The news round-up for Manchester this last week, 13-19 February

A regular column charting the changes and news in Greater Manchester, highlighting stories that interest us and will hopefully interest you. 

Council beaten by Trees Not Cars group

A grassroots community group, Trees Not Cars, has won a judicial review against Manchester City Council which blocks the council from creating a 440-space car park on Great Ancoats Street. This would have been close to a primary school - see our article here. In the case of Cameron vs Manchester City Council, the review found the council had failed to consider the impact of air quality on the local area, failed to consider the impact on the primary school and was unlawful because the council recommended planning approval was based on the wrong information, the wrong air quality assessment and traffic analysis. 

This is a big decision and could be a big moment. It follows from another reverse for Manchester planning, who had been 'minded to approve' Hulme Street Tower see below. It appears pressure is growing on the planning department in this city, especially the processes behind consultations with the public. These often feel like a sham, a nod to appease criticism, with planning permission a foregone conclusion. 

2021 01 06 Trafford Mums Fighting Council Gemma
Gemma Cameron of Trees Not Cars, who put her name to the judicial review MCC have lost

Super-duper whopper courtroom for Manchester

It’s not really the sort of headline a city wants, but we’re going to get a ‘super courtroom’ at Manchester Crown Court in Spinningfields. Large cases in courtrooms have had a hard time of it during the pandemic so a solution is needed which can safely accommodate trials. At Manchester Crown Court walls will be knocked through and space created in the 1950s complex. A particular problem has been dealing with gang murders. During a recent case four separate rooms holding the accused, the judge, jury and a deliberation room were utilised. This new larger space should make proceedings run smoother. 

Not that the introduction has been so smooth. There has been a great deal of scepticism over Justice Secretary Robert Buckland’s remarks that: ‘This was a shot in the arm for the justice system.’ One comment in the Law Society Gazette read: ‘And this week on Channel 4's Love it Or List it, property professionals Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp help the Crown Court ‘knock through a few walls’ to create their dream forever courtroom.'

2021 02 19 Roundup Crown Court
The Crown Court is going to get a whopper

Nightingale sings in the Deansgate Hilton 

It’s what Florence Nightingale would have wanted: her name associated with incarceration. Nightingale Hospitals are one thing but these so-called Nightingale Courts are another, yet they seem to be proliferating in Manchester as well as over the country. We’ve had courts set up in the Lowry in the Quays Theatre, which was sort of fitting; ‘the natural drama of the courtroom’ and all that. Last week part of the Hilton Deansgate in Beetham Tower was adapted for use as a Nightingale Court. This was in the conference and event rooms, not up on Cloud 23. If it had been the latter then in terms of altitude ‘being sent down’ from up there might have broken every 'sent down' record.

2021 02 19 Lowry Court
The Nightingale that nested in the Quays Theatre, The Lowry

Tower decision deferred

The Hulme Street Tower proposal has been deferred again. It was put back at the original planning meeting so the planning committee could conduct a site visit. Now applicants GMS have admitted their environmental statement, energy usage and so forth, needed looking at again - see Andrea Sandor’s article this week. It’s likely the application for this very tall tower on a very tight site, 155m (508ft), will not be submitted for several months. Confidentials is usually supportive of the rising towers of this city. But give them room please, put them on brownfield sites – we argued this here. We might have played our part in the deferral but the way the adjacent Macintosh Village residents and Mike Halley have forensically taken apart an application that was misleading and full of faults has been almost delicious. 

2021 01 20 Hulme Street Tower Student Castle 1 1200X900
Hulme Street Tower deferred again

Kendals to retain some retail

Plans have now been submitted for the transformation of Kendal’s/House of Fraser. The transformation is going to be ‘iconic’ – of course it will be. Anyway, our Deansgate ‘icon’ of northern English shopping will soon become an ‘icon’ of the decline of the department store. (Honestly, it’s time to get the thesaurus out and find a less ‘iconic’ word than ‘iconic.’) There are more details about the plans here. Not that shopping will leave the site entirely. The site’s owners Investec and architects Sheppard Robson will provide 'a generous and more sustainable amount of retail and leisure space on the ground and lower ground floors, including an active frontage along Deansgate.' That’s good news. Above that ground floor there will be offices. The awful concrete multi-storey car park behind the main building will be demolished and more commercial space delivered. That will be 500,000 sq ft of offices in total, showing there is still confidence in city centre offices. If the plans are approved, work will start at the beginning of 2022.

2020 10 13 Kendals Pedestrianisation
Kendals with shops retained at the ground floor

Upbeat analysis of the city

Two recent reports have been upbeat about city development. Avison Young’s Big Nine report states £325 million worth of investment deals were made in Manchester’s office market last year, more than any other major UK city outside London. Mark Cooke of Avison says: “We expect to see a permanent shift in working habits, with people looking to be more agile and split their time between home and office-based working. The office market certainly isn’t dead, but as we look ahead, we expect to see more emphasis on '15-minute neighbourhoods,’ as many want to cut back on the commute and have their workspace, as well as leisure amenities, within walking distance of their homes.’ The report covers the nine major cities outside London; namely, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. 

Meanwhile another review from professional services firm JLL found this city was the only one outside 'the Smoke' to remain a target for overseas investment in the residential market. JLL think the build-to-rent sector especially has proved ‘resilient’ - ‘one of the drivers of success in Manchester (is) the young demographic of the city, with 45% being under the age of 35.’ 

2021 02 19 Roundup View Of The City
February 2021 view of a 'confident and resilient city' - apparently

Jigsaw slips away from King Street

It’s a puzzle what to do with King Street, especially as another piece of the puzzle is about to go AWOL. Jigsaw has sent out the following statement to customers: ‘As you will know, the UK retail sector has been going through a seismic change for some time, with customers moving to the convenience of online shopping. This trend has only accelerated during the recent pandemic with high street, city and shopping centre locations being closed for several months. In light of this, we have been reviewing our stores across the UK, and have made the difficult decision to cease trading at our Manchester store.' 

All these closures makes one think there must be a different path for retail. Is there a way rents and rates could be lowered so town and city centres might attract interesting and innovative independent retailers to fill the vacuum following the massacre of the chains? People would also like that in their 15-minute neighbourhood, one supposes.

2021 02 19 Roundup King Street
King Street during a King Street Festival - what's the future for retail?

Lottery win for Stockport automata

This magazine has always argued that with its up and down landscape, its glorious market place and so forth, Stockport is one of the Greater Manchester towns with real potential to turn its fortunes around. One of the sweetest of premises is on the atmospheric Underbank and is the former Winters' watchmaking shop. There’s some cracking automata on the facade and these and the clock will be returned to working order. The building is now being restored and converted into ‘a French restaurant’ although it’s unclear who the operator will be. The work is being funded by Stockport Council with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The press release describes the building as ‘iconic.’ What a shocker. 

2021 02 19 Winters
The charming facade of Winters