The Peel Group (commonly known by its former name Peel Holdings) is one of the UK's foremost privately owned investment enterprises, embracing a broad range of sectors - land and property; transport and logistics; retail and leisure; energy and media.[2]

Peel's extensive direct and indirect investments extend to 40m (9 million square feet) of investment property and over 13,000 hectares of land.[3] Peel is one of the largest property investment companies in the United Kingdom, and has its UK head office at the intu Trafford Centre, in Greater Manchester.

The Trafford Centre which opened in 1998, is widely regarded as Peel's first landmark development. The centre was sold in 2011 to Capital Shopping Centres (now Intu Properties) for £1.6 billion, making it the largest property acquisition in British history and the biggest European property deal of 2011.[3][4] The transaction involved exchanging shares in The Trafford Centre for a shareholding in Capital Shopping Centres. Other projects which Peel have developed include MediaCityUK, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Gloucester Quays and Frodsham Wind Farm.

The Group is led by John Whittaker, who maintains a 75% majority stake in the group, with the Olayan Group owning a circa 25% stake. The Group is a key supporter of the Government's vision to rebalance the country's economy and establish the north as a 'global powerhouse'.[2]

Peel has identified 150 projects across its investment portfolio, including the £50 billion Ocean Gateway development which sits within its Northern Powerhouse agenda and in 2015 launched a consultative document 'Peel in the Northern Powerhouse', which encourages a fresh dialogue between business, Government and other Northern-based partners. Demonstrating its commitment, Peel became a member of the Government's Northern Powerhouse partnership programme in October 2016.[5]



Born in Bury, Lancashire in 1942, John Whittaker was born into an independently wealthy, industrious and entrepreneurial Roman Catholic family, with interests in the historical Northwest cotton industry and property. By the 1960s, John's branch of the family owned property and quarries, which in the Government-created boom infrastructure investment period of the 1960s supplied aggregates to the motorway building programme, such as the M62 from Liverpool to Leeds.[6]

Having rejected joining the priesthood, in the mid-1960s Whittaker began reviving the family's exhausted quarry assets, removing residual aggregates for the locally growing construction industry along the M62 corridor. Once a quarry was fully exhausted, Whittaker then turned it into an approved land fill waste site. Excess cash was then invested into purchasing a series of residual cotton businesses, which owned their own property assets. The cotton businesses were then conglomerated into a single consolidated business, using new built steel buildings, often built on top of the now full and environmentally re-profiled land fill assets - thereby finding a third use for the former family quarries. The old and large cotton mill property assets of the former cotton businesses were then refurbished, mainly as mixed-use light-industrial, retail and latterly residential units, with the Whittaker family business owning the assets freehold and hence retaining ground rent income.[7]

Peel Mills

One of Peel's earliest acquisitions in the 1980s, was the privatisation of the Manchester Ship Canal - pictured here in Salford and Trafford.

Between 1971 and 1987, Whittaker acquired Peel Mills, Bridgewater Estates and John Bright's. Having a respect for the region's industrial heritage, and inspired by the Peel Tower in his native Bury, Whittaker decided to retain the name Peel Mills Ltd for his now wholly owned property and cotton business. Throughout the 1970s, Peel Mills focused on the renovation and letting of industrial units, so that by 1977 the annual company statement and accounts reflected the fact that the majority of the groups commercial activity was within property development. By the 1980s the group had progressed to the development of new-build industrial units and out-of-town retail superstores.

From 1971 onwards, Whittaker began acquiring shares in the Manchester Ship Canal Company.[8] Unlike most other British canals, the Manchester Ship Canal was never nationalised post-World War 2 by Clement Attlee's Labour government. However, the waterway had fallen into disrepair, its constructed width and rarely-dredged depth being resultantly too small for many of the larger seafaring vessels of the time. In 1984 Salford City Council used a derelict land grant to purchase the eastern/northern part of the MSC-owned Manchester docks within the borough of Salford from MSC,[9] rebranding the area as Salford Quays. Principal developers Urban Waterside began redevelopment work the following year,[10] by which time traffic on the canal's upper reaches had declined to such an extent that MSC proposed closing it above Runcorn.[11]

