The below article is copied from Property Week and originally authored by Emma Shone. Paul Shuker, Director in our Planning, Development, and Regeneration team offers his comments on the exciting new development set to make a splash in Manchester.
Plans are afoot to bring a state-of-the-art, £60m surf centre to Trafford, on a brownfield site just around the corner from the Trafford Centre. Belfast-based developer McKinney Group is poised to put in a full planning application for Modern Surf Manchester in the coming week, having had strong initial public feedback and worked closely with Trafford Council to bring the plans forward.
So what does the scheme entail and what are the chances of Trafford becoming a new surfing hotspot?
The surf centre, designed by Leslie Jones Architects with consulting from Lambert Smith Hampton and Hydrock, will feature a 247,570 sq ft pool – roughly the size of four football pitches – with technology that generates everything from small and gentle waves for beginners to eight-foot whoppers for more seasoned surfers.
McKinney Group MD Billy McKinney says that although a surf centre in Manchester sounds like it would stick out like a sore thumb, a lot of thought has been given to how to integrate it into the local surroundings.
“We are in a highly accesible urban area, so our design will complement the urban heritage,” he says. “We are not trying to make it into a beach bar in the middle of Manchester, with distressed timber and people walking round in flip flops.”
LSH director Paul Shuker, who is working with McKinney Group on the planning application for Modern Surf, likens the developer’s approach to Roger Wade’s Boxparks. He says elements of Modern Surf will have “that sort of edgy urban” feel Wade’s food and leisure parks have become synonymous with.
Shuker adds that the scheme will incorporate a nod to its previous usage as a base for railway containers to celebrate the heritage of the area.
Plans for the centre also include food and beverage outlets as well as a skate park and fitness zone.
“We’re talking to some big F&B guys to make a destination out of that element of the project, rather than just supporting the breakfast and lunch trade,” says McKinney.
The push towards al fresco dining caused by Covid-19 has also been factored into the scheme’s design.
“F&B operators want us to break out outside with fire pits and live music. So we are going to do this beachside thing with people surfing in the background in the early evening while you sit outside with a meal or a drink.”
The surf technology for the centre will be provided by Wavegarden, which has franchise sites in Melbourne and South Korea. The model entails the surf centre operator paying Wavegarden an £8.5m upfront fee to get the site up and running. Then Wavegarden hands operations and marketing over to the franchisee.
In the UK there are currently two UK Wavegardens operational in Bristol and Snowdonia, with further sites coming forward in Birmingham and Edinburgh.
Getting Mancs to surf
So why did he plump for Manchester? Shuker jokes that in initial conversations, the killer question was: ‘How can you get Mancs to surf?’ But research soon revealed the area was more surf-ready than might be imagined.
A deep dive of Instagram data found 190,000 local people had an existing interest in surfing and McKinney says there are around 33,000 active surfers within an 120-minute drive.
So if anything, he says, overtrading could prove an issue. “If they turn up four and a half times each, not including their families or friends, you’d have to turn everyone else away.”
In addition to attracting people from further afield to the centre, McKinney is also hoping to hook local residents. Trafford City may be a retail and leisure destination, he says, but it is full of employees.
It is also on the doorstep of Trafford Park, one of the largest office and industrial areas in Europe. Therefore Modern Surf will open its doors at 5am to cater to commuters looking to catch a cheeky wave on the way to the office.
McKinney is also keen to work with the local council and education authorities to build a schools programme and to help get disadvantaged children in the area active on a surfboard.
“Who knows?” says LSH’s Shuker. “Perhaps one day we’ll have a world champion surfer from Manchester. A few years ago, that would have been unmimaginable.”
Shuker adds working on the planning for Modern Surf has so far been “complex due its nature and scale but straightforward in policy terms”. The brownfield site was already earmarked for a leisure scheme to fit in with Trafford Council’s ongoing mission to complete the transformation of the area around the Trafford Centre into the ultimate destination.
“It just made complete business sense to place it here,” he says. “We’re returning a brownfield, pretty rundown - but cleared - industrial site, into something which is really people-friendly, people focused and with significant improvements to biodiversity.”
Shuker says Trafford Council have, to date, been great and collaborative. “They get the concept, and they’ve worked alongside us with agreeing the scope of the planning application and the design that is being prepared at the moment.”
Giant leisure resort
The surf centre will be built adjacent to Therme, a £250m, 28-acre water-based wellbeing and leisure resort that has already received planning permission for a site opposite the Trafford Centre. With a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, Therme Group aims to attract two million visitors a year within five years.t
McKinney is unfazed by the behemoth neighbouring scheme and contends his surf centre will complement Therme’s offer.
“Their winter trading will be amazing though,” he says. “We’ll have more of a challenge to try and convince people to get in our 10 degree water!”
Shuker interjects: “But what I love about us Brits is I think we’re quite adventurous people. We just don’t care about stuff like that.”
The pair are also confident that the popularity of surfing is on the up. It will make its debut as an Olympic sport at this year’s Tokyo Games and McKinney says there are various wellbeing benefits to the spott as well as fitness ones.
“It’s coming at a time when we need a bit of a pep up as a country and a society. There is research that shows surfing can build confidence in people and children and boost wellbeing, and now it’s part of the Olympics set up, it is trending worldwide,” says Shuker.
McKinney, who is already on the lookout for more UK sites, claims Wavegardens can also boost local property values and an area’s ESG credentials.
“With a Wavegarden the residential values are going to be sweeter as a result of a big leisure environment that the kids can cycle to,” he says.
“We’re also totally silent, we are very low power, and actually quite green and very light on the landscape. A great example of our low impact in planning terms is Bristol and Birmingham, as both consents are on greenbelt.”
While an industrial site in Manchester may not be the first image that springs to mind when surfing is mentioned, if McKinney gets his way that could soon change.
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