Jonathan Schofield takes a monthly look at property and landscape stories involving Greater Manchester

Beauty contests are back

Three Greater Manchester projects were up for awards this week at the Royal Fine Art Commission’s (RFC) inaugural ‘Building Beauty’ awards. Lord Foster, aka our Manc-made starchitect Norman Foster, gave a speech emphasising the need for beauty to be a consideration in designing buildings not first and foremost a cold application of utilitarian principles with aesthetics coming a distant second. 

The awards were hosted in a Foster building in the City, the impressive 3 Queen Victoria Street. The curving staircase provides a proper wow moment. The good news about the event was it was no bollocky sit-down black-tie and ballgown do but a straight to the point theatre-style ceremony that was done and dusted within 35 minutes. Confidentials was the only Manchester media present.

Tower Of Light Tonkin Liu
The Tower of Light, a magnificent slice of "beauty" Image: Confidentials
Lord Foster
Manchester-raised Lord Foster discussing “beauty” on Monday Image: Confidentials

Among the thirteen architectural and engineering projects were three Greater Manchester projects, the Oglesby Centre Extension to Halle St Peters from Stephenson Risley Hamilton Studio, the Welcome Building at RHS Garden Bridgewater by Hodder + Partners and The Tower of Light and Wall of Energy in the city centre by Tonkin Liu. The first two were commended but the latter won its category although it lost out as overall winner to Tintagel Castle Footbridge in Cornwall designed by Ney & Partners + William Matthews Associates. 

All three Manchester projects are fabulous and, yes, beautiful.

There will be a longer article from Confidentials about the principle of beauty in architecture. We managed to talk to all three of the Manchester designers who featured and they all have opinions. As the RFC says “When buildings delight those who have to look at them, they add real social value.” Too damn right. 

2  The Alberton From Trinity Bridge 1
The Alberton as it will look from Trinity Bridge Image: Bruntwood
Tintagel Castle Footbridge
The overall winner was Tintagel Castle Footbridge by Ney & Partners + William Matthews Associates Image: Hufton & Crow

The Alberton wins planning permission and the prettiest CGIs of the month award

One of the UK’s best commercial property companies, Manchester-based Bruntwood, has gained planning permission for The Alberton. This handsome design from EPR is 18-storeys tall and one of Bruntwood’s ‘Pioneer’ offerings. These buildings aim to embed ‘holistic wellbeing into daily working lives’. Crikey.  

The building will be crowned with ‘the UK’s highest workspace pool’ within a ‘rooftop holistic wellness centre, the first of its kind in the UK office market’. Crikey again. 

It just doesn’t stop. There will be also be a hydrotherapy vitality pool, hot and cold treatment rooms, physio room, changing and shower facilities and food and drink up there. The floor below will have a roof terrace (main picture on this piece, above), elsewhere there’ll be a gym, cycle storage, and on the ground floor a restaurant with outside landscaping and public realm. Bruntwood, through the Bruntwood Works brand, will offer its pay as you go day passes for hiring space.

Offices are clearly changing and turning into something approaching five-star hotels. So, on behalf of city centre restaurants, shops, barbers, sandwich shops and other small businesses Confidentials says stop this WFH nonsense, get your arse into gear and get back to the office and start supporting the city centre and the people who work there. 

Abh 2
Albert Bridge House, a fine modernist complex from 1959 Image: Confidentials
Albert Bridge
Albert Bridge proposal, why so high? Image: Planning documents

Albert Bridge House debate over demolition

Next door to The Alberton site is empty Albert Bridge House (ABH), an elegant modernist building from 1959 by EH Banks. It makes for a fine ensemble with Le Corbusier inspired elements. ABH looks set to be demolished and replaced with a couple of buildings mixing commercial and residential and flaunting plants all over the place. 

These buildings will be designed by Studio Egret West (the people behind Mayfield Park) for Oval Real Estate and there’s nothing wrong with the designs although is there any need to push the resi tower to 45 storeys? There’s going to be a longer article on whether buildings such as ABH House should be retained and recycled, especially when so elegant and especially since this could be a more sustainable option. To gauge opinion Confidentials asked the question on Twitter whether people would like ABH to be saved. 

