“We have failed miserably,” says former United star following ‘unprecedented’ backlash over St Michael's

Footballer turned property developer Gary Neville has backtracked on his controversial £200m St Michael’s scheme in Manchester city centre, admitting his development consortium had ‘failed miserably’ on aspects of the scheme.

Addressing the MIPIM international property convention in Cannes on Wednesday 15 March, Neville told the gathered audience that they had asked Manchester City Council to ‘not determine’ their final planning application as ‘further refinements’ needed to be made following a volley of criticism, not least from this magazine (which lead to our removal from a consultation in July - read here).

READ – Neville’s Controversial Towers Are Now Even Taller

Neville said that the reaction to the proposals – which include two dark, burly towers of 31 and 21 storeys less than 150 metres from the Grade I-listed Town Hall – had been ‘unprecedented’, after heritage groups including Historic England, The C20 Society, Save Britain’s Heritage and Victorian Society all waded in on the scheme.

Petitions to block the development, meanwhile, have gathered almost 10,000 signatures, whilst whispers from inside Town Hall suggest received written objections to the scheme number over 1000.

One of the main sticking points, aside from the height, colour and scale of the scheme so close to so many listed buildings, had been the lack of street interaction on Bootle Street – something Neville admitted “we have failed miserably on” (see below).

Though the former United and England star did say the decision represented a ‘pause’ in the process, not a ‘withdrawal’.

Bootle Street (before and after):

St Michaels New View 16 Before St Michaels New View 16 After

The surprise announcement from Neville follows comments made last week by Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, who has championed the scheme (not surprising, given the council own the land the scheme sits on) from the off. He wrote:

“...anybody who thinks that it [Bootle Street] has character that should be retained can’t ever have walked down what is in reality a pretty grotty back entry to Peter Street… if you walk around the site rather than looking at some distorted views that have appeared in the media, I think it is very difficult to sustain an argument that tall buildings here will have a negative impact on Albert Square and the Town Hall.”

Clearly wrong-footed by Neville’s comments in Cannes, the St Michael’s PR team in Manchester rushed out a press release on Wednesday, seeking to downplay the backtrack and redirect the spotlight at Bootle Street’s current condition. It read:

‘During a 15-minute presentation Gary Neville outlined how the currently underused and dilapidated space in the city centre, which employs just four people and is often blighted by anti-social behaviour, will be transformed into a unique and modern 700,000 sq. ft. space, that blends old and new harmoniously.’

(Two caveats: by blend they mean ‘demolish’, as all old buildings will be levelled. And by ‘blighted by anti-social behaviour’ they mean a handful of incidents per month.)

In a parting statement, Neville said ‘we now have to make refinements… St Michael’s has to be perfect for Manchester.”

Main image credit: MIPIM