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

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

Property August Towpath River Irwell
The tow path under the Irwell Street Bridge Image: Morag Rose

Campaigners win public enquiry victory in Salford

It might only be a few hundred metres long under the west side of the Irwell Street Bridge but campaigners have created enough vibration to shake the Department of Transport into action over a proposal to dump a right of way that's existed for nigh on 300 years. There will now be a public enquiry.

Legal & General are stumping up the money for a development, Ralli Quays, which will see a dreadful post-modern government building demolished to make way for an office complex and a 16-storey, 260-bed hotel. Fair enough, except the proposals would not only deny, but destroy, access to a former towpath of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation along the River Irwell in the city centre. The clear benefits of river access for (buzz-phrase coming up) "active travel" and tourism are clear. It surely should be high on the agenda of city centre development not dismissed out of expediency.  

Dr Morag Rose, the indefatigable campaigner on public spaces, and Steven Lindsay, who like Irn Bru is made in Scotland from girders, have led the campaign which has dragged in huge support resulting in the decision to hold a public enquiry. This type of civic engagement over a public right way should be applauded. The more the merrier as long as things don't get too NIMBY. 

Salford mayor, Paul Dennett, has written to say there will a further examination of the proposals to find "a feasible option to retain public access". 

Anybody interested in this case can attend a public meeting (not the public enquiry, a date for which has still to be set) at 53two on Watson Street in the city centre at 6.30pm on 7 September.  

Property August Various 1
The towpath provides access to the boarding point of tour boats Image: Confidentials

River pathway arguments that don’t carry water

It’s irksome when councils and developers use patently false arguments to justify unnecessary planning proposals. This is the case with Ralli Quay. Salford's City Council claim part of the problem with the existing towpath is that it is dangerously narrow in places. Has anybody from Salford Council or the developers walked down the Bridgewater Canal from Castlefield to Old Trafford, maybe under the bridge carrying Pomona Strand? Have they walked under Great Bridgewater Street on the arm of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal close to Rain Bar? If they had they would have found a revolutionary and astonishingly handy safety device. It's called a fence. Ground-breaking eh?

The other irksome argument that’s been used at Ralli Quays has been used time and again by developers to justify their schemes. This is to declare that some feature of the target site has in the past attracted "anti-social behaviour" and their plans should go ahead as they'd sort that out. Neglected places tend to do that in the city as they well know. Indeed anti-social behaviour can happen anywhere so maybe we should stop up every path, road and street in the country. Silly arguments such as these are pure persiflage, empty-headed justifications. 

New Century
New Century's auditorium, showing off its spectacular lighting Image: Confidentials
New Century Food Hall
The Kitchen at New Century Image: New Century

Gorgeous New Century opens 

This is a wonderful place, part of a marvellous project. It’s the sort of scheme that makes you feel good about the city. The Co-ops’ New Century Hall, now styled New Century, is reopening showing off a perfect 1963 auditorium with stunning design, beautiful artworks and spectacular lighting. That’s on the first floor, on the ground floor is an exciting new floor food hall - The Kitchen - with a splendid terrace opening onto Sadler’s Yard. In the basement is a state-of-the-art college building for music and gaming from Access Creative College. The original designers, Jonathan Green Associates, would be blown away by the skilled way in which Sheila Bird Studio has preserved and enhanced New Century Hall. There will be a series of public tours in September and October explaining the building and revealing its secrets. I'll be the guide. 

Property August Pse Exterior View01 Final Low Res 811X1000 1605963479
The Fairfax Image: developer image

Fair wind for Fairfax

The hinterland between Piccadilly Station and Great Ancoats Street was the forgotten end of the city centre for decades. Over the last four years, it’s started to come alive with hotels such as Leonardo, prestigious schemes such as Crusader Mill and even the development of breweries with tap rooms for Cloudwater and Track. Now in an empty little street with the beguiling name of Portugal Street East, Round Hill Capital has joined with Olympian Homes to deliver The Fairfax. This is a 488-home build-to-rent project, for completion by spring 2025. There’ll be a couple of towers of 23 and 29 storeys with executive design architect Jon Matthews Architects and delivery architect Day Architectural.

July Property 2022 2
Reedham House and the present low-scale streetscene Image: Confidentials

Reedham’s a pastiche, but varied street scenes - we need’em

I was wrong in several details last month when I criticised the demolition of Reedham House. I read the listing report from Historic England and repeated its claim that the building is a genuine 1840s structure. It’s not, it’s a 1920s pastiche made to look older. Architect Jon Matthews and developer Alex Russell showed me around the muddled site and pointed this out while also underlining how the original carriage works to the rear will be retained.

Russell and Matthews are sincere, robust and forthright in the defence of their scheme, but, for me, the fact that Reedham House is from the 1920s doesn’t provide an excuse to plonk a 13-storey building on the site. Other considerations need to be taken into account. As I wrote previously “the city centre cannot afford to lose… 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.”