After a bitter and public investor battle, and after selling its cotton business for £22million in cash, in 1987 Peel Mills acquired the required 80%+ majority of the shares in MSC to allow MSC to be resultantly privatised,[8] and gained 100% holding in 1993.[12] The MSC land assets have consequently become a key hub for the Peel Group, with numerous developments on the banks of the canal.[8]

Peel Holdings

Changing its name to fully reflect its property business focus to Peel Holdings, the largest asset of the Group was formerly the Trafford Centre. In 1987, Peel submitted a planning application for a large shopping centre development on land attached to the Manchester Ship Canal, adjacent to the M63, now the M60, in Trafford, Greater Manchester. The centre opened in 1998 after one of the most prolonged and expansive planning processes in British history.

In 1997, the Peel Group became involved in airport ownership for the first time. A 76% shareholding in Liverpool Airport was acquired, with Peel taking complete control in 2001 and renaming the airport Liverpool John Lennon Airport.[13] In 2002, Liverpool John Lennon Airport opened its new terminal following an investment of £32.5 million by Peel.

RAF Finningley was purchased in 1999, and redeveloped as Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, (known as Doncaster Sheffield Airport) opening in 2005.[11] . Doncaster Sheffield Airport was the first commercial airport to open in the UK for 55 years. In 2002, Barton Aerodrome was purchased by the Manchester Ship Canal Development Company (a joint venture between Peel and Manchester City Council) and was subsequently renamed City Airport Manchester.[14] The final addition to the Peel Airports portfolio was Durham Tees Valley Airport, with a 75% stake being bought in 2003 - ownership of the remaining 25% of DTVA was retained by several local councils.[13][15]

Results were mixed, and the Peel Group began looking for an outside investor for Peel Airports. In June 2010 it was announced that Vantage Airport Group (formerly Vancouver Airport Services) had bought a 65% shareholding in Peel Airports, while the Peel Group retained the remaining 35%. The new management team at Peel Airports quickly began disposing of assets, selling them back to the Peel Group. First to go was Durham Tees Valley Airport in February 2012.[15] Sale of the loss-making DTVA resulted in a one-off impairment charge of £8.8m, causing Peel Airports' losses to rise from £3.2m to £11.4m.[16] The same year, Doncaster Sheffield Airport made an operating loss of £3.4m (down from £3.7m the previous year),[16] and in December 2012 it was announced that this airport had also been sold back to the Peel Group.[17]

Liverpool John Lennon Airport was therefore left as the sole remaining facility in the co-ownership of Peel and Vantage, a situation which continued for a further 16 months. In the year to 31 March 2013, Liverpool Airport reported a pre-tax loss of £7.1m on turnover of £31.6m, and auditor KPMG said the airport faced "material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt on the company's ability to continue as a going concern".[18] On 24 April 2014, it was announced that Vantage had sold their shareholding in Liverpool Airport back to Peel; this ended Vantage's four-year involvement with Peel Airports .[18]

Peel Ports

The acquisition of Clydeport plc and its west coast Scottish ports in 2003 was followed in 2005 by the acquisition of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company which resulted in the Peel Ports division becoming the second largest ports group in the UK. The Peel Group remains a majority shareholder.

In 2004, the Peel Group was the largest company on the AIM Market, went private in a £1.3 billion deal, and became the Peel Group.[19] Peel sold the Trafford Centre in January 2011 to Capital Shopping Centres (CSC) for £1.6bn.


In 2007 Peel was granted planning permission to develop MediaCityUK, a 37-acre mixed-use property development on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford which would be the new home of the BBC.

Construction of the development, with its own energy generation plant and communications network, began the same year. MediaCityUK tenants include extensive studio capability provided by Peel owned dock10, BBC North, ITV’s northern studios including Coronation Street, the University of Salford with more than 200 small to medium-sized businesses across the digital media, marketing, technology and creative sectors. Dock10 is the operator of the MediaCityUK studios and is a subsidiary of the Peel;

In March 2015 Peel sold 50% of its stake in MediaCityUK to Legal & General committing to continued investment in the site.

