MIPIM | Jury still out on St Michael’s, says Bernstein

“It is right and perfectly legitimate that we have the debate about whether the buildings at St Michael’s are of sufficient quality to justify the scale, and any disbenefits on the view or impact on surrounding heritage buildings,” stressed Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council.

In an interview with Place North West on the first day of the MIPIM conference in Cannes, Bernstein was firm that “the jury’s still out” on whether the two towers proposed by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs’ development company at historic Jackson’s Row and Bootle Street near the Town Hall were appropriate.

Bernstein defended the need for buildings of height at the plot, but was insistent that the debate should be kept around the issue of design.

“It’s very easy to focus on just ‘two big buildings’. But you need to understand the essence of St Michael’s, we have an opportunity to demonstrate the market for high net worth housing, which I think is going to become very important for the future of the city centre.

“But the question is, is the development of sufficient quality to justify any disbenefits that someone might get looking at the building from St Ann’s Square, or Deansgate, and I think that’s where the debate should be held, and we’ve got to make a determination about that. We need to understand the rationale for those buildings as part of the growth of the city centre, then ask ourselves ‘is that building of sufficient quality?’

“That set of issues is very real, and we’ve got to allow our planning department to make the right judgment based on the right advice, and at the moment I think the jury’s still out. It might well be our planning officers conclude the buildings aren’t right.

“You need to weigh the benefits against the disbenefits of any scheme, and where St Michael’s is concerned, that analysis is not yet complete. Whatever decision the planning committee reaches, as long as it is objective and evidentially based, will be supported by me.”

Momentum has been gathering against the project, designed by Make Architects. The two bronze-clad buildings proposed at St Michael’s reach 21-storeys and 31-storeys, and have been criticised for being too tall for the city centre site, interrupting views across the city of key civic buildings. A planning application for the project has been submitted, which includes artist’s impressions of the towers looming over Central Library and the Town Hall.

When asked for his view on whether that view would be damaging for the city centre, Bernstein said: “Look at the Tower of London, with the Gherkin behind it, you wouldn’t say that’s outrageous. The Gherkin is a wonderful building, and the juxtaposition between old and new is what successful cities have managed to do in the past.

“It’s right and perfectly legitimate we have a debate about whether the buildings being put in St Michael’s are of a high enough quality to be able to justify that scale. But let’s not have the debate that we shouldn’t have buildings of scale because somehow they distort the view of the Town Hall or Central Library.”

With the “high end” target audience for the apartments and five-star hotel proposed at St Michael’s, is there a risk that a scheme is created that excludes many Manchester residents?

“We need all types of housing, which we are delivering in the spatial framework. Of course we need more social housing, but we also need places where high net-worth people want to live, as that’s key to how you attract talent and skills into the city.

“The notion that the alternative to St Michael’s is a high rise social housing development, clearly is nonsensical.”

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What a ridiculous statement using The Gherkin as a comparison. The Gherkin is an iconic, unique building amongst other high quality tall buildings which indeed compliments the surrounding historical architecture. Neville’s towers are cheap, ugly and are a complete disgrace of a design compared to anything that is built in central London.

By David

The jury has returned its verdict, but the judge is poised to overrule.

By Jonty

I’m sure after a few cocktails with Gary and the moneymen all concerns will disappear

By Nordyne

I take most issue with the treatment of the buildings at street level. The whole development is completely turned in on itself, the interaction with the surrounding network of streets is terrible. Some consideration of basic design principles isn’t too much to ask. Neville can still fill the block with whatever luxury dream houses he and his mates think Manchester is lacking. Just do something engaging on the ground floor for the peasants to enjoy as we walk past.

By Anonymous

Unsure how objective the planning officers and committee can be when the council has already approved the SRF (which will have been worked up by the developers in conjunction with the council) and both Sir Howard and Sir Richard have openly courted the Singaporean investors.

This is the typical top-down model used to great success in Manchester over many years. Great, that is for property firms, less great for ordinary citizens who experience that effects of poor design for years afterwards (One Piccadilly / Piccadilly Gardens, I’m looking at you).

By SHB watch

This is yet another article with a bias slant from Place. Poor show from a professional magazine. This isn’t the News of the World! I think we all know the reporters views by now!

By Objective observer

The last thing we need is footballers bringing their own iconic brand of “in your face” arrogance and attitude to a planning system already mired in back patting and cronyism. Rest assured they will get whatever gaudy designs they want, for where else will the elite laugh upon the paupers from?

By QuaysMan

Agree completely with comment by Anonymous. The development is turned in on itself, with no recognition of the need for active frontages in creating interesting, lively and liveable streets. The architects/developers seem to have there heads in the sand when it comes to learning from long-standing principles of successful urban design. Make (the architects) have the honour of being shortlisted three times for the Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building of the year and yet they are being let loose in one of the most significant developments in Manchester’s history?

By Anonymous

The gherkin statement was with reference to height. He believes the height is fine. His question is about quality.

By Anonymous

What on earth is a dis-benefit?
Neville Towers would scar our city’s skyline, dwarfing our beautiful town hall and Central Library.
No thanks !

By Funny Bob

A disbenefit is a negative benefit, an ‘un-‘ benefit if you will. Dictionaries available at all good book shops.

By Rooney

‘The Gherkin’ is half a mile from the Tower of London. These proposals are 500 feet away from the Town Hall and Library. ‘Sir’ Howard quite literally needs to get some perspective….oh, and a better tailor.

By Bernstein's Comb Over

It’s a sign of how broken Manchester’s planning system is. In any number of advanced European cities this wouldn’t get past the first pre-app meeting. They would have a robust plan to promote suitably scaled development in highly sensitive locations like this, with clustered tall buildings in appropriate locations further out next to public transport hubs. Instead we get favouritism for certain applicants and design teams, unbridled greed and egomania.

By Gene Walker

The problem is that the façade is just disgusting.

Can you make the building neater please ? Maybe a nice reflective glass façade would do.

By Jk

Very candid from SHB to give these quotes at this stage. The problem with having a debate now is that the application is in. So, the debate is between him, the case officer and committee members presumably.
Whichever way the decision goes on this one, it raises lots of questions regarding process and engagement.

By Bob Allatt

Manchester Evening News suggests it’s for 6 months, to allow “refinement” and “fine tuning” – i.e. not for any fundamental change. That would require a fresh planning application.

By Lesley

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