Manchester City Council

Urban Density -v- Suburban Sprawl

Today's post has been prompted by Allied London's Trinity Islands planning submission but is more in response to a rather melodramatic press release from Heritage England a couple of weeks ago. Now I know this is an area where some people think I shouldn't have opinions - unless ito agree with them, but tough. And although I have no role in determining planning applications in Manchester, I do want to contest the notion that our planners have a relaxed attitude to planning in the city centre. Just talk to the architects designing here about the work they have to do to satisfy planners before they even submit an application.

The debates around the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) have largely passed the City by as they have centred on green belt, something we don't have a lot of, and what we do have is largely undevelopable. However the GMSF does propose that a very big chunk of our housing requirements will be met through high density development on brownfield sites in the Manchester and Salford central core and there is a very simple equation here. The more that our housing needs can be met by these high density developments, the less need there is to take land out of the green belt. This inevitably requires more height in the city centre (and proportionally in other town centres and district centres). If in addition we want more green/blue space in the city centre and more amenity space, that means even more height. Yes, the skyline of the city will be radically changed but that is part of how we build a more sustainable future, including conservation of our most valuable historic assets. Proposals like those for Bootle Street need to be judged in this context. 

There are parts of the City Centre where I don't think very tall buildings would be appropriate, the Northern Quarter for example, though even there I think height at the periphery is ok. This can rarely be absolutely clear cut. If I take as an example of this is the recent approval for a couple of tallish buildings at the edge of the Castlefield basin. The proposed new buildings on the former Quay Bar site are a vast improvement on the relatively modern buildings immediately adjacent and I think will work. However if they were a couple of hundred metres to the West they definitely wouldn't. 

Turning to Bootle Street, anybody who thinks that it has a character that should be retained can't ever have walked down what is in reality a pretty grotty back entry to Peter Street . I'm very fond, perhaps too fond of traditional pubs and have frequented the Abercrombie occasionally. However Heritage England's own assessment of its historic significance says that although its origins lie in the early nineteenth century, