Developer's CGI of proposed scheme

MIPIM UK: Bernstein defends St Michael’s as Ingall and Leahy wade in

While Manchester City Council’s chief executive continued to back the proposed £200m city centre project as “appropriate”, prominent developers have taken to Twitter to call St Michael’s “horrible” and “utterly wrong”.

The council is development partner in the St Michael’s scheme planned for Bootle Street, working with former footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, and developer Brendan Flood.

The 700,000 sq ft mixed-use project proposed for the site off Albert Square was initially controversial due to plans to demolish all historic buildings on site. Since detailed designs by Make Architects were revealed showing two black-clad towers of 21 and 31 storeys, criticism against the scheme has grown due to its scale so close to civic buildings such as the Town Hall and Central Library.

Speaking to Place North West at the MIPIM UK conference in London, Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, stressed that St Michael’s “does not have planning permission yet, and there will be a process that will be discharged fully and properly.”

However, “while I’m not here to defend the details of St Michael’s”, Bernstein said that the council’s plans for tall buildings on the site had been in the offing for some time.

“We made a commitment that we would develop this site 18 months ago in a regeneration framework. Our starting point was that the area is a major failure, it’s underwhelming and there’s hardly any reason for people to walk past.

“I do believe the development is appropriate in principle. We always said that to deliver on our ambitions and objectives we need buildings of scale.”

Meanwhile, city centre developers Michael Ingall, chief executive of Allied London, and Morgan Leahy, prominent investor and developer, took to Twitter this morning to criticise the project. Ingall described St Michael’s as “strategically, utterly wrong”, while Leahy said the project was “horrible… completely wrong and huge overdevelopment”. Their comments were backed by HIMOR Group execeutive chairman Will Ainscough who also said he was “saddened” by several PRS projects underway in Manchester.

Manchester City Council is both St Michael’s development partner, and the authority deciding on the planning application, due to be submitted in the coming weeks. When asked if this created a conflict of interest, Bernstein responded: “The planning services are very open, rigorous and robust. The council declared from the start, even before there were investors on board, that this would be an opportunity for tall buildings.

“If we are going to be a sustainable city, we need high density. That doesn’t apply everywhere, but we have checks and balances in place.”

Plans for St Michael’s include a 200-bedroom, five-star hotel, 153 one, two and three-bed apartments and penthouses, 135,000 sq ft of office space and 30,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space, including two new elevated bars/restaurants, and public realm.

The project is being funded by a £150m consortium deal with Singaporean-based Rowsley and Beijing Construction Engineering Group.

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