Is that the plains of the Serengeti? No it’s an embarrassing waste of time and public money
Confidential has been despairing over the state of Piccadilly Gardens for over a decade now. We’ve published numerous articles, met with councillors and business leaders, and constantly campaigned for change.
And for what, you might ask? Many years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money later, Manchester’s busiest square is in a worse state than ever: the pavements are filthy, the fountain is perennially broken, drug dealers go unchallenged, spice users slump in doorways and the grass, well, that’s just an utter embarrassment.
The latest effort to re-turf, no doubt at great expense, makes the gardens look more like the Serengeti, except, instead of a pride of lions, we have a druggie defecating in a phone box.
Never before have lawns so hated the very notion of grass...
For all those arriving into the city via bus and Piccadilly Station, it is just about the shittiest welcome to Manchester you could imagine.
So what happened to the £10 million overhaul of Piccadilly Gardens promised in 2016? The council made a lot of noise about the deal struck with landowners Legal and General, which would see land donated to the public by the Mosley family in the eighteenth century handed over to L&G in return for investment.
Tadao Ando’s infamous wall was to be torn down and in its place there’d be shiny new restaurants and cafes, alongside improved lighting, surveillance, seating, plants and green areas. It’s now eighteen months later and nothing, but the girth of the public purse, has changed.
Now, stop us if you’ve heard this one before (and you have because we’ve said it multiple times) but here goes…
GET RID OF THE GRASS AND PAVE THE LOT.
Never before have lawns so hated the very notion of grass, while unredeemable amounts of clutter (and wrong’uns making the most of that clutter) have turned Piccadilly Gardens into an obstacle course.
What Confidential has argued for consistently is that Piccadilly Square should be hard-surfaced north to south, from the Oldham Street side to Parker Street. This would create a grand civic space that would be the envy of the other British cities, a space with power and gravitas and very few places for dealers to hide behind (those tall planters were an excellent idea weren't they?).
Toss a few European cities we admire up into the air and they all have this kind of flat, wide-open, hard surfaced square. Let’s look at two examples in similar sized cities: Piazza de Plebiscito in Naples and Place Bellecour in Lyons.
Place Bellecour is perhaps the best example of how grand a wide-open space can look, a foil to the old statues and a blank canvas for events. Using the Place Bellecour example we could even retain the present trees but get rid of everything else, save a few benches.
Not only would this make us look more modern and contemporary, but it would also be so much cheaper to maintain and easier to police. There’d be no expensive re-turfing, no fixing that sodding fountain every few months, and few places to do dodgy deals out of sight.
Actually, we needn’t even go as far as Lyons to see how this is done, we just need to walk seven minutes south, to St Peter’s Square, which is pin sharp, elegant and impressive. If we followed this lead then Piccadilly Gardens could have more of the same, only better, because the trams wouldn't be so prevalent.
And while we’re at it, why not drop the ‘Gardens’ bit? Let’s not kid ourselves with misty-eyed nostalgia for those glorious sunken flower beds of yore. Up until the redesign pre-Commonwealth Games those sunken gardens had become a hotbed for trouble.
So let’s do away with ‘Piccadilly Gardens’ and rename it ‘Piccadilly Square’, then the sentiment over the gardens will disappear with a gentle 'pooft' like a child's bubble blown on a summer's day.
Or we just carry on throwing money at it and hope for the best, it's not like council budgets are tight...