UPDATE (28/07/16 13:40): The partnership behind the new St Michael's development have informed Confidential that it was not their decision to bar us from the meeting. The decision was made by a third party representative. The below article has been amended according.
Manchester Confidential was banned from our own Town Hall today.
This is the money men putting two fingers up to democratic debate
We don’t know why exactly but we can guess.
Plans for the redevelopment of ‘St Michael’s’ were being launched and they involve demolition of the Abercromby pub, the former Bootle Street Police Station and the synagogue on Jackson’s Row. It appears our previous criticism of wiping away the Abercromby pub has led to our exile.
Before we discuss that and the merits of the new scheme, let’s consider the ban on our attendance at the launch and thus our ability to ask questions in an open, public forum.
The consortium behind the development is fronted by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs and funded by the Beijing Construction & Engineering Group and Singapore-based Rowsley (part-owned by billionaire Valencia CF owner and Hotel Football investor, Peter Lim). The partnership paid for the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall, so although Confidential had been initially invited (several times, we might add) it was technically a private meeting and in the power of their representatives to ban whoever they like.
Still, although we've been informed that the decision did not come from the top, somewhere along the chain of command there's been a major cock-up.
Sir Richard Leese, Manchester’s Council Leader, was at the launch and he never shies away from taking the press head on and arguing his case. He needs to sit down and tell whoever authorised the sanction against Confidential that we don’t do things like this up here, that debate is good and criticism and questions part of the deal, even though in Manchester they rarely lead to any change to Council endorsed plans.
It appears the press-facing representatives of this consortium wish to manipulate media comment to avoid contrary opinion, a position which sits at odds with British planning traditions.
Back to the St Michael’s plans. The reason we have objected to the demolition of the Abercromby is that it is more than just any old pub. It is one of only two remaining witnesses to the Peterloo Massacre, along with part of the nearby Friend’s Meeting House. The Abercromby was there in August 1819 when 60,000-80,000 people swirled around it pursued by a vicious yeomanry. Tradition has it that one of the fifteen fatalities that day died in the pub. The meeting the yeomanry violently broke up was in protest at the lack of Parliamentary representation and the lack of the vote for most of the population. Thus the Abercromby is a physical reminder of a vital stepping stone to full British democracy. To demolish it would be short-sighted, perhaps even morally wrong. It would be embarrassing for a city as ambitious as Manchester, showing how careless we are of the context which created us.
Further, given the building is on the fringe of the development site it hardly seems beyond the wit of man to incorporate it in the development masterplan as the community boozer. Make Architects are the designers for the new scheme and they have as part of their mission statement on their website these words: ‘We have developed a rigorous framework for enquiry through which we explore the potential of every brief. This involves asking seven key questions: What is best for the site? What is best for people? What is best for the environment? What is best for the client? What is best for the investment? What is our best ambition? What is our best legacy?’
The first ‘key question’ here is ‘What is best for the site?’ The architect’s answer to their own question appears to be flatten everything and sod the loss to city context. At Confidential we have never been nimbys when it comes to development, praising new work more than we condemn it, for us though this cultural desecration runs too deep. And over 2,500 petitioners agree with us.
So what is St Michael’s?
St Michael’s is a new £150m development in Manchester city centre, fronted by ex-Manchester United stars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, backed by Manchester City Council and funded by a consortium deal between the Beijing Construction & Engineering Group and Singapore-based Rowsley.
The 700,000 sq ft scheme will see the demolition of Bootle Street Police Station, the Manchester Reform Synagogue and the 200-year old Sir Ralph Abercromby pub.
The Make Architect-designed development will include:
- The 31-storey ‘No.1 St. Michael’s’ tower, comprising a 200-bed five star hotel and 153 apartments.
- The 21-storey ‘No.2 St Michael’s’ tower, comprising 135,000 sq ft of office space
- Two new sky bars/restaurants
- 30,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space
- Three new public spaces designed by Planit-IE landscape architects, featuring ‘alfresco bars and restaurants’, a retractable roof and a fifteen metre high ‘architectural staircase’.
- A new synagogue
A public consultation will take place at the beginning of September with work expected to begin in Spring 2017.
As for the plans themselves, if taken in isolation, they seem competent enough, but they are generic could-be-anywhere designs, hinging upon the carrot of the ‘public realm’ to appease criticism.
The problem is the St Michael’s proposal is not just anywhere.
The two black towers will be a long stone’s throw from Albert Square. At 31 and 21 storeys respectively they are far too close to the Gothic magnificence of Manchester Town Hall spire. They will dominate the Town Hall area like something out of The Lord of the Rings, a Mancunian Barad-dûr and Minas Morgul.
Bless the developers though, you can see how they’ve tried to head-off criticism. Thus a new synagogue will be incorporated into the new buildings to replace the old one and we hear that Gary Neville promised at today’s launch that "the bar of the current Abercromby pub will be accommodated within the new scheme, and that's an absolute commitment". This sounds half-arsed if the pub is demolished because the bar is far more recent than the walls that actually witnessed the Peterloo Massacre.
As for the name of the scheme, St Michael’s, that’s another nod to heritage: an absurd one.
Here’s a possible future conversation with the developer.
“Why is the development called St Michael’s?”
“Because Bootle Street Police Headquarters was on the site and St Michael is the patron saint of the police force.”
“What’s happened to the police headquarters?”
“We obliterated it.”
“So what does the name refer to now?”
Interested parties can all have their say on the plans in a month or so. Confidential learns a public consultation will take place at the beginning of September this year. Perhaps this time we'll even be allowed in.
Here's the artist's impressions...