Soon after, Peel cut its stake in film studio operator Pinewood Shepperton from 58.1% to 39.09%.[20]

In October 2016 the Group sold its remaining stake in Pinewood to the PW Real Estate Fund, run by French property investor Leon Bressler.[21]

In September 2016 plans for a £1bn expansion to MediaCityUK were approved. The development will double the size of MediaCityUK and include more TV studio and production space as well as shops, offices, a 330-bed hotel and over 1,400 new homes.[22]

In December 2015 the advertising arm of the Peel Group announced a re-brand to Perfect Fit Media.

Perfect Fit Media promote to over 290 million customers at intu Trafford Centre, intu Braehead, intu Metrocentre, intu Merry Hill, intu Lakeside, Birmingham Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Durham Tees Valley Airport, Lowry Outlet, Gloucester Quays Outlet, Peel Retail and Shopping Parks in Stockport, Edinburgh and Trafford in Greater Manchester.[23]


The Group moved in to the renewable and low carbon energy sector with the opening of its 65MW Scout Moor Wind Farm on the West Pennine Moors in Greater Manchester near to Edenfield and Rochdale in 2008. At the time it was the largest onshore wind farm in Britain generating electricity for up to 40,000 homes. It followed this development soon after with the opening of the 10MW Port of Liverpool Wind Farm in 2009 and taking over the management of the 3.6MW Port of Seaforth Wind Farm. Peel Energy, a subsidiary company of Peel was formed at this time to manage the portfolio of assets and to advance further opportunities on the Peel Groups estate for similar renewable energy projects.

Peel sold its remaining interest in Scout Moor to MEAG in October 2012.

It has gone on to successfully develop the 50.35MW Frodsham Wind Farm in Cheshire, the 8.2MW Port of Sheerness Wind Farm on the Isle of Sheppey both of which became operational in late 2016. Other successful onshore wind planning consents have been obtained by Peel Energy at the former Bilsthorpe Colliery (10MW - now owned by John Laing Investments), Maidens Hall Wind Farm (18.45MW – now owned by Infinis). Peel Energy has also successfully consented a number of single turbine projects which are now owned and operated by other parties.

Peel Energy also continues to promote opportunities for onshore wind on the Shetland Islands and is awaiting a decision for its 60MW+ Beaw Field Wind Farm on the Isle of Yell.

As well as promoting onshore wind, it has also gained planning consent for two, 20MW biomass fuelled renewable energy plants capable of supplying both heat and power to local industry and communities. The Barton Combined Heat and Power Plant successfully defended a High Court Challenge against the grant of planning permission in February 2014 and continues to be brought forward for development.


In 2015 Peel revealed its vision for a £700 million flagship energy destination on a 134-acre strategic development site near Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, formerly known as Ince Resource Recovery Park.[24]

To mark the completion of Phase One which includes a 21.5MW biomass facility in construction and a 19-turbine wind farm in operation, Protos was officially launched in January 2017 by Andrew Percy, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse.[25]

Protos is part of the Cheshire Science Corridor Enterprize Zone and formed part of the Cheshire and Warrington delegation at MIPIM 2017.[26] Peel Energy’s neighbouring 19-turbine, 50MW Frodsham wind farm will also form part of the wider Protos vision.

Retail and leisure

Between 1980 and 1989 Peel developed circa 5 million square feet of retail parks of which circa 2.5 million square feet continue to be owned and operated by Peel.

In 2009 Peel launched Gloucester Quays which is one of the largest mixed use waterside regeneration developments in the UK.[27] In August 2012 Peel expanded its lifestyle outlet concept and purchased the Lowry Outlet Mall close to MediaCityUK at Salford Quays, with plans to improve the retail centre.[27] In November 2016 Peel’s Lifestyle Outlets division revealed plans to invest £13m in redeveloping the infrastructure of Lowry Outlet at MediaCityUK.[28]

Strategic Waters

In March 2016 Peel Land and Property, which lies at the heart of the Peel Group, announced plans to deliver over 30,000 residential units across its Strategic Waters sites which could bring a total investment value of £4.5 billion over the next 30 years.

