Landscape architect Gillespies has been appointed to redesign Rochdale’s Town Hall Square as part of a planned £3m investment in public realm around the town centre.
The work on Town Hall Square is part of a wider restoration project for the Town Hall itself.
Emerging proposals include the removal of the road and parking in front of the Town Hall and the creation of pockets of greenery to create a large outdoor space, designed to be multi-functional and accommodate large-scale events.
The plans cover the whole of Town Hall Square, including the esplanade, the area behind the town hall up to Packer Spout Gardens, and sections to the side, including the island where the Gracie Fields statue was recently unveiled.
A major aim of the project is to better connect the Town Hall with the grade one-listed cenotaph and memorial gardens, as well as other heritage and cultural points in the town, such as the river re-opening and Touchstones museum.
Jim Gibson, partner at Gillespies, said: “Many years ago, I visited the Town Hall as a young student and remember being wowed by the architecture, but frustrated by the setting of it in a sea of tarmac. As soon as this commission was launched, I saw the potential of the project in repositioning the town and with our practice’s successful portfolio of delivering large scale transformational public change, I knew that we would be an ideal partner.”
The Town Hall Square scheme is part of a project to restore the Town Hall following a successful round one bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £8.9m. The entire project, which will see around £16m invested in the building through match-funding from the council, involves the restoration of historic features, including the Magna Carta mural and stained glass windows, as well as making the building more accessible and opening the historic library on the second floor as a public space.
Other ideas Gillespies has put forward for Town Hall Square include designs in sections of the paving which mirror the motifs inside the Town Hall, symbols which reflect Rochdale’s historic role in the expansion of the global textile industry.
Cllr John Blundell, cabinet member for regeneration at Rochdale Council, said: “We’ve always been clear that our heritage assets, which we’re lucky to have in abundance in Rochdale, will be a major driver for our continued £400m regeneration programme.
“Town centres are changing fast. We’re developing our retail offer, but stand out public spaces, where people can come and spend time, whether it be at events, visitor attractions like the town hall or in our many cafes and restaurants, are incredibly important.
“What we’ve got in the Town Hall is something really special, probably the best civic building in the country, and I’m confident that Gillespies can help us create something in Town Hall Square which will compete with the best public spaces in Europe.”
More than 60 firms expressed an interest in the Town Hall Square project, with eight being shortlisted before Gillespies were selected.
The architects for the Town Hall will be appointed in February, alongside the activity planner and exhibition designers. Cost managers and civil engineers are already on board. The entire project is due for completion in 2023.
The initial ideas for Town Hall Square will go out to public consultation in the summer.