Jonathan Schofield casts an opinionated glance at some stories in the property world

A sideways monthly look at some of the stories that caught our eye in the property world.

July Property 2022 Alberton View Bruntwood P Citypress
The proposed tower on the banks of the River Irwell Image: Citypress

'Rooftop Wellness Space' for office proposal 

Developers call it Motor Square but it’s truly The Square With No Name as Confidentials has written. There’s a Motor Street on the east but no title for the square given on any map so we prefer our name. 

Now, if a couple of developers get their way there will be a concatenation of massive massing on the pleasantly and presently low-level northern edge of The Square With No Name. Two large developments will sit opposite each other on either side of St Mary’s Parsonage; one should go ahead and the other absolutely shouldn't

The Bruntwood Works office proposal replaces Alberton House, one of those God-awful 1980s chocolate brick monstrosities by the River Irwell. The proposal is big at 19 storeys and 219,000 sq ft but is softened by a 10,000 sq ft “rooftop wellness space” (yep that really is what it’s being called). 

This sweet rooftop area will have a swimming pool (top image on this page) which is novel and a bar which is not, becoming de rigueur for any city centre development. Anyway, when it opens I'll be up there in a flash saying: "A pint of your best Wellness please, bar keep."

The design of the building comes via EPR Architects, a London practice with a Manchester office. The design will be crowned by trees, which is again becoming standard. 

All this activity follows from a 2020 City Council framework for the area aiming for a commercially-led, mixed-use district with strong public realm. 

July Property 2022 Reedham House Pag P Counter Context
A wall of towering glass proposed for a small and very good little square Image: JMA
July Property 2022 Reedham House
"Good-quality classical details": Is Reedham House to be swept away? Image: Confidentials

Needless destruction at Reedham House

Fronting our Square With No Name, a huge mistake in terms of the diversity of the city centre built environment is being proposed. The Property Alliance Group has launched a consultation on a 13-storey tower for commercial use designed by Jon Matthews Architects (JMA) which will erase a fine old building called Reedham House. 

“We are hugely excited to present our vision for Reedham House,” said Alex Russell of Property Alliance Group to Place North West. “This sensitive, heritage-led approach to conserving the most valued and historic parts of the site will be facilitated by the removal of the buildings to the front of the site and the addition of a sensitively designed taller building.”  

What is Alex Russell talking about here? The 1840s façade of this former carriage works at the “front of the site” is a real, human-scale asset, despite chaotic shop and cafe frontages. It's an elegant design and adds to the street scene immeasurably.  

Russell has said that although that frontage will go his company promises to retain and “breathe new life into the historic carriage works and courtyard (behind) and create a unique workspace”. The CGIs make that hard to work out quite how that might be achieved. 

But the Property Alliance Group have forgotten something important. 

Reedham House and its workshops here are Grade II listed. Among much other excellent detail the extensive Historic England listing document describes: “The good-quality classical details on the showroom frontages comprising rare surviving examples of early commercial architecture.” 

As anybody who reads Confidentials knows we are not heritage-obsessed stick-in-the-muds, but surely the city centre cannot afford to lose any more fascinating assets such as this, a building that makes a real contribution to the area. Progressive redevelopment of the city should not preclude being very careful about retaining a distinctive cityscape. Destroying the street frontage of Reedham House amounts almost to vandalism. Whatever the merits of the JMA design it mustn’t be built. 

There must be another way. 

An example of that might be Urban Splash’s fine reinvention of Beehive Mill, the old site of Sankey’s Soap, which has adapted an old building for contemporary use without crashing a big tower through it. 

We’ll expand on this snippet in a couple of weeks, it begs a lot of questions about city development. (By the way I'm a fan of the flat roofed neighbour of Reedham House, a post-blitz structure, too). The consultation is here if you wish to comment.

2403 Ps 006 02 St Catherines Wood Visual
The woodland walks that will be part of Victoria North Image: Manchester City Council
Red Bank Hif Planning Application March 2022
The plan for Red Bank at Victoria North Image: Manchester City Council

Victoria to reign again in the north city centre

Hurrah, this is grand news at Victoria North. There’s a planning application approved to transform brownfield land north of Victoria Station and to deliver 5,500 new homes. Unless you’re going to occupy one of those homes, then the big news is the first phase of a new City River Park has been agreed along the River Irk. The schematics look encouraging. It’s a big job too and will include land remediation, earthworks and a change in site levels. New infrastructure includes a new permanent road and junction into the Red Bank area, along with new drainage, street works and utilities infrastructure for the area. 

Leader of Manchester City Council Bev Craig, said: “Victoria North remains one of the largest regeneration programmes the UK has ever seen and will be transformational for our city. The Red Bank area is largely underused brownfield and unmanaged, unwelcoming scrub land, but will become an attractive new, green neighbourhood. Over the next 15 years this investment will deliver 15,000 new homes and 46 hectares of interconnected green space across the Victoria North area.”

