Developers may have bowed to pressure over colour, but they haven't budged on height (quite the opposite), says David Blake

(Amendment (08/02/17): Make Architects have contacted Confidential to inform us that due to an inconsistency at the point of measurement, Tower B is in fact 173.025 metres (AOD), or 131.7 metres tall when measured from the hotel entrance on St Michael's Square. The 138.5 metre height measurement is taken from another point of measurement on Jackson's Row.)

FEW new Manchester developments – save perhaps Peel’s latest effort in Pomona - have provoked as much ire as those proposed for Bootle Street by the St Michael’s Partnership, backed by the City Council, fronted by United heroes-turned-developers, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, and funded by money from the Far-East (via the Beijing Construction & Engineering Group and Singapore-based Rowsley - part-owned by billionaire Hotel Football and Salford FC investor, Peter Lim).r size

Not least on these pages, where our criticism of the scheme led to our removal from a presentation given by the partnership at Manchester Town Hall in July 2016.

Plans for two black and bulky towers of 31 and 21 storeys, we argued, would dominate the Gothic magnificence of the nearby Manchester Town Hall as well as the neighbouring Central Library, and see the needless demolition of the Abercromby pub – one of only two remaining witnesses to the Peterloo Massacre (though, admittedly, little remains of the original building).

The Make Architects-designed apartment, office and hotel scheme would also see the Manchester Reform Synagogue and Bootle Street Police Station flattened, both of which were listed on the Twentieth Century Society’s ‘Buildings at Risk List’ earlier this month.

However, criticism from heritage groups (Historic England, The Victorian Society, Save Britain’s Heritage, The Ancient Monuments Society and Twentieth Century Society, amongst others) councillors and the public – including 7,500 petition signatures here and here – forced the partnership to hold back on submission before Christmas, review plans and make one major change before submitting to the council last week: the towers are no longer Mordor Black, they’re now ‘Anodized Bronze’.

Ken Shuttleworth, founder of Make Architects, said: “In response to the consultation process, the design of the building façade has evolved including lightening the colour to a softer bronzed aluminium that will change the towers’ appearance in different lights and times of the day and responds to the material tones already in the conservation area.”

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The towers will dominate Albert Square
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Tower B is now 7% taller than first proposed

There is one other change, however, which didn’t make the press release. One that may initially seem inconsequential, but when taken in context of the criticism aimed at the scheme’s towering height over Manchester’s most important and impressive building, one certainly worth attention: St Michael’s is going to be even taller than first proposed.

The information distributed by the St Michael’s partnership in the run up to consultation events last year had Tower A standing at 104.1 metres and Tower B at 129.8 metres. However, final plans submitted to the council last week had Tower A at 105.2m and Tower B at 138.5m – making Tower B almost 7% higher than first proposed.

Meaning that despite a good majority of the concerns raised being related to the height and scale of the towers (as detailed in the Statement of Community Involvement), the developer has seemingly seen fit to increase their size.

The scheme’s brutal lack of street interaction has also been ignored, with Bootle Street and Jackson’s Row relegated to blank, high-sided service areas (see below), as have concerns over the lack of any new through routes, with walkways through the towers leading only to steep stairways and raised dead-ends.

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Bootle Street: Before and After

What this demonstrates, of course, is a complete and utter contempt from the St Michael’s Partnership towards the consultation process. By their own admission, 70.4% of visitors to the consultation events last year either opposed (23.9%) or strongly opposed (46.5%) the scheme. And what concessions have been made? They’ve changed the colour. That’s it.

Proof once more that these public consultations have become a sham, little more than a nuisance for developers who are peddling a false transparency, giving the impression that through consultation, debate and objection, popular public opinion can somehow influence the course of development, when in truth all that matters is the nod from Town Hall. A nod, which for the St Michael's partnership (remember the City Council is a partner), came long ago.

Follow David Blake on Twitter.

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CGI view from St Peter's Square and down Deansgate