Jonathan Schofield likes the look of a sympathetic blend of old and new

Following controversial demolitions on Thomas Street in Northern Quarter last year, new plans have emerged for a boutique hotel and restaurant scheme ahead of a public consultation phase.

In some respects, it’s the devil and the deep blue sea for architects and developers...

IAN Braithwaite, Estates Manager at Agecroft Investment Company, says, “I want us to create a building at 52-58 Thomas Street that is positive in terms of legacy but also financially viable.

“This can be a hard juggling act,” he says. “The non-property person in the street might not understand just how difficult this can be. Retaining old buildings is an expensive option especially with buildings which the original owners would not have expected to have more than a fifty year life span, probably even less, and were constructed accordingly. 

"This has not been an easy project, considering the unforeseen issues at the end of last year which resulted in the emergency demolition of some of the buildings on the site.

“Yet, we’ve listened to advice from planning, from councillors, from conservation specialists and from the Northern Quarter groups and residents and with GA Studio we’ve come up with a solution, we think, that achieves a good balance.”

Thomas Street Northern Quarter Jpg
The site on the corner of Thomas Street and John Street

Braithwaite appears to be right, at least it would seem so from the image provided (although that will become clearer when the elevations for Back Turner Street and Kelvin Street are revealed). The overriding first impression is that the development appears to be a sympathetic height to the surviving older structures on this part of Thomas Street, which is a good thing.

“For a real return on investment the building would have to be eight to ten storeys high as a minimum but to preserve the scale of Thomas Street here, the maximum height is five storeys, and that’s at the rear of the site,” says Braithwaite.

What is immediately noticeable as well is that there will be a pitched roof on the older building, again sympathetic to the area, while the new and interlinking buildings surrounding it will feature gables and be in brick, although not necessarily red brick as the image shows. The reason for the brick variety is a desire to avoid being ‘pastiche’ - which is odd given the gable block neighbouring the older building could be considered ‘pastiche’. 

The end use for the scheme is apparently as a hotel and restaurant/bar, which will include 26 rooms and a roof top terrace. Agecroft is in discussions with two potential occupiers.

Northern Quarter Demolition Thomas Street
There were protests following the demolitions last year

Martin James Gibson, Managing Director of GA Studio, says: “As a local Northern Quarter architectural practice, we’re delighted to be working on a project which is quite literally on our doorstep. 

"Our design has taken inspiration from the historic layout of the site, which comprised of a series of ad-hoc buildings developed over time, of varying uses including a sign-writer, a restaurant, bed & breakfast accommodation and even an umbrella shop. 

"Our architectural proposal importantly retains the original building at the corner of Thomas Street and John Street, whilst creating a series of distinguishable contemporary buildings over the rest of the site, which we are confident blends the best of the old with something new and relevant, but which is still distinctively of the Northern Quarter.”

Al Faisal 1
Popular NQ curry cafe Al Faisal was made to move... but only over the road

The approach taken by Agecroft and GA Studios will not please everybody. In some respects, it’s the devil and the deep blue sea for architects and developers in sensitive areas of the city such as this. While some may appreciate the efforts made to keep the old and blend it with the new, others might have desired a more thrilling modern design for the new elements of the site. What most people will agree upon is that the height of the scheme is correct. Confidential believes the right approach has been taken, this site needs no architectural show-boating.

Some locals who have dealt with Agecroft over the decades, when many of their Northern Quarter buildings decayed, might offer an ironic smile at the mention of ‘emergency demolition’. After all, which company should have been maintaining these buildings in the first place if not the owners. 

Yet, with a commitment to gaining new independent tenants specifically, according to Braithwaite, “bringing back more retail and not bar after bar”, then Agecroft’s reputation might be on the rise.

“We are hoping that on the basis the application is registered in time for the June 2019 planning committee,” says Braithwaite, “that a start on site could begin in the first quarter of 2020, this also assumes we achieve planning permission and that we pursue additional work once we achieve planning consent.”

A consultation evening is taking place on Thursday 7 February at the former Richard Goodall Gallery on Thomas Street, opposite the site, between 4:00pm and 7:30pm, and local people are encouraged to attend to view the proposals and offer their thoughts.

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