Architect Stephen Hodder has hit back at heritage campaigner Save over a report outlining its objections to Manchester’s St Michael’s proposals, criticising the “extraordinary” conclusions and “a lack of dialogue” from the organisation.
Save issued the letter earlier this month, and argued a series of public benefits put forward by the developers have been “exaggerated” and “not backed up by evidence”.
The campaigners argued the development’s proposed 40-storey tower would “totally dominate the whole of central Manchester in an extremely detrimental manner,” and that it would “diminish the role” of heritage assets including the Town Hall.
“In our view, the very significant degree of harm caused by the proposal far outweighs any potential public benefits from the scheme,” said the group.
The report was commissioned by Save and written by Alec Forshaw, planning consultant and former head of heritage at the London Borough of Islington.
“Given that the proposed new buildings are completely alien in terms of their scale and materials within the context of the Peter Street/Deansgate Conservation Area, Save considers that the development is not of the highest architectural quality,” said Forshaw’s report.
Forshaw also added the provision of Grade A office space “is not in itself a public benefit” and also added the scheme’s housing proposals were “not a public benefit” as “there is no provision of social housing in the scheme”.
However, speaking to Place North West, St Michael’s architect Stephen Hodder criticised the group for “a lack of dialogue” with the developers and said it was “quite extraordinary” that Save had chosen to object on public benefit grounds.
“There are pages and pages of public benefits set out in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and I’m not sure if [Save] has digested the planning application fully,” he said.
“We have never denied the impact of the scheme on Albert Square, but it’s remarkable that Save has come to their conclusion when other parties haven’t.”
Public benefits highlighted by the project team, made up of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Brendan Flood, Manchester City Council, Beijing Construction Engineering Group and Singaporean investor Rowsley, alongside planner Zerum and Hodder + Partners, include:
- An estimated construction value of £135m and the creation of 500 construction jobs
- The provision of Manchester’s first purpose-built five-star hotel
- A contribution of £32.7m over ten years to public sector finances through business rates
- Strengthening of pedestrian routes between Albert Square, Deansgate, and Spinningfields
- Replacement of the current Manchester Reform Synagogue which is “not fit for purpose”
Alongside Save, other objections to the scheme have been received from the Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society, and Manchester Civic Society, while Historic England said it would be “unable to support” the application on heritage grounds.
However, Hodder said the Historic England response to the proposals was “far more appropriate” than Save’s, coming after five separate consultations.
“I would argue Historic England are far more qualified and far more measured in their response to the proposals, as they recognise the benefits by restoring active frontages, the retention of the pub, and of the police station,” he said.
Manchester City Council’s planning committee will discuss the proposals on 8 March, with the scheme listed as “minded to approve” by planning officers, subject to a response by the Secretary of State.
In concluding their report, officers said the judgment was finely balanced, “as the impacts on the historic environment are high, as are the public benefits”.
Hodder added the city’s planning department “did not take the decision [to recommend the scheme for approval] lightly” given the high profile of the scheme and its history, but said there had been extensive discussions with the Council over the course of the project’s development.
“We have spent a huge amount of time in dialogue with Historic England and Manchester City Council and the proposed scheme is the result of constructive contributions from all parties.”
Henrietta Billings, director of Save, said: “Given that councillors on the planning committee will be weighing up these claimed ‘public’ benefits over the massive and irreversible heritage impact of this scheme, it is hugely important that these assertions are scrutinised closely.
“This is a fantastically sensitive part of Manchester – and the existing buildings on the site could be adapted and sensitively extended to accommodate a range of modern, attractive uses – without a 40 storey tower crashing into the historic core of the city.”
Overall, the proposals include a 216-bedroom five-star hotel, 147,690 sq ft of offices and 189 apartments, conferencing facilities, a synagogue, restaurants and a public square.
St Michael’s declined to comment. Save’s report can be read in full here.