Manchester has the potential to host a public space bigger than Trafalgar Square, writes Ed Howe of Urbinfo. All we have to do to make it happen is to flatten two of the city’s most prominent office blocks. Would it be worth it?
Manchester City Council announced last week that they plan to pedestrianise the collar of roads surrounding Albert Square to expand the space by up to 20%. In May, a planning application was submitted to redevelop nearby Lincoln Square, which is currently a short-cut with a random jumble of benches, oddly-placed lamp posts, a car park which dominates the space, and a statue of Abraham Lincoln.
There’s also a plethora of commercial redevelopment schemes underway in the area as the success of Spinningfields slowly expands into the traditional core of the city.
But while the plans for Lincoln and Albert Squares are fine, I can’t help but think that this area has a lot more potential than it currently lets on. Manchester has multiple squares, but Albert Square is arguably our greatest square due to the great building which bookends it. But even with 20% extra room it will still be a cramped and cluttered space, not large enough to appreciate the full beauty of Alfred Waterhouse’s masterpiece. We’re not making the most of one of our greatest and most iconic assets.
This seems like the perfect opportunity to join the dots and create a vast 3.6-acre open space, right in the heart of the city. For reference, Piccadilly Gardens is 2 acres, and Trafalgar Square is 3 acres.
All we need to do is flatten Heron House, which edges the south-eastern side of Albert Square, and Centurion House, which is on Deansgate, opposite the John Rylands Library. This would create a spectacular ‘mall’, opening up views of the Town Hall from Deansgate and creating the central open space that Manchester yearns for.
Of course, losing these two buildings would be a huge cost for the city. They provide nearly 200,000 sqft of prime office space right in the heart of the city, and Heron House is currently undergoing a redevelopment. Is it worth losing all of this just to open up a bit of space in the city centre?
There is already much more than 200,000 sq ft of office space due to be delivered around Lincoln Square at the new Brazennose House, Worthington Group’s 125 Deansgate and the redevelopment of Trinity Court on John Dalton Street.
Closer to Deansgate and Spinningfields, a collection of worn-out office buildings provide the opportunity for some height to create a strong urban edge to the new square and complement the nearby St Michael’s tower. Height should be limited towards the Albert Square frontage, but in total there is potential for at least another 300,000 sq ft of new-build space along the southern edge of the square.
With Spinningfields, Spring Gardens and St Peter’s Square a mere skip away, this is the greatest opportunity we’ll have for a generation to produce a prime new business district for Manchester, and a focal point for tourists, accentuating two of the city’s greatest architectural assets – the Town Hall and John Rylands Library.
Ed Howe is the founder of Urbinfo Manchester, which produces data and statistics on property and construction in the city