Jonathan Schofield wants planning permission approval as soon as possible
GOOD, the planning application for St Michael’s has been submitted and people now have forty days to react to it. Forty days is way beyond the statutory period of three weeks required for public comment, but is a goodwill gesture from Gary Neville’s St Michael’s Partnership. They don’t want people to think they are hiding the application behind the Christmas break.
Confidential thinks that’s laudable but wants to get on with things. If planning permission is given by the end of March then work can start in 2018 and we may have Hodder+Partners' superb design up by 2021.
With the £200m plus scheme Manchester will gain 148,000 sq ft of premium office space; 30,000 sq ft of food and beverage space; 189 luxury apartments; a five star, 216 bed hotel with a gym, spa and pool; another 30 bed boutique hotel, a ground level public square and a further elevated public realm area.
The current application has had tortuous parenting and been reworked three times, in particular with the abandonment of MAKE architects cumbersome twin towers and the retention of the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub and the old police station façade. Historic England, the public body that looks after the nations built fabric, are now happier about the scheme, or as happy as their official language and their bureaucratic caution allows them to be.
Catherine Dewar, Planning Director, North West at Historic England, says: “We have always acknowledged that development of this site could really help the regeneration of Manchester and that the city deserves a thoughtful, welcoming scheme that contributes to the area and its public realm.
"We feel that it will do some harm to the setting of the Town Hall, Albert Memorial and St Ann’s Church"
“We welcome that the new proposals keep the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub and part of the former police headquarters. The scheme has also been improved with a new public square next to the pub and creating a more attractive route around and through the site. This would all contribute towards improving the Deansgate/Peter Street conservation area and make it more vibrant.
“Of course we now have only one tower and the developers have done a lot of work to limit the impact of the tall building by moving it to the part of the site furthest away from important historic buildings. However, we feel that it will do some harm to the setting of the Town Hall, Albert Memorial and St Ann’s Church due to its height.
“Whilst we recognise the sensitivity of introducing such a tall building in this important location, and the unavoidable impact this will have on the setting of three of Manchester’s finest Grade I listed buildings, we also acknowledge the benefits the scheme will bring. The proposals would include bringing some buildings back into use and enhancing the surrounding conservation area. We will be advising Manchester City Council that, as per planning policy, any harm would need clear justification.”
So, the tower is still a problem for Historic England, but there is another test that can be applied here, and that is about ‘balancing benefits’ which surely must win. Given the economic and aesthetic boost the moribund area bordered by Deansgate, Southmill Street, Bootle Street and Jackson’s Row will gain, then at Confidential we believe planning permission must be given.
This will be an extremely high-quality development with a capital city budget and finish. Particularly exciting is the elevated public realm reached by a truly spectacular ‘Spanish Steps’ staircase. That will become a magnet for Mancs and visitors with superb views into Albert Square and towards the Town Hall. The dynamic diamond-like finish of the tower will also literally and figuratively lift the city centre environment.
Gary Neville told Confidential, “The point of this scheme is to bring something of the highest quality to the city that enhances what we already have and also enhances the city’s reputation.
"I want to be so proud of St Michael’s and feel that pride every time I see or visit it. This is my city after all and I wouldn’t do anything that that I thought wasn’t of the highest standard.”
Confidential thinks this scheme is of the highest standard. Now, let’s get on with it.