Jonathan Schofield takes a look at recent property stories and find his doors are awry
Jonathan Schofield revives his property column. This fortnightly roundup will take a wry look at what's happening in the world of bricks, mortar, cartouches and capital in Manchester.
Seven years good luck for Manchester Tower
Good. It looks like this will happen at last. In 2015, a long seven years ago, Confidentials liked this proposal, now called pretentiously Manchester Tower, at Whitworth Street West. The developers are called Featherfoot Whitworth Street and the architects are Jon Matthews Architects (JMA). Matthews, working as part of Five Plus, delivered that first proposal and the reinvigorated design is almost identical. JMA also designed the controversial (to put it mildly) Axis tower directly opposite. If you get chance have a read of Matthews' forthright defence of that building here. Axis is 28 storeys, this will be 35 storeys. It has an elegant, sharp as a pin Modernist exterior. As it lies next to the railway viaduct between Oxford Road and Deansgate Stations it scarcely impinges on any other structure, unlike the crazy notion that is Apex Tower next to the Briton's Protection pub. There will be 327 apartments and the total bill will be £117m. A completion date of summer 2025 is being mooted.
136m (384ft) tall buildings have become unremarkable
When Manchester Tower was first proposed, just seven years ago, there was chatter about its height at around 117m (384ft). It would have become the third tallest tower in the city behind Beetham Tower and the CIS Tower. Times change and then some. When Manchester Tower is completed it will be looked down on by the main Viadux Tower (one of two) presently under construction over the road at Deansgate/Castlefield Metrolink which will be 136m (446ft). Indeed, rather than being the third tallest tower, Manchester Tower will be the 17th tallest when completed.
City council consider buying a solar farm, but not here
Looks like the city will miss out on its own solar farm in Greater Manchester. Manchester City Council has put forward proposals to buy a solar farm to help cut its carbon emissions if the Council’s Executive gives the nod on 19 January. This is part of the Council’s Climate Change Action Plan 2020-25 which sets out to halve its direct carbon emissions by 2025 in support of the city’s goal to become zero carbon by 2038. The Council say there’s a "potential cost of £30-39m (for the farm) based on market prices at the time research was done for the size of solar facility required."
All the sites under consideration at present are in the south of England. Apparently, "no suitable sites of the size required (around 100ha) have been identified in Manchester or Greater Manchester." Jokes about rain and solar panels aside, if not in Manchester or Greater Manchester surely there must be suitable sites of that scale in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire? It's shame if there can't be some levelling up while heating up. Jobs for the north with this would have been the ideal solution.
Stockport Council takes stock over the 'Stockroom'
Stockport Council is the best place locally if you want feisty local governance. Or maybe local governance so feisty it can’t make decisions. There have been lots of rows recently with the most recent concerning the relocation of the present Central Library on A6 to "Stockroom", a state-of-the-art modern library, café, and a "civic hub" with functions such as registering deaths and marriages. This would sit in the prime redevelopment area around the rundown Merseyway shopping centre, inside a remodelled M&S and BHS. We hope the name "Stockroom" refers to the name of the town rather than the ugliest most untidy space in any shop.
Redeveloping city and town centre libraries has been a bit of thing in recent years, with successful examples in Manchester and Rochdale. It’s to the latter Stockport should look. Manchester redeveloped the existing library, Rochdale moved its library a quarter of a mile across town from a trad building into Riverside, a new building doubling as the town's administrative centre. Riverside works very well.
Sentimentality for the old library though a majority vote by councillors has now put Stockport’s sensible plan in doubt. This despite the Council cabinet pointing out the negatives of the old building, namely, it would cost a fortune to renovate, it lies outside the area eligible for the government’s £14.5m Future High Streets grant, has declining usage and in any case, would be retained with a new usage.
Councillors who voted against the move pointed out more people voted against it than for it in a recent consultation. Of course they did. Change is difficult, especially if the older generations are the only ones to answer. The analogy with Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester is striking. Numerous consultations result in people wanting a nostalgic return to "the Sunken Gardens" which had proved dramatically unfit for purpose. Ever since there's been stalemate and delay, although some changes are afoot. Stockport Council will reconsider the library proposal next month and hope to get things moving- literally and with literature.
FEC pushes forward Victoria North plans
Northern Gateway was rebranded Victoria North in 2021. This is a better, site-specific name for the vast regeneration project aimed at transforming 155 hectares (390 acres) of the River Irk valley north of Victoria Station. Now, Far East Consortium (FEC) has made a two-acre acquisition, just up from its currently under construction Victoria Riverside development. It's interesting that given the present uncertain nature of the Anglo-Sino relationship especially over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang with property in the UK there is still clear evidence of the two countries working together. There's more on the Northern Gateway in our report from when Confidentials were the first to reveal another potential "high line" site for Manchester.
Hey, that door isn't where it should be
Surprise can be the best. So when I visited the interior of Beehive Mill my head was turned by, of all things, the doors. The building is a fabulous early spinning shed from 1824 with much original work especially in civil engineering. For years it was the host of popular, if rough and ready, nightclub Sankey’s Soap. Now it’s offices and then some from Urban Splash. They are beautiful, especially the Beehive Lofts area on the top floor. The architect for the conversion is Maurice Shapero. He’s always had extremely original ideas about architecture and incorporates his playful ideas in schemes when he can. In the Beehive Mill toilets/bathrooms/washrooms/loos/bogs (call them what you will) he’s underlined that. It’s all Alice in Wonderland. The doors of the toilets seem impossible, sloping, twisted, even crawling up the ceiling, but pull on the handle and the doors open in a straightforward rectangular fashion. The ingenuity in the design is both beguiling and ingenious. “It’s making something you use every day something which doesn’t fade in your memory,” says Shapero. It does that and it messes with your head, as the top image on these pages and the ones immediately above here show.
Read next: Eight and a half new public spaces for Manchester city centre
Read again: A high line for Manchester? The Northern Gateway could make it happen
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