Planning officers at Manchester City Council have recommended approval for Hodder + Partners’ controversial St Michael’s skyscraper scheme in Manchester
A report ahead of a meeting of the planning and highways committee next week (8 March) said councillors should be ‘minded to approve’ the project, which is backed by former footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, despite a significant number of objections.
Conservation bodies have raised a series of concerns about the impact on the surrounding area of the scheme, which was significantly reworked following the departure of the previous architect Make last summer.
Earlier this year both SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society hit out at Hodder’s reworked 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.
Even so, the planning report said: ‘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.’
Planners 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.’
The report noted, however, that housing secretary Sajid Javid was expected to consider calling-in the high-rise scheme, which is close to Manchester town hall.
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’.
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE:
’Given that councillors on the planning committee will be weighing up the claimed public benefits over the massive and irreversible heritage impact of this scheme, it is hugely important that these assertions are scrutinised closely. This is a fantastically sensitive part of Manchester – and the existing buildings on the site could be adapted and sensitively extended to accommodate a range of modern, attractive uses – without a 40-storey tower crashing into the historic core of the city.’
Stephen Hodder of Hodder + Partners
‘I think the report to committee is a very balanced one. We have always acknowledged the impact of the proposals on the setting of the heritage assets within the civic core. But in turn the report acknowledges the considered response from Historic England that the cumulative impact of the proposals would be less than significant, and that their regenerative qualities would enhance the conservation area. I’m pleased it recognises that the public benefits would outweigh the harm.’
Hodder st michaels manchester gary neville (4)