Councillors have voted in favour of Hodder + Partners’ controversial St Michael’s skyscraper scheme in Manchester.
Members of the local authority’s Planning and Highways Committee acted in line with planning officer recommendation and said they were ‘minded to approve’ the high-profile project close to Manchester town hall.
The proposals – backed by former Manchester United footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs – will now go to housing secretary Sajid Javid for a final decision.
Today’s (8 March) green light came despite objections from conservation bodies about the impact on the surrounding area of Hodder’s high-rise scheme, which was significantly reworked following the departure of the previous architect Make last summer.
A ‘delighted’ Neville said: ‘We are hopeful that the secretary of state will endorse [the council’s] decision and allow us to work towards delivering this prestigious mixed-use scheme of the highest quality within a strategic location that is in need of regeneration.
‘St Michael’s will set new standards in design and quality of accommodation which will reinforce the city’s position both nationally and internationally.’
Earlier this year, both SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society hit out at Hodder’s revised design with its 134.5m-tall centrepiece tower while Historic England said it was also ‘unable to support’ the proposals.
Meanwhile, more than 90 per cent of the 191 public responses received by the council were classed as objections.
The planning report concluded: ‘This is a finely balanced judgement as the impacts on the historic environment are high as are the public benefits. Having considered all of these matters very carefully, officers do believe that these public benefits would outweigh the significant harm that would occur.’
Planning officers said the proposals represented ‘an opportunity to address an identified need for a prestigious mixed-use scheme of the highest quality at a strategic location in the heart of the city centre’.
They added: ‘The uses proposed would make an important contribution to the economic growth of the city.’
Responding to the council’s decision, SAVE director Henrietta Billings said: ‘This is not the end of the story. Ourselves, along with the other conservation bodies, will be asking Sajid Javid for a full call-in.
‘This is such a controversial application on such a sensitive site that it needs independent scrutiny through a public enquiry.’
She added: ‘This is a 40-storey tower crashing into the heart of a conservation area. The rules were drawn up exactly to protect areas from schemes like this.
‘In terms of sensitivity [and national importance], this site is right up there.’
Hodder + Partners’ lozenge-shaped design replaced a previous two-tower proposal by Ken Shuttleworth’s practice Make, which resigned from the development last summer after almost a decade working on it.
Among the changes brought in by Hodder were the retention of the historic Sir Ralph Abercromby pub and the frontage of the Neoclassical Bootle Street Police Station. Both had been scheduled to be demolished under the Make plans and, in January 2017, the police station was included in the Twentieth Century Society’s top 10 list of buildings most at risk.
However, the 1950s-built Manchester Reform Synagogue in Jackson’s Row remains earmarked for demolition, with a new synagogue to be built within the podium of the proposed tower block.
Among Hodder’s other revisions is a 2m height reduction and the repositioning of the tower to the western edge of the plot, making it less obtrusive when viewed from St Ann’s Square.
Hodder also dropped a Spanish Steps-like valley that ran through the centre of the original design up to a high-level plaza.
The planning report noted that ‘the scheme’s main architect has been appointed as executive architect during the construction phase to provide a design guardian role and to ensure that the quality design transfers into the detail of the construction’.