Jonathan Schofield on a blatant disregard for a precious part of Manchester
They were listed in 1952 and now they are listing. 29-31 Byrom Street in the St John’s Street Conservation Area of Manchester city centre are in a right state. They are the property of 'fat cat' car park owner, Barry Tucker, of Euro Car Parks.
He can't possibly be allowing these buildings to deteriorate to such an extent they are condemned. He can't be allowing that, can he?
Tucker has allowed 29-31 Byrom Street to deteriorate for years.
The walls are listing, the mortar is eroded, brickwork has spalled, the outer skin of brickwork is missing in places and there’s physical damage to the wall where shrubs are growing. There's more with defective rainwater goods, roof slates displaced, staining of the walls at roof valley gutter locations suggesting an issue with outfall, the roofline itself has bowed, and, in this lovely conservation area, the top floor is knitted together with unsightly scaffolding poles. The whole rear elevation looks in danger of collapse while the southern wall of the former chapel for the Convent of St Mary is way off perpendicular.
The whole corner of Byrom Street and Camp Street looks perilous. In 2019, loose masonry had to be removed following a vehicle impact producing a ragged gap that any self-respecting householder would have dipped into their pockets to fix. Apparently a Mancunian millionaire based in London doesn’t share that respect.
29-31 Byrom Street aren’t just any old properties either. They are special.
Constructed in the 1790s as part of a terrace of four residences, they have Gothick doorcases designed to match the Gothick-style of the long gone St John’s Church which once occupied the gardens opposite. This short-lived architectural fashion reflects that fanciful time of romantic poets and novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The four doorcases here on this terrace, two of them on 29-31 Byrom Street, are the only such examples in the city centre. Round the back of 31 Byrom Street there’s that added bonus of the late nineteenth century chapel complete with etched glass in the rooflights.
29-31 Byrom Street were Grade II listed in 1952, just about as early as it gets for listing in England and Wales (Scotland has a different system).
The buildings were first occupied as a house, then as a convent, then a Conservative Club (the remains of a flag pole still protrudes from over the door of 31 Byrom Street). After the Tories left, ECP Holdings (aka Euro Car Parks) used it as a head office for 25 years up to 2012. They seemed to have spent almost nothing on it in that time. A land registry request reveals the title absolute has resided with Barry Tucker from 10 March 2017.
Jill Burdett wrote an article on Confidentials in 2015 in which former director Les Knight said: “We moved our base to London three years ago and have kept the building safe and secure but don’t want to start restoration without an end user and that’s the difficult bit.”
He then made a proposal: “That’s why we thought we would offer it to the market for a long rent free period, allowing the incoming tenant to instead invest in the structure and create something that suits them. There is quite a lot of work to do, the top floor needs taking down and the roof replacing but it is not beyond repair. We got a quote for the work which came in at £400,000, £500,000 if you include the basement.”
He also revealed something of the interior: “The building has 4,000sq ft of space over three floors, another 1,000 if you add in the basement, but it’s a very cellular structure with domestic room sizes and most small to medium sized firms want 20,000sq ft of open plan space.”
Knight went on to declare: “We would be happy to sell the building for around £500,000. It would be great if someone like Gary Neville came along and converted it to a boutique hotel or back into town houses. We are open to suggestions.”
The irony here is that ex-footballer, pundit, restaurateur and property developer Gary Neville has moved in round the corner on St John Street. His property to the rear almost kisses the chapel at 31 Byrom Street. In that 2015 article, we hoped the Georgian houses here would be returned to domestic use and hey presto, that’s happening as our other article here revealed.
A key comment from Knight in that 2015 article is “It is a lovely building in a great location and ready to be developed. We will probably review the position later this year and if no-one has come forward we will see whether it's worth us putting our hands in our pocket and doing the work ourselves.”
