Heron House Demolition Comment Piece 1

COMMENT | Demolish Heron House to make the most of Manchester

Comments (28)

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

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A big square would only attract pigeons and footy fans, as well as making the German Market 9 times bigger.

By Noel G

Never gonna happen. Way to expensive.


Ridiculous idea. The Council make far too much money from sub letting Heron House.

By Steve

Really good idea; I’m ever hopeful for more and better quality public space in our city

By Bradford

Excellent vision for the City

By MancMan

I agree with Ed Howe. Brazenose Street and Lincoln Square are a mess, an unattractive alleyway of mis-matched urban clutter. The City Council’s plans for the iconic Albert Square, whilst welcome, lack imagination and and exciting vision – given the huge sums being spent on the wonderful Town Hall. The buildings which flank Albert Square on the western side are awful 1980’s blocks – dull and uninspiring (and a poor replacement for the far more attractive Victorian buildings demolished to make way for them. The john Rylands is one of Manchester’s most historic and striking buildings, Abraham Lincoln is US President we can celebrate (and we must not forget the Lancashire Cotton Famine), whilst close to or adjacent to the small and seedy square that bears his name are some quite attractive Victorian buildings – on a ‘human scale’. Yes, demolish Heron House, and open up a striking corridor between Albert Square and Deansgate/John Rylands. Let’s do something REALLY visionary with this historic area.

By Roy G Chapman

Rarely read an article I agree with more. Think big.

By Paul T

more space more dossers and beggers

By william morrissey

Funniest article I have read for a while. Some nice dreams but with no basis in property reality.

By Reality

This is the kind of thinking which would make Manchester a greater dominant force as Englands 2nd city. We need to move away from letting developers (well certain developers), and their design teams, do pretty much as they wish, for no tangible benifit to those who have had Manchester as our home for many decades. Time for a new Manchester Plan, and meaninful consultation.

By Ray

Great, just another area for spicehead junkies and homeless people to set up camp at night, just what Manchester needs!

By Spicey

Socially i applaud this, our cities are vast becoming a obscure mish-mash of designs and styles from deferent eras, many of which detract more than add. This type of engineered open space combined with new replacement buildings over a larger area specificalyl for social and aesthetic purpose in conjunction with the town hall would look great.

Will it happen? never.

By Anonymous

The walk between St Peters Square and Spinningfields is in dire need of improvement! If there is no way a tram line can stop in Manchester’s premier office location, there should at least be an attractive route in order to get there. Imagine how successful shops and cafes along this wide boulevard style open space would be! And imagine the vast premiums that could be obtained from the land surrounding it for more modern, taller office buildings.

By AnRog

Who’s gonna pay?

By SimCity

Great article and a great idea. As you say, a once in a generation opportunity.

By Steve B

If Brazennose House was demolished then that would open up opportunities for improved north-south connectivity across the city potentially linking Lincoln Square with St Anne’s Square and Cathedral Gardens.

By Tom Jonson - LUC

great idea!

By Matt

Similar to the idea put forward in the City of Manchester Plan of 1945 (you can see an illustrative image on plate 81, p.295, here: https://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/m.dodge/plans/1945-City_of_Manchester_Plan.pdf) here, and still a very worthwhile one. Glad we’re minded to save the Town Hall now, though – knocking it down for a more modish 1940s version would have been rather sad.

By Josh

Someone I know once said ‘I’d rather cut my arms off than work in Heron House’ -I agree. A great idea! This area of the city would do well to be re-imagined as vibrant public space. Ignore the naysayers!

By Adam Ash

This seems like a fantastic idea. Should be looked at in greater depth. Forward planning for a bright future.

By Nic McCoy

Opening up that area would provide balance to the high rise developments going on. Keep the Rising Sun as an example of good old fashioned pub, give it a beer garden.
As for football fans, the city has the Premiership winners, attracts a lot of tourists to the city who spend a lot of money.
As for the German market, if you don’t like it don’t go there, brings income to the city.
Let’s go for it!

By Lesley Lancelott

Great idea. Open vistas with something attractive
at the ends of them are the difference between great cities and provincial ones. I’m as skeptical as everyone else about its probability of happening though.


Fully in favour of this, Heron House is fairly inoffensive in isolation but sat opposite one of Manchester’s finest buildings it looks dreadful. This idea of demolishing Heron House and opening up the space down to Deansgate is something I’ve thought about for years. If only MCC had the vision required to pull this off.

By Rodger

Generous public space (squares, gardens, small parks) and not lego office blocks, shops, eateries. What are you trying to do? Turn Manchester city center into a mainland Europe-style human-scale liveable city? Surely wealth-extraction is what a city is for? Do not post-Thatcherites tell us: There is so such thing as community. Free space not earning revenue? Sounds like Communism to me.

By James Yates

This is indeed a terrific idea.This could also be done at Piccadilly Gardens as it is beyond redemption as a park now.I agree with Roy totally.With the right materials it could be awesome.It would be flanked by St Michaels too which I know some hate but would create something similar to what the Americans are very good at,combining old and new.Manchester town hall is arguably the greatest civic building in the country and it has never been fully appreciated because of its neighbours.

By Elephant

The space that is Albert Square is perfect as it is for the setting of the Town Hall. The current treatment of landscaping and finishes are poor and I fear will not be much better in the latest proposals.
What works well (if you ignore the trees) is the ‘arrival’ into the square from any of Mount St, Southmill St, Lloyd St, Brazennose St, John Dalton St, or Cross St and the framed views of the main facade of the Town Hall. Bruntwood’s polite remodelling of Comercial Union House is to be praised in not being too brash in this sensitive location while Heron House, although no beauty, again currently defers to the main event. The current remodelling of Herron House will undermine this and is a retrograde move.
The current proportion of the square and the height of the enclosing buildings works wel to largely obscure the ever increasing number of towers surrounding the city. Whether St Michaels will undermine this remains to be seen but the problems with that scheme are equally that it doesn’t work well in its own right as that it will inappropriately dominate the civic centre of the city.
Albert Square should remain a dignified ‘Civic’ Square, Lincoln Square should be a buzzing square, and although I fear it is too late, maintain its cross linkages through to Lloyd St and John Dalton St.
What is really disappointing in the city is that where new development is being delivered, such as Spinningfields and the imminent redevelopment of Northern Goods Warehouse, while a lot of public realm is being delivered it is poor quality (spatially) and not adding memorable ‘places’ to the city.
Let’s preserve the good spaces we have, as they are, until we can show we can deliver equally successful new ones.

By Patrick Franks

@Patrick Franks.

Have you seen the arrival from John Dalton St recently. The cctv pole completely obscures the view of town hall clock and then there are associated black boxes blocking pedestrian access to the square. Unbelievable that it was allowed to be erected, hope it gets moved under the proposals.

By Rob Hardwick

This idea is a good one – but it’s not new – there was a plan decades ago to link a tree line boulevard stretching across Deansgate from the Town Hall down to the Manchester Crown Court building. But you know our The Manchester Coucils appetite for the aesthetically beautiful fell on stony ground where this plan was concerned – showing a complete lack of foresight and a tragic lost opportunity. Manchester is littered with mundane and grey ulititarian architecture…….Very sad for the city.

By Rodders