Nobody wants useless empty buildings in the city centre and it appears Russell and Matthews have sought all manner of solutions to enable this difficult site to come to life again. Still, for many people losing that side of the square with its human scale would be a big negative. 

A 1940s promo of Sunlight House also showing the proposed skyscraper that didn't make it through planning Image: Confidentials

Sunlight House has new dawn

One of Manchester’s most distinctive interwar buildings Sunlight House has been sold for more than £40m by Abrdn to a joint venture between Kinrise and real estate fund Karrev to create Kinrise Sunlight. This should enable upgrading work to take place. The Grade II Art Deco building dates from 1931 and was designed by Joe Sunlight, a colourful rags-to-riches entrepreneur. Sunlight was way ahead of his time and inserted a swimming pool into his office building. How very modern of him. 

Abrdn used to be Aberdeen Standard Investments. According to Wikipedia in 2021, Abrdn had £535 billion assets, over 5,000 employees globally, and over one million shareholders, but what Wiki doesn’t mention is the company has also the stupidest bloody name in the world of corporate nonsense after they shuffled out those pesky vowels.  

Property August Former Jamies
The interior of Jamie's Italian in 2012, now set to become a Gordoan Ramsay vehicle called Lucky Cat Image: Confidentials

Ramsay goes Asian in former Jamie’s

Another interwar building, this time from 1935 is in the news. Gordon Ramsay has made the brave decision to take on the vast spaces of the magnificent former Midland Bank on King Street. This Sir Edwin Lutyens’ designed building (he also designed the government district in New Delhi) was for several years Jamie’s Italian, a rather average Italian restaurant from Jamie Oliver. 

The new restaurant will be called Lucky Cat, part of the Union Street Café group, and offer a "high quality Asian style bar and restaurant with entertainment by way of recorded music and a DJ". As with Jamie’s the whole of the former banking hall and the vaults below will be brought into operation. 

This space was going to be a huge fashion and beauty hall for the Hut Group after Jamie’s departed. The Hut Group has had problems and therefore the opportunity to restore the building to restaurant use has presented itself.

Lucky Cat’s Pan-Asian offering will sit directly opposite Grand Pacific’s Pan-Asian offering in the equally spectacular clubroom of the former Reform Club.

Property August 20180731 Wood Simon
Simon Wood at Wood Restaurant Image: Confidentials

Bills, bills and more bills

Referring to the above story it's perhaps a brave decision by Union Street Café to open such an ambitious place in these times. Wood Restaurant at First Street is tiny by comparison but in conversation with the eponymous Simon Wood recently Confidentials gained an insight into the pressure hospitality businesses, all businesses, are beginning to face. Wood also has a bijou restaurant in Cheltenham. The energy and utility bills for the two restaurants have gone from £6,000 a month to £16,000. 

Property August Various 4
Liverpool city centre from the Panoramic restaurant Image: Confidentials

Bernstein takes on Liverpool

Not sure how this one will play out in the league of popular appointments this year but Sir Howard Bernstein is to form part of a Whitehall panel to help direct Liverpool City Council down the path of probity and prudence following government intervention over its mismanagement.

Bernstein was the chief executive of Manchester City Council for almost twenty years and is credited with playing a big part in its economic growth. He will be joined by ex-Leeds City Council leader Baroness Judith Blake and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram, who will chair the panel. Let’s hope the broader issues that need to be faced in Liverpool will soothe any resentment over Mancs and Tykes sticking their noses in. 

Castlefield Decay 10
The information board, one of several, that disappeared years ago Image: Confidentials
Property August 1
The information boards reappear Image: Confidentials

Castlefield gains – small steps, painted stairs  

After our excoriating criticism of the state of the public areas of Castlefield, there have been some recent gains. The stairs to the National Trust’s viaduct garden have been properly repainted. Second time lucky so to speak. The three missing Castlefield information signs have now been reattached and all of the signs across the area have been cleaned by the council. 

The lighting at the North Gate in the Roman Gardens should be completed within the next couple of weeks. A new east-west path is under discussion across the Roman Gardens too, plus there are to be monthly meetings between the city council and Castlefield Forum to discuss environmental issues. 

It’s amazing what an article can bring about, along with pressure from Castlefield Forum. This is just a start, of course, much more needs to be done in Castlefield to help it reach its potential. 

Property August
The proposed White Lion beer garden structure Image: Planning documents

White Lion beer roof beef

Staying with Castlefield, some folk are not so happy about a proposal for a very chunky roof over the White Lion pub terrace. This would obviously make drinking outside the pub an all-weather prospect but the feature looks very heavy despite Craft Union, who own the pub, claiming it will have a "minimalistic aesthetic" to match future ambitions for the Roman Gardens. Castlefield Forum, the residents and businesses group, disagree with Craft Union and have called the new structure "large, highly obtrusive and impactful". Opinion will vary although the current messy chewed-up wooden features and tent city appearance definitely need to be sorted. The planning application for anybody who wants to say their piece over the proposal is here.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @jonathschofield

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