I'm going to risk a bit more controversy but getting my defence in first, let me say that I would be the first to acknowledge that, as city centre Councillor Kevin Peel put it at the last meeting of the Economy Scrutiny Committee, Piccadilly Gardens is in desperate need of some tlc. I do though still find this week's Manchester Evening News petition on the subject somewhat curious.
Their coverage of their own petition talks about the City Council now having to debate the issue. That seems to imply that the City Council needs to be forced to discuss Piccadilly Gardens thus ignoring the fact, which I'm sure that the M.E.N is aware of, that this was discussed by Councillors just a week and a half ago, in public, as part of the Economy Scrutiny Committee's consideration of the City Centre Strategic Plan ( still available to view on the Council website ). As a consequence it will already be before the next Council meeting and open for further discussion.
The M.E.N also called for the gardens to be restored to their former glory. Now I can't go back to the fifties as I only moved to Manchester in 1979. The gardens then occupied a smaller area with traffic on all four sides. The north side had some dire toilets and the A6 running past. On the west side there was a parks department depot. There was no screening from the traffic which would have been even more polluting than it is now and, as the photos show, there never seemed to be many people in the sunken garden - even before the drunks took over.
There are of course things in the 2002 makeover that haven't worked out as intended. The raised beds have never provided the floral colour we expected. The maintenance hasn't been up to scratch, it's taken far too long to repair the fountains, and even those of us that like the Ando pavilion have to admit this is a view that is not universally shared. However, as Councillor Pat Karney said in the discussion at Economy Scrutiny, although the gardens do need investment, if anything, since 2002 they have been a victim of their own success. An unused space has become an overused space. The reason the paper can show pictures of bare earth where there should be grass is that the gardens are now phenomenally well used.
Lastly, I can't help but think there is a slightly cynical element in the petition. As Councillor Karney has said, the Council has heard the complaints and criticism and fully intends to respond positively to them. The M.E.N know the Council has been working for some time with the new owner of the pavilion to develop an improvement plan for the gardens. They know that sooner rather than later that planning work will lead to firm proposals and then my guess is that they will want to claim the credit for what would have happened anyway.