It is Peel’s vision to regenerate and transform former industrial sites on dockland, canal and river banks into attractive and sustainable waterfront living locations that will bring new infrastructure, public realm and environmental improvements. The mixed use schemes will also feature commercial, retail, educational and leisure opportunities:

  • Liverpool Waters: 10,000 new homes
  • Wirral Waters: 13,500 new homes
  • Glasgow Harbour: 1,400 new homes
  • Trafford Waters: 3,000
  • Chatham Waters: 1,000
  • MediaCityUK: 2,000
  • Manchester Waters: 2,000


In October 2016 planning officials approved Peel Land and Property plans to create its £1bn development Trafford Waters scheme, in Greater Manchester. The development is on land bordering the Manchester Ship Canal in the north, Grade I listed All Saints' Friary in the north-east and the intu Trafford Centre to the south.

The 20 year scheme could create 5,000 jobs and will include 3,000 homes, a 300-room hotel, a 150-bed care home, shops and offices and a primary school.[30]

Trafford Waters is part of a collaborative joint marketing of the destination known as TRAFFORDCITY.[31]

Future developments

Ocean Gateway

In 2008 Peel launched Ocean Gateway which is Peel’s contribution to the wider Atlantic Gateway public-private partnership and also dovetails with the Northern Powerhouse economic agenda.

Ocean Gateway – more than 50 projects over 50 years with £50 billion of investment – is the Peel Group’s pioneering investment in the renaissance of the strategic corridor encompassing Manchester, Liverpool and adjacent areas within Cheshire and Warrington. The focus is on the regeneration of land and assets fronting the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey. An independent review of the first five years of Ocean Gateway concludes that it has delivered more than £2 billion of private investment and thousands of new jobs. Ocean Gateway projects embrace ports; logistics; retail and leisure; residential; commercial development; media infrastructure and renewable energy.[32]

Peel published its support for the Northern Powerhouse in October 2015 identifying 150 projects from Wirral to Newcastle.[33]


Peel Ports was formed in 2005 and followed the acquisition of the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1986, Clydeport plc in 2003 and Mersey Docks and Harbour Company in 2005.[34] Peel Ports comprises operations in Liverpool, Manchester Ship Canal, Heysham, Glasgow, Medway, Dublin and Great Yarmouth. Peel Ports operates BG Freight Shipping Line.[35]

In 2007 Peel Ports acquired a majority investment in Cammell Laird in Birkenhead[36] and in late 2015 it extended its port activities with the acquisition of the East Coast port of Great Yarmouth.[37]

Having been restricted by the lock gate infrastructure in the port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal, Peel Ports made a strategic decision to invest and extend capacity in the container sector through the development of a £400 million deep water container port. The port is able to handle the largest container ships in the world.

Business structure

The Peel Group has a complex business structure, consisting of 342 registered and active companies and subsidiaries excluding Peel Ports in the UK. Its ultimate parent company is the Isle of Man-based Tokenhouse Ltd.


Tangible assets

Trafford Centre, developed by Peel and opened in 1998
Scout Moor Wind Farm, the UK's largest onshore wind farm

Peel's assets and projects include:[38]

  • Scout Moor Wind Farm, Lancashire and Rochdale
  • Planning permission for a number of other wind farms
Ports including
  • MediaCityUK, Salford and Trafford, Greater Manchester

Equity stakes


In 2013, a report by Liverpool think-tank ExUrbe criticised the Peel Group's excessive influence on affairs and development in the Liverpool region,[42] claiming that Peel have "blurred the boundaries between public and private interests".

In June 2013, Margaret Hodge, Committee Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, accused the Peel Group of tax dodging, and stated that some parts of the group pay on average 10% Corporation Tax, and that some of the more profitable parts of the Peel Group pay 0% Tax.[43]


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  4. ^ Packard, Simon (23 February 2012). "Capital Shopping Earnings Rise as Trafford Centre Purchase Lifts Revenue". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2012-03-27. The company’s 1.6 billion-pound purchase of the Trafford Centre in Manchester, England, in January 2011 was the biggest single property transaction in Europe last year, according to New York-based Real Capital Analytics Inc. 
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  30. ^ "Trafford Waters: Plans for £1bn scheme get the go-ahead". BBC News. 2016-10-13. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
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