Historic England has warned it is ‘unable to support’ Hodder + Partners’ reworked design for the controversial St Michael’s tower scheme in Manchester, backed by former footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs
The heritage body wrote to Manchester City Council outlining its concerns about the latest version of the mixed-use St Michael’s proposal – a replacement for a much-criticised and subsequently abandoned twin-tower design by Make.
Hodder + Partners’ designs for the scheme, which include a ‘lozenge-shaped’ 134.5m-high tower, are out to consultation ahead of a planning decision later in the year.
But Historic England’s North West planning director Catherine Dewar said in her letter to the council that the government heritage watchdog had ‘concerns regarding the application’.
‘We are unable to support the application on heritage grounds due to the cumulative harm that would be caused to highly graded listed buildings,’ reads the letter.
‘The city council has to be convinced that the potential wider public benefits delivered by the development convincingly outweigh the harm caused to the significance of the heritage assets before coming to a decision.’
Hodder + Partners founder Stephen Hodder insisted the letter was encouraging as it did not constitute a formal objection and it concluded that any harm to heritage assets was ‘less than substantial’.
‘The letter does not come as a surprise as we had five consultations with Historic England and a preapplication letter so we knew the points they were making,’ he said.
‘The key phrase is that harm is less than substantial, and that is why we were encouraged by the letter, as well as the fact they told the council to demonstrate the benefits outweigh the less-than-substantial harm.’
Hodder said feedback garnered from public events had suggested a turnaround in public opinion, from 80 per cent opposing the scheme to almost 80 per cent supporting it.
He said the project had been ‘very considered and collaborative and we are hopeful that will be recognised’.
Hodder + Partners designs replaced a previous proposal by Ken Shuttleworth’s practice Make, which announced last summer it had resigned from the city centre development after almost a decade working on it.
Last year, the scheme’s developer, the St Michael’s Partnership, said the new designs changed the configuration of the single 134.5m centrepiece skyscraper into a ‘unique lozenge shape’, with a floating canopy supported by a three-storey colonnade at the crown of the building.
Collage hodder new
The partnership added that the redesign’s extensive glazing and light bronze façade provide a ‘more transparent approach’ than the previous design.
Among the changes to the reworked scheme were the retention of the historic Sir Ralph Abercromby pub and the frontage of the Neoclassical Bootle Street Police Station (1937). Both had been scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Make-designed development, 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.
The height of the scheme has been reduced by 2m and the tower’s footprint pushed to the western edge of the plot so to be less obtrusive when viewed from St Ann’s Square.
Hodder has also dropped the Spanish Steps-like valley that ran through the centre of the original design up to a high-level plaza, and significantly opened up the ground floor level.
Hodder said last year: ‘A tall building is, by its very nature, viewed in the round, it must never turn its back on the city. We have always maintained that the tower should have a north-south orientation, with residential accommodation facing east and west, presenting an elegant, “blade-like” face to St Ann’s Square. This suggested a building whose shape was narrow at the ends, and wider at its waist.’
The revised scheme would create 13,657m² of office space, 2,973m² of leisure space, 170 flats over 19 storeys, and a 200-bedroom hotel over 12 storeys.
Commenting last year, Historic England said: ‘The new masterplan, with its commitment to mixed-use development and active street frontages, is a more positive urban design response; outward looking and engaging with the street. It is therefore welcomed as a positive response.’
It added that ‘major steps have been taken to address the concerns regarding the impact of tall development on heritage assets of the highest significance’.
St Michael’s Partnership has been contacted for comment on Historic England’s latest letter.
On behalf of the St Michael’s Partnership, former England and Manchester United right-back Neville said last year: ‘We were encouraged by the generally positive response to July’s consultation and by calls from certain quarters to be bold in our ambition and create something remarkable on the city’s skyline.
‘We have kept faith with our central vision of creating a true world-class, mixed-use destination with a signature development of the highest quality, including residential living, Grade A offices, a five-star hotel, exciting retail and leisure units and unique outdoor spaces.’