Architect Stephen Hodder said Historic England’s view on the revised planning application for St Michael’s held “no surprises” but marked “great progress”, despite the heritage body writing it would be “unable to support” the refreshed proposals for the £200m project.
Speaking to Place North West, Hodder said it was “great progress” that Historic England now considered the proposals to have “less than substantial harm” after the organisation argued the previous iteration, designed by architect Make and featuring two towers, should be refused.
“We’d had a pre-application letter so we knew what [Historic England] were going to say, but the letter effectively pushes back to the city to say ‘it’s up to you’”, he said.
The refreshed proposals by Hodder + Partners, revealed last summer, are for a single 39-storey lozenge-shaped tower, clad in bronze anodized aluminium.
Historic England’s letter, published today, said the proposed tower would have “a significant harmful impact on a number of highly graded listed buildings”, but added: “We acknowledge that the site has a potentially significant role to play in the regeneration of this part of Manchester.
“We have always recognised the need for enhancement of this particular area of the city centre, particularly in terms of providing connectivity through the block and more activity along the building edges.
“The proposed new development would in some ways enhance the character and appearance of the conservation area by creating new routes and active edges in a failing and impenetrable area.”
Hodder said the letter made clear the city council should weigh the public benefits of the scheme against the harm to Albert Square, and added there had been significant progress between the two iterations of the project, with Historic England now no longer raising concerns about the scheme’s impact on St Ann’s Square.
Hodder said that while Historic England did not support the proposals on heritage grounds, the letter showed its support “in a whole raft of other ways,” and argued that the scheme would in fact enhance the conservation area.
Designs are at RIBA stage 2 and will be progressed once the consultation closes on 31 January. The St Michael’s team is aiming to have the project discussed by Manchester’s planning committee on 8 March, and Hodder said the team would “like to be on site this year.”
“The key thing is that Historic England say there is ‘less than substantial’ harm caused by the project and [the letter] is really an outcome of our collaboration with them over five meetings,” he said.
The Abercromby pub and the façade of the Bootle Street police station will also be retained as part of the revised plans.
The previous scheme designed by Make included two high-rise black-clad towers as well as the demolition of the police station and the pub.
Overall, the revised St Michael’s scheme is slated to provide 189 apartments; 216 hotel bedrooms; nearly 150,000 sq ft of office space; retail and restaurant space, and a new synagogue.
The St Michael’s partnership is made up of directors and ex-footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, Manchester City Council, developer Brendan Flood, Singaporean funder Rowsley, and Beijing Construction Engineering Group. Zerum is planning advisor.