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Staying warm up north as Manchester builds high

There was a time when Britain was a fairly low-rise country. Not for us the towering skyscrapers of New Cap York or Chicago, those symbols of American brashness and limitless ambition. Instead, Britain was happier with an urban landscape where the tallest buildings were church spires and office building sizes were kept on a tight leash.

It has taken some time for that to change, both in the UK and in Europe. Indeed, when the 387 ft CIS Tower was built in Manchester in 1962, it was the tallest office building in Western Europe. It was soon overtaken when London's Millbank Tower was completed the following year and dwarfed by the 580 ft Post Office Tower, but it remained the loftiest building in Manchester until 2005.

Of course, Manchester was not alone in this; the Post Office Tower was not surpassed in height until the 1980s. But since the early 1990s and the original Canary Wharf Tower, London has seen a flurry of skyscraper building, with iconic buildings such as the Gherkin and the Shard transforming its skyline.

Manchester is now following suit. It currently has fewer buildings over 200 ft than Birmingham, which has the appearance of a Manhattanised skyline despite few of its tall buildings reaching the 100 metres minimum height to be classed as a skyscraper. In Manchester, however, a plethora of taller buildings are being constructed now and more are on the way. These include four towers ranging from 399 ft to 673 ft at Owen Street, where work has just begun to erect tower cranes for above-ground work.

All this means the 554 ft Beetham Tower, currently the tallest in the city, will be usurped. But while building new skyscrapers can make quite a statement about a city, it is also something that will keep the insulation industry very busy.

Given the height of the new buildings and the rainy British climate, keeping out the wind and the rain will be vital to comfort. Moreover, as temperatures drop with height, good insulation is essential for those living in apartments and flats at the top. With these usually in the luxury range, the owners will not exactly be in danger of fuel poverty, but staying warm is the key to making any dwelling feel like home on a cold day, whether it is a cottage in the country or a penthouse in the steel and glass canyon.

Indeed, the importance of meeting various Energy Performance Certificate rules - which will be strengthened with effect from April 2018 - will be all the greater because of the usage of many new tall buildings. While the Post Office Tower, Canary Wharf and the CIS Building were all built as commercial office accommodation, it is residential demand that is now driving skyscrapers across the UK. This is particularly true in Manchester, where the Owen Street project will provide 1,400 new homes and a further 900 are planned for the St John's development by the River Irwell.

Where these towers do have commercial uses, it is often through splitting its usage between a hotel and apartments. The Beetham Tower is an example of this, as will be a tower built by Allied London on the site of the former Granada Studios, a building just a couple of feet lower than the Beetham Tower.

Ensuring new developments are meeting energy efficiency rules will be important throughout the housing sector, of course, but city centre apartment developments will be more likely to be let than the average new-build semi on the edge of town. A number of Private Rental Sector developments are being built in Manchester and neighbouring Salford, as they are in London.

So as Britain's cities reach for the sky, keeping them energy efficient will be as vital as ever.


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