July Property 2022 1
Castlefield: The repainting taking place of the repainting that was a disgrace Image: Confidentials
July Property 2022 Stairs
The first repainting of the stairs in Castlefield which caused everybody to jointly exclaim: "Really?" Image: Confidentials

Repenting the repainting in Castlefield 

Viaducts as gardens and public realm are in the news again with the above story. The former Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s Red Bank viaduct at Victoria North will provide a lovely approach to the proposed new district. This follows on from all the noise being created by the National Trust’s (NT) elevated garden pilot project on a Castlefield viaduct. 

Confidentials has added to the noise with this article which has rippled across the screens of city movers and shakers and made people, not just those living in Castlefield, sit up and pay attention to a massive missed opportunity in the publicly owned areas surrounding the NT viaduct. 

One element we were scathing about was the terrible job Keolis Amey, the Metrolink operator had made of the stairs from the Roman Gardens to the NT work while repainting it. That has had an effect and it’s being repainted again in a sober dark grey rather than the death-pallor grey and jaundiced yellow of their first efforts. Result. 

July Property 2022 Charlton House 2
Smashed and an eyesore: Charlton House, Old Trafford Image: Confidentials

Charlton House for demolition

There’s a running blight in Trafford smack bang between the Old Trafford stadiums and a long goal kick from Trafford Town Hall. This is Charlton House which has been smashed and bashed and is an ugly wreck in Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council’s main showpiece area. 

Confidentials asked what was going on, as it’s been like this for at least five years. A spokesperson said: “Trafford Council has served a section 215 notice on the landlord of the building outlining the fact it is having a detrimental impact on the area due to its condition. The notice requires either repair or demolition of the building. The notice is overdue for compliance and the Council can now take action in default. The Council are currently carrying out preliminary survey work with a view to appointing a demolition contractor." Good. 

Let’s hope the council can move quicker than with the daft coned cycle lanes on Chester Road, Bridgewater Way and Edge Lane. A public consultation was finished in December and since then the Council has sat on its hands while it assesses the "large number of responses". That’s seven months and counting about making a decision on the future of these irritating and botched COVID-emergency cycle lanes. 

0 Project Image South East Corner 02
Oldham's Prudential set for a compulsory purchase order Image: Buttress
July Property 2022 Prudential Assurance Building Dilapidated 4 Oldham Council C Buttress Architects
The broken-down interior of the Oldham Prudential Image: Buttress
July Property 2022 Refuge
Kimpton Clock Tower bears a family Waterhouse resemblance to the Pru in Oldham Image: Confidentials

Prudence to win at Prudential

One of the most famous architects associated with Manchester is Alfred Waterhouse. The Town Hall, the old University block, Strangeways Prison and many more are his. 

He was also the house designer for Prudential Assurance when it underwent a huge expansion in the late nineteenth century. There’s one such Grade II listed building in Oldham which has been an unsightly wreck for years, although looking at it now it’s right on trend with all that buddleia popping out of it, remember tree decoration is quite the thing. Oldham Council is seeking to rescue it through a compulsory purchase order and turn it into an incubator for set-ups and small businesses. Money has been secured from the Future High Streets Fund although the hurdle of referral to the Secretary of State is yet to be leapt.

Oldham will work with Buttress Architects on refurb plans, a practice that is as good as it gets in the UK at this sort of rescue mission. 

By the way because of Waterhouse’s use of hot red terracotta on his Pru buildings he was nicknamed Slaughterhouse Waterhouse, which he really didn’t like. He also designed the oldest part of the Refuge Assurance, now the Kimpton Clock Tower Hotel. Those arches at the Oldham Pru definitely bear a family resemblance to those in the Refuge. 

July Property 2022 Concrete Wall
More concrete for Piccadilly Gardens? Perhaps not Image: T Skelton
July Property 2022 Big Hat
A very big hat, all is explained below Image: Etsy

And finally...

Tim Skelton tweeted the wall picture above saying: "The Public Arts Trust saved this Keith McCarter concrete sculpture from the Ordnance Survey a number of years ago but we cannot find a suitable location for it. It measures 12.4 x6.3m and comes in six pieces. Contact me if interested". Ex-Confidentials editor David Blake wondered if Piccadilly Gardens needed a replacement concrete wall. Councillor Pat Karney said "Pass". 

It's the Oldham Council Leader who is pushing for a CPO for the former Prudential building in her town, but is there another council leader in the country with a more apt name than Amanda Chadderton? 

Finally the best bit of nonsense about the over-reported heatwave this week surely came from the Chief Executive's office at Manchester City Council?  "When outdoors, staff are to stay in the shade whenever possible (natural or artificial structures). If staff are unavoidably in the sun, they are to cover up and wear a hat." Confidentials is wondering what a natural structure is (does the Chief Executive's office mean to say "tree") but also what other type of shade is there aside from the natural or artifical varieties? As for the hat we recommend the one in the picture above. So stylish, so shady. 

Read next: Strikes confirmed on Arriva buses across the North West

Read again: Booze with views: Manchester's top rooftop bars and terraces

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