Controversial plans to close Manchester’s Library Walk between 10pm and 6am have been approved by the Planning Inspectorate
Although Manchester City Council won planning approval for the glass and steel structure in October 2012 - part of the wider overhaul of Manchester’s Grade II*-listed Town Hall Extension and Central Library - the authority never extinguished the original public right of way.
An inquiry into the plans has now ruled that Manchester City Council’s planning permission for the SimpsonHaugh and Partners’ intervention, which allowed the closure of the walkway at night, should stand.
The Planning Inspectorate called the hearing following hundreds of objections to the covered link between St Peter’s Square and Mount Street.
The objectors to the scheme included the Open Spaces Society, The Twentieth Century Society, Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group, the Manchester Modernist Society and Friends of Library Walk, and staff from both Manchester School of Architecture and Liverpool School of Architecture.
Manchester City Council welcomed the Inspectorate’s decision.
‘We are pleased that the planning inspector has found in our favour. We firmly believe that this link building transforms an underused - and sometimes abused - shortcut into a welcoming walkway and a clear and visible entrance connecting Central Library with the Town Hall extension in one integrated complex’, said a spokesperson for the council.
A spokesperson for SimpsonHaugh and Partners added: ‘We are pleased that the issues relating to the stopping up order have now been resolved. The practice looks forward to the completion of the Library Walk link building, to the hoardings being removed, the link building being opened and Library Walk being reopened to the public in the near future.’
But campaign group Friends of Library Walk said it was ‘disappointed’ by the decision.
In a statement, the group, said: ‘We are also deeply concerned about the precedent it sets regarding the enclosure of public space. Manchester City Council granted itself planning permission and proceeded to build over a public right of way despite clear opposition from residents.
‘We have always felt their justifications for doing this were spurious, and it is frustrating The Planning Inspectorate were unable to give weight to many of the issues we raised. These included concerns over equality and access by Manchester Disabled Peoples Access Group. Experts in architecture and heritage including The Twentieth Century Society and Manchester Modernist Society provided testimony about the importance of the world class architectural merit of Library Walk.’
Local architect Emma Curtin, who works at the University of Liverpool and gave evidence at the inquiry, added: ‘Library Walk was the finest public space in Manchester. Your readers can make their own judgements about the new link building but losing the Right of Way through this special place is certainly detrimental to the city.
‘The inspector makes reference to the fact that public access will still be allowed to what remains of Library Walk, but this is not guaranteed. It is only protected by a planning condition which could be changed in the future, for example restricting the hours of use or preventing public access during commercial functions. Ultimately, we have lost the right to use this beautiful space.’