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Is the Altair 'dream' finally dying? Town centre site set to be returned to Trafford Council

More than a decade on, nothing remains except broken promises and overgrown wasteland.

The Altair site in Altrincham town centre

It was supposed to be an “iconic” £70m development with shops, homes, leisure facilities, restaurants and so much more.

Thousands of pounds were handed over in deposits by would-be homeowners but more than a decade on, nothing more than broken promises and overgrown wasteland remains.

The Altair development was billed as “the ultimate destination to live, work and play” and developer Nikal said it would become a “dramatic and complementary addition to Altrincham’s evolving townscape”.

Built on a 4.5-acre town centre site and boasting easy transport links to Manchester and beyond, the landmark development was supposed to symbolise the town’s “rebirth as a top destination”.

But while other aspects of Altrincham have flourished - with its market transformation becoming the formula followed by other North West towns and the leisure centre redevelopment soon to be completed - none of the Altair promises have been delivered. 

Now, it appears the dream is just weeks away from finally dying. According to those familiar with the development, the land will return back to Trafford Council with time, money and potential completely wasted. 

History of Altair

Plans for Altair date back as far as 2008 and have at various points included offices, homes, shops, a hospital, ice rink and more. First, the global financial crisis put a halt to plans, with redesigned and repurposed proposals coming forward in 2010.

Nikal bought out the interest of joint venture partner David McLean to keep the prospect alive and when outline planning permission was granted in 2013, it was hoped construction could be completed by 2019. But at least two lead contractors have come and gone with little done more than demolition work.

A visual showing how Altair was meant to look

Most recently involved was the McGoff Group, which was originally appointed as main contractor for the apartment scheme and in 2019 became an equity partner in the project

However, work did not progress as planned that year and the accounts for each company tell a bleak story. In the case of Altair Altrincham - the Nikal subsidiary group set up specifically for this project - identical accounts have been submitted each year since 2018, showing no movement or action whatsoever.

Meanwhile, McGoff Support Services (Altair) Ltd is officially classified as a “dormant company”. When approached by The Altrincham and Sale Lead, a spokesperson simply said: “McGoff are no longer involved in this scheme.”

Out of pocket

While the official Altair website is no longer online, previous versions available through internet archive the Wayback Machine showed the more recent plans included “59 high quality one and two bedroom apartments and penthouses along with a beautiful boutique hotel style entrance and communal spaces and a stunning private residents’ roof garden” as phase one.

It said: “Further phases will see the heart of Altair take shape and Nikal’s plans include the construction of strikingly original contemporary style buildings which will offer further high quality residential accommodation as well as versatile leisure retail and Grade A office space.

“Surrounding the buildings will be a stunning new public realm. This central boulevard will link the new Quarter directly to the Transport Interchange as well as provide an attractive outdoor environment in which residents, workers, shoppers and diners can relax and socialise.”

The promises were enough to attract dozens of customers to part with £2,500 deposits to reserve one of the apartments. Little happened after that point until Hillcrest Homes - Nikal’s own housebuilding arm - eventually said work had begun but deposit holders needed to pay an extra £15,000 within four weeks or lose the reservation.

The 59 apartments that had been planned for the Altair site

Two years ago, Altrincham Today reported that while some deposits had been released to those who requested their money back, others were left massively out of pocket.

One, who had handed over a total of £18,350, said: “I can’t move anywhere; I need my deposit back to move elsewhere. Nikal always said they would keep me updated on the progress, I’ve had to chase them for updates and when I’ve done that, they just tell me they’re expecting another update within the next month. No-one is taking responsibility, Nikal need to come clean and tell us this is not happening.”

Ahead of publication of this piece, The Altrincham & Sale Lead asked Nikal various questions about Altair, including whether it remained committed to the project and whether all of the deposit holders had received their money back.

No answer was given to any of the questions.

What comes next?

According to one source familiar with the project, a key issue was the rise in property prices during the long delay. By the time building work was finally ready to commence, those deposits offered far greater value than when they were put down and Nikal and Hillcrest faced a potentially loss-making development.

Trafford Council worked alongside Nikal in creating an original agreement for the site and development but eventually both parties began to point the finger of blame at each other. The Altrincham and Sale Lead asked the council when it had last discussed the matter with Nikal, whether it had received any assurances the development would go ahead and what it would like to see happen next.

Its response was simply to say it has not been commenting on the matter.

Councillor Michael Welton is the leader of the Green Party group on Trafford Council and has represented the Altrincham ward since 2019. He says progress is expected soon, but not for the Altair plans.

Cllr Welton said: “There is expected to be movement soon. We’ll know more after September as that is when Altair have run out of time to do the development according to the agreement with Trafford Council.

“I think Nikal, they’ve been doing things elsewhere in Blackpool and things like that and no-one can really understand why they haven’t done anything here because the property marker in Altrincham is as hot as you can get”

On what he’d like to see built instead, he added: “I think the most important thing going forward is that whatever goes in its place is suitable and for me would look very different to what was in the previous proposal. It was a mixed development that had elements of town centre uses, what we need is housing and, importantly, affordable housing.”

This article ran originally in The Altrincham and Sale Lead. Sign up to its newsletter here.