MORE city centre towers, more controversy.
'A 'no comment' is either arrogant or incompetent'
This time tallish, rather than very tall buildings, proposed by developers Renaker are creating a stir in Castlefield.
The buildings are twelve and 21 storeys respectively and would occupy the empty plots bordering the west side of Chester Road overlooking the canal basin of the Bridgewater Canal and adjacent to a Grade II listed former Chapel.
The new towers will bring 188 'high-quality apartments' designed by OMI Architects.
The site was last occupied by Quay Bar before it was demolished in 2007. It is at present an eyesore of a location in an area which should be demonstrably Manchester's heritage location sans pareil.
Renaker are building huge clumps of tall buildings in Salford around Trinity Way and on the other side of Chester Road, on the Owen Street site, one of which will dramatically eclipse Beetham Tower as Manchester's tallest building (200m as opposed to 169m).
Castlefield Estates who own the land on the other side of the basin from Bass Warehouse to Merchant's Warehouse via Dukes 92 and Albert's Shed deplore the scale and nature of the design.
Sarah Ramsbottom of Castlefield Estates says: “On the one hand the City Council is lauding Castlefield as the true historic neighbourhood and tourism treasure it is and the next it allows second-rate development plans like this to even be considered. I am appalled that it has reached this stage.
“Castlefield is a rare treasure, unique to the city and special enough to be classified a conservation area by the city and proposed as a World Heritage Site.
“We are not opposed to the development of Castlefield, but this scheme is over development and turns its back on the basin.
“Because of the different height levels visitors to the basin would be faced with an impenetrable five metre high wall, punctured only by vents because it hides a car park.
“This scheme has no care or consideration for Castlefield and while we are happy to lead the fight I would urge everyone who cares about Manchester and its historic origins and treasures to voice their opposition.
“Any development here has to protect and enhance the conservation area and this singularly fails in this aim. The bulk and scale of these buildings will dominate the Castlefield Basin and also the Grade II listed Congregational Chapel. The proposed development will adversely alter the very special character of Castlefield, not just for those who live and work here but for the City as a whole.”
Castlefield Forum, the residents and business group, agree. In their submission about the development they urge abandonment of the plans, asking the planning authority to 'reject the current proposals as simply not being of sufficiently high quality for this uniquely distinctive and ‘outstanding conservation area’ and former potential World Heritage site. We would be more than happy to work with the developers to produce proposals more fitting to the site.' The Forum have launched a petition here.
So what is the official response from Renaker to the complaints being voiced?
Er...right. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Confidential thinks this is bad. Given the amount of building work Renaker are undertaking in the regional centre, work which will define the skyline perhaps for a generation and will shape the way Manchester and Salford centres work, then a 'no comment' is either arrogant or incompetent.
It is exactly the sort of attitude that is alienating citizens who love their city from the development process. It's dramatically undemocratic, if not legally so then certainly in the spirit of how a democracy should work. Renaker should engage complaints from bodies such as Castlefield Estates and relish the opportunities to debate the merits of their designs.
Alia Dharissi wrote elegantly about the mood change in cities in The Global Urbanist a couple of years ago: 'Cities are becoming less the place for citizens and more the place for corporate investments. The space for politics in the good sense of the word has shrunken in cities and at the national level. Today, it is corporate understandings of what is good that dominates.'
This is what Renaker seems to be saying with its 'no comment'. It seems to be saying, 'Forget it, you lot, make your comments during the planning process, but as far as we're concerned, even in a site as important as Castlefield, we think this is a commercial and planning issue only. If you don't like it, we don't care. We just want that return on capital we don't want your opinions.'
Thing is, more and more people who love, live and work in Manchester are complaining about developments. Frustration is growing about the lack of acknowledgement of concerns about scale, context and design of buildings, reaching the point where, in the case of campaign group Manchester Shield, insults are being thrown at the City Council and the commercial sector. Whether pure vitriol is helpful is uncertain but what is certain is that Renaker's 'no-comment' is a dereliction of duty. Gary Neville's consortium with their plans for the St Michael's development has at least had the guts to talk to people about their controversial proposal. The directors of Renaker are beginning to make Peel Group look transparent.
From Confidential's point of view the way the OMI design talks to the canal basin seems to be considered and careful, reflecting the bedrock exposed on the far side of the canal and paying heed to the heritage of the area. However there are troubling elements, the overwhelming bulk of the shorter block needs reworking, some materials seem to jar rather than complement. These need talking about and debating.
Renaker aren't interested in this.
Their refusal to discuss the new buildings with locals or media is totally unacceptable.