Grade 1-listed Manchester Town Hall is in such a rundown condition that the council could be forced to close its doors unless repair works are carried out, according to a report.
A survey commissioned by the council found more than 54,000 parts of the 1877 building fabric required attention, of which 40% require immediate repair or replacement, which would rise to 85% within five years if action was not taken.
The options considered were:
- Do nothing. Not carrying out works beyond unplanned repairs would see the building slide into disrepair with spaces becoming unusable and unsafe. Mothballing and its ultimate closure would become a possibility.
- Essential. Works to prevent the decline of the building, ensure it meets legal standards and keep spaces usable. While resolving the building’s internal issues such as the electrics, heating and plumbing and addressing decay, this option would not significantly improve public access or make a difference which people visiting the Town Hall would notice. This option would also lack flexibility for future improvements. The estimated cost for essential works is £250m.
- Preferred option – Upgrade to modern office standards including commercial space. Improve access to the building and services, bringing all spaces up to modern standards while restoring key heritage features and protecting others. The estimated cost for this option, including works to create commercial opportunities which would help offset the cost, is £330m.
- Comprehensive – full restoration and commercial. Bringing offices up to modern standards while completely restoring all heritage features to their original conditions and materials. It is estimated that this option would exceed £400m. This has been rejected already as too expensive unless major outside funding is secured.
A progress report will be considered by the council’s executive on Wednesday 27 July and before that by its resources and governance scrutiny committee on Thursday 21 July.
The council spent £100m restoring the Central Library and Town Hall Extension between 2010 and 2014.
At the Town Hall, it found that electrics, plumbing, heating, ventilation and lift installations were in poor condition, reflecting their age. As they are embedded in the fabric of the building, replacing them will involve significant building works.
The surveys also found that the condition of the building’s stonework, windows and roof is also deteriorating and will require intervention. The Town Hall also suffers from poor insulation and energy efficiency.
The building is also currently underused, with wasted space in areas such as the basement and a comparatively low ratio of staff to office space. From August there will be only 250 staff in the Town Hall, as some staff have had to be moved on a precautionary basis out of areas where surveys had identified that remedial works are required.
The estimated £330m cost includes improving Albert Square to ensure it can remain a focal point for popular events such as the Christmas Markets, Manchester International Festival, City Games and events celebrating Manchester sporting successes.
A Heritage Management Plan has been developed to ensure that the building’s heritage features are protected and that any changes to the listed building respect its character.
Cllr Bernard Priest, deputy leader, said: “The Town Hall is an icon of Manchester, conceived by our Victorian forbears as a proud symbol of the city’s confidence and cherished by Mancunians ever since. We’re calling this project Our Town Hall because it belongs to us all. But it’s almost 140 years old and it is seriously showing its age. If we don’t act we will have to stop using, and start mothballing, significant parts of this much-loved building sooner rather than later. Ultimately it would have to close altogether. Such a situation would be unthinkable.
“Instead we need to seize the opportunity to safeguard it for current and future generations, make the building and its treasures more accessible to Mancunians and visitors alike and bring it up to modern access and safety standards. These benefits will be felt for many decades to come. We also need to make better use of its spaces and enhance Albert Square.”
As well as commercial office accommodation, potential options include a small boutique hotel and a gymnasium.
The plan will be considered alongside the council’s full capital strategy and three-year revenue budget for 2017-2020.
It is intended that contractors to deliver the scheme will be appointed in the first half of 2017 with investigative works starting in 2018 and repair works starting in 2019 and concluding in 2023.
A final decision is expected to be taken in the autumn.