Some people talked about the need for retention, some called it ugly and wanted it gone. Elon Musk offered no comment which was unusual. The funniest response was from @Janinewat, aka Janine Watson, ex-communications czarina for Manchester and Stockport. She wrote, "It should come down. Anagram is “real shit Uber-bodge”. Obvs Spending too long on my hols doing crosswords."

B And Q
A club, here a B&Q, now an eyesore Image: Wikimedia

Problem Old Trafford site changes hands

The much-debated fate of a site adjacent to Lancashire’s Old Trafford cricket ground has changed again. The tatty building of the Hard Rock still stands, a club and gig venue from the sixties and seventies, which hosted the likes of Bowie and Deep Purple and then, no-doubt, held tins of Dulux’s deep purple when it became a B&Q for many years. 

An initial application to develop the site by Accrue was rejected by Trafford Council and then by the Planning Inspectorate as “not…high-quality (or) well-designed”. AJ Bell has now bought the site and is looking to deliver plans that fit within Trafford's Civil Quarter Area Action Plan. This is good news and will help restore an abandoned eyesore. 

Bridgewater Way
Bridgewater Way, spot the cyclist at rush hour. Image: Confidentials

Bloody Bridgewater Way cycle cone mayhem news

We have written about this many times and the cycling groups have agreed with us. Trafford Council’s absurd scruffy coned-off cycle lanes on Chester Road and Bridgewater Way are dangerous for cyclists at junctions and cause needless delay and frustration for vehicles. The coned-off areas have been there for more than two years and are an acknowledged waste of time in terms of the number of cyclists using them. There has already been a consultation and now there’s to be another. We have made a Freedom of Information Act request enquiring how much this whole daft process has cost so far.

Now Trafford has acknowledged the ridiculous nature of the coned cycling nonsense and will make some initial and welcome changes. 

Apparently, the eventual “objective will include removing the cones, introducing lightly segregated cycle lanes in each direction (between 1.5m and 2.0m wide), and removing existing uncontrolled crossings. (Plus) the introduction of two new zebra crossings and shortening the right turn lane on the A56 Bridgewater Way junction approach.”

Sadly they want to start another consultation over this. Why? Dear Trafford Council, there is no need for another delaying consultation, just have traffic experts in and include Walk Ride GM and get on with it. 

Pioneer Quay From The Other Side Of The Rochdale Canal
Pioneer Quay in decay Image: Confidential

Pioneer Quay – more news

Last week we wrote this piece decrying the awful, nay disgusting, state of Pioneer Quay in the supposed showpiece area of Castlefield in the city centre. The owners, Transport for Greater Manchester, apologised and said they would clean it up by the end of this week. We’ll have a check to see if that happens but we also asked how frequently maintenance would be given going forward and if they would work with locals who might want to help make Pioneer Quay pleasant. 

These are the welcome answers. A spokesperson for TfGM said: "We will endeavour to undertake regular visits to the site and take action where necessary. We are also happy to work with members of the local community who might want to take a more active role in looking after Pioneer Quay during this interim period until the long-term plans for the site have been confirmed.”  

Steve Rouse Picture Manchester Ship Canal Path
Steve Rouse's picture taken on a rundown Manchester Ship Canal path Image: Steve Rouse

Scruffy can be good

One reader who read the Pioneer Quay piece, Steve Rouse, responded on Twitter with “There can be something rather magnificent about disrepair though.” Confidentials agrees but not in showpiece places such as Castlefield and as for the picture Steve included from the Manchester Ship Canal path in Ordsall, well, we’ve heard of mint tea but not mint…

And..starting the totally false business rumour

FC United have put in a bid to buy Manchester United after the latter was put up for sale. A spokesperson for FC United didn't say, "At last the Glazers are leaving for the right price. We started this club to protest at the Glazers' take-over so now it's time for us to take back control. We'll be collecting for the £4bn pounds required on Moston Lane between 11am and 2pm this Saturday."

Read next: Pioneer Quay, where cans of Stella Artois go to die

Read again: The A56 cycling lane: 'a scheme that satisfies no one'

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