Jonathan Schofield on tricky CGIs, and big plans in Salford, Alty and Prestwich

Manchester Cathedral demolished by cunning CGIs

The ugly and troublesome blight of Shambles West between Deansgate and the River Irwell is getting sorted. Work has already started on the southern end of the site where the Renaissance Hotel has squatted to transform it into the Treehouse Hotel. Now the northern end of the site is to get a tower if planning is approved. The total cost of both projects will be upwards of £200m and comes via US company Starwood. The tower will be 27 storeys high and contain 300 flats. As usual the height is not included in the information but comparing with other towers around the city centre the building will be around 80m or 260ft high.

The design is by Jon Matthews Architects and is a stepped back at the top with precast sandstone panels as a nod to Manchester Cathedral, a corner kick away to the north east. Ah, yes the Cathedral. Take a look at the CGIs here and the Cathedral’s seemingly been demolished. Cunning visuals these. A tree in one literally hides the Cathedral tower, while the other is a view from the southern porch of the Cathedral which means the viewer has their back to it.

Roundup 4 8 21 Renaissance But Wheres The Cathedral
The proposed tower and a judiciously positioned tree blocking the view of Manchester Cathedral tower

The good news is there will be a considerable investment to the public realm here and down by the river. There will be retail units and restaurants too. But the sixties tragedy of City Central tower (formerly Highland House) by Leach Rhodes Walker is not only a hideous building but also far too close to the Cathedral, damaging views of the old building. The proposed tower is identical in height to that sixties nasty and will block more views of the Cathedral while hemming it in even more tightly.

Is such a tall structure needed? Couldn’t it be maybe just ten storeys but bulkier lower down to deliver extra space and make the financing add up? Of course, something needs to be done, but visual trickery as displayed in some of the CGIs doesn’t help make the case for the proposed tower. There is to be a public consultation. 

Salford has a masterplan out now for the Chapel Street area which includes ideas about what to do about City Central tower. This will be discussed in a full article in the near future.

Roundup 4 8 21 Manchester Cathedral Views To Disappear
The proposed tower will sit where the current lump of concrete sits in this image partially blocking the view of the Cathedral which the new tower will completely obscure

More Piccadilly palaver with £25m international design competition

Plans to improve Piccadilly Gardens come round more frequently than birthdays in the Seven Brother’s brewery empire. Recently Manchester City Council has announced plans to launch an international design competition centred around the area. Guess what, the idea is to produce "a world-class space". The latter is presently the most hackneyed epithet in the town planner's lexicon. What else should we expect, a revamp based on the best Barnsley has to offer?

Still, something needs to be sorted out over Piccadilly, which is 10 acres if you take the greater area from Portland Street to Primark and from the sixties Piccadilly Plaza to Oldham Street. Design agencies have been put on notice to come up with ideas. The budget is £25m. Confidentials has written about this ad nauseam. We believe the model should be St Peter’s Square, in other words, hard surface, judicious tree planting, lots of seating and the sweeping away of the ridiculous, drug-deal hiding planters. There should be a fountain but one flush with the paving not placed in a grim trough as at present. The green spaces we have such as Cathedral Gardens should then be made lovely rather than sporadically maintained. 

Having said all that the main thing that needs to improve in Piccadilly Gardens is security. There must be an adequate police presence there throughout the day and arrests and zero tolerance should be pursued. If that doesn’t follow on from improvements that £25m will have been wasted.

Piccadily Gardens To Get £25M Improvements
£25m for Manchester's most controversial city centre space: Piccadilly Gardens and area

Grade 1 station revamp at last

After the outcry over the closure of the Air and Space Hall there's some good news from the Science and Industry Museum. The most important buildings on the site are the 1830 Liverpool to Manchester Railway complex of station and warehouse. These are, to use the phrase properly from the above story, world-class in terms of historical significance.

Now at last some attention is being lavished on the station building, the oldest passenger rail station in the world from 1830. As the museum writes: "Working with Manchester-based Buttress Architects, who specialise in restoring listed buildings and historic places, the first £1.9m phase of work, funded by the DCMS, will give the building a new roof, gutters and rainwater pipes, which will help protect the building, manage the water and dry the building out. This phase is due to be completed in spring 2022 and the museum will plan for further internal repairs alongside the creation of new learning spaces."

Roundup And 1830 Station Revamp At Castlefield
Welcome renewal for the precious Grade 1 former Liverpool to Manchester Railway station in Castlefield

Hideous ‘Rackhams’ area of Altrincham to be reworked  

Bruntwood Works and Trafford Council are working together to improve the northern town centre area around the grim Stamford Square which includes a revamp of the prison-like former Rackhams store. Altrincham town centre has been massively improved over the last ten years transforming the town into an attractive destination especially for food and drink. However, George Street remains a problem. Now at least one end of the ugly drag should start to look better with proposed plans. 

These plans include a complete redesign of the ground floor of the closed Rackhams "providing an opportunity for hospitality operators to take space that includes outdoor terraces on Stamford Square". There will be a 340 sqm living wall to brighten things and help "provide oxygen and help reduce noise levels". If you want your say there will be drop-in sessions at Stamford Square in the Not So Secret Garden on Wednesday 18 August, 12noon - 4pm. More details can be found by perusing the masterplan.

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Plans for Altrincham promise a better town centre experience

Hope for Prestwich shopping centre

Councils went insane in the sixties and seventies and every one of our smaller district shopping centres "gained" a crap mall. These worked for around 15 years and then went downhill, a combination of terrible design, shoddy building and mismanagement. One of the worst was the shopping area around Prestwich's Longfield Centre. 

Things are going to change for the better. Bury Council has now acquired the properties and are going to work with developers Muse to give the aspirant suburb a centre more in line with its rising prospects. 

A spokesperson for the council, very wordily, said: "Both Muse and the council will now explore options around a delivery vehicle to bring forward their collective aspirations to deliver a new town centre with extensive public realm improvements, that is inclusive to the local community, facilitating business growth, cultivating enterprise, delivering new homes, while injecting quality and economic resilience in the heart of a thriving town." 

Roundup 4 8 21 Prestwich
A dismal picture from the Bury Times of a dismal day at a dismal Prestwich shopping centre

Heaton Hall to open for regular professional tours

It's one of the most impressive properties in the North West and has mostly been closed for years aside from the excellent occasional tours run by the Friends of Heaton Hall. Now every Wednesday and Sunday at 11am, qualified and professional Blue and Green Badge Guides will be taking people round Heaton Hall and out into the park.

James Wyatt was one of the great architects of his day and Heaton Hall is one of his masterworks. It’s been described as "the finest house of its period in Lancashire and one of the finest in the country". The tour will include rare visits inside the house where guests will see stunning interiors that mix elegance, opulence and drama. And just to be clear, this writer will be one of the guides conducting the tours. Tickets are available here from Eventbrite.

Follow Jonathan Schofield @JonathSchofield

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Part of the stunning interior of Heaton Hall, which is to gain professional tours for the first time in years

Read now: The planning machine wins: 'Tombstone' tower approved

Read again: Property: More Deansgate closure plans and holding one's Nerf

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