainline rail services 49 residents parking spaces in under-croft (40 per cent) plus three spaces for commercial units.
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