Jonathan Schofield and a controversial scheme that might at last get off the ground

This has gone on a bit. Back in 2016, or was it 1916, St Michael's Partnership announced a plan for the area between Bootle Street and Jackson's Row; which hosted the redundant central police station building, a falling down synagogue and a famous old boozer. The plans had two black towers designed by MAKE architects and cleared out all the heritage assets. Everybody hated the plans.

They were reworked with one tower. The police station and pub were retained. Then the plans were reworked again. And again. And, now, once more for good luck. This time, work might begin in late summer. 

​Small changes seem prudent. After all, this has been a mightily controversial scheme

So let's remind ourselves what we are in for. 

St Michael’s will boast an international luxury five-star 191-bedroom hotel and 181 high-end apartments. There will also be more than 163,000 sq ft of office space, 22,722 sq ft of leisure space - including an outdoor rooftop terrace - and a boutique five-star hotel in the former Bootle Street police station, which will retain its frontage. The Sir Ralph Abercrombie pub will be retained and refurbished too, tying the new development into more than 200 years of Manchester history.

2020 01 21 St Michaels Southern Elevation
St Michael's from the southern side, showing the former police station on the right, and the Abercrombie pub in the centre

The main feature will be very obvious, a shimmering bronze 40-storey tower, which will host the 191 bed hotel and the 181 high-end apartments. This was designed by Hodder + Partners, although the main delivery architects are now famous US-practice Skidmore Owings and Merrill. Stephen Hodder has been retained as a 'design guardian;' an odd arrangement that makes me think of Hodder as Heimdall played by Idris Elba, the guardian of Asgard in the Marvel Avengers movies.

2020 01 21 St Michaels Heimdall
Heimdall Hodder, Design Guardian

Two elements are making the project move on. First planning has been put in for final 'design refinements' and Laing O'Rourke have been confirmed as construction partners.

We've been told: 'As with all design development there have been some refinements required during this phase of design, as the scheme moves towards construction works commencing on site. A number of relatively minor improvements to the original scheme have been identified; these represent design, functional and operational improvements.'

2020 01 21 St Michaels Police Station Detail
How Bootle Street Police Station will look

Stephen Hodder MBE, Chairman of Hodder + Partners, has said: “I’m pleased that the design development supports the original consented scheme. It was so important to us that during this stage the team maintained the quality, scale and volume of the consented plans, which we have successfully achieved.”

We bet he is. As the original designer and present 'design guardian' he must be pleased that any changes with Skidmore Owings and Merrill on board seem, on the face of it, externally very minor. 

2020 01 21 St Michaels Western And Eastern Elevations
St Michael's from east and west

Small changes seem to be prudent. After all, this has been a mightily controversial scheme. Many interested parties, professional and others, thought the construction of a 40 storey tower so close to Manchester Town Hall and Central Library was unwise, too intrusive. The case went as far as the Secretary of State after multiple objections from august bodies such as Historic England. 

Of course, the announcement of a start date and tweaks won't stop many people still fiercely disliking the scheme, but cities are about change, and such a central site will surely add life to a relatively dead area. There is a mood amongst some residents and commentators against more tall buildings in Manchester and elsewhere. The phrase ‘high end apartments’ will light many a blue touch paper. However, well-designed towers such as this will be an asset to the skyline not a negative, and cities are about variety of population - not about a monoculture whether this be of culture, creed, race or even economics. 

2020 01 21 St Michaels Drone
A mocked up drone image of how the end result may look

The St Michael's Partnership is formed through a liaison between ex-United players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, alongside Manchester City Council and Singaporean funder Rowsley.