City centre councillor Joan Davies says: “The state of the two beautiful houses in Byrom Street is a worry and a disgrace. Manchester has plenty of building owners who take a real pride in the detail, quality and heritage of our older buildings. Just turn a corner and you'll find one they're caring for. But there's one or two exceptions, with no logical reason."
She continues: “Facing a park and round the corner from some of the city's most expensive large terraces, the two houses on Byrom Street are clearly worth a sensitive refurbishment. You have to wonder what motivates some property owners. Planning permission for appropriate refurbishment was granted in 2010, but no action was taken by the owners. Deansgate Councillors are arranging discussions with council planning officers to see what action we might be able to take to ensure survival.”
Meanwhile, a request for a response from the press office at the City Council says: “Building Control have agreed to visit and review the building.”
Action can be taken by councils. Less than a month ago Boston, Lincolnshire, prosecuted the owner of a town centre building in a conservation area for failing to maintain a Grade II property. The fine was small, but symbolic, and the council ‘will now be seeking that the owner of the property carry out the necessary works so the building is restored.’
We’ve tried to contact Barry Tucker for a right to reply. Ye Gads we’ve tried. We’ve tried to contact him through all the Euro Car Park email addresses we could find. No answer. We’ve directly written to him in that old fashioned way of paper, envelopes and stamps to the Euro Car Parks HQ in London and a house address in Hale Barns that appears on the land registry document.
We asked three questions of Barry Tucker in our messages.
Have you any plans to repair these properties?
Have you any plans to sell these properties?
Do you feel you have any responsibility to the heritage and urban landscape of Manchester?
We would have liked to talk to him directly but there is no number to call. We’ve tried to call Euro Car Parks on 0207 563 3000 but there’s no possibility of talking to anyone or even leaving a message. Everyone who has been fined by Euro Car Parks or had any dealings with them will know this. Car park companies, SIP included, are some of the least accountable and most opaque in the country. They have a policy of simply ignoring enquiries - even justifiable ones. They are perhaps among the least popular of UK businesses as the screen grab below shows.
As we were composing this story a piece in the Daily Mail on Tuesday 29 November was brought to our attention. The headline was ‘The parking fat cats on double the PM’s salary…all while handing out record fines’.
There is a paragraph on our neglectful owner of 29-31 Byrom Street. ‘(A) firm whose name will be familiar to thousands of motorists – Euro Car Parks – runs sites on private and local authority land. It is owned by…Barry Tucker and his wife Rita, both 67. In the past three years accounts were available, the firm had a turnover of £97m and profits of £15.6m.’ That’s a wopping 16% of turnover.
As we were composing this story, a piece in the Daily Mail on Tuesday 29 November was brought to our attention. There is a paragraph on our neglectful owner of 29-31 Byrom Street. ‘(A) firm whose name will be familiar to thousands of motorists – Euro Car Parks – runs sites on private and local authority land. It is owned by…Barry Tucker and his wife Rita, both 67. In the past three years accounts were available, the firm had a turnover of £97m and profits of £15.6m.’
That’s a wopping 16% of turnover.
The Mail goes on to say: ‘Neighbours said their four-storey £8m property often looked like ‘one of his car parks’ with vehicles littering the drive. When the Mail visited, pride of place was given to a £200,000 Bentley Bentayga’.
What's curious is that Tucker is letting this asset in Manchester moulder. The property next door, 27 Byrom Street, is being repaired and restored for sale as a domestic property. The sale price, for its previous existence as a tired commercial property, was around £750,000 - that's before all the present work.
If Tucker restored the properties and sold them on he might make some money. He can't possibly be allowing these valuable buildings, both culturally and aesthetically, to deteriorate to such an extent that they are condemned and have to be knocked down. He can't be allowing that, can he?
To use an apt motoring expression let’s reverse up this article.
What does a Grade II listing actually mean? It means such a building or structure is ‘of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve it’.
Barry, are you listening? Will you keep that promise made by your director in 2015 and put your hands in your deep pockets to save 29-31 Byrom Street? Time is of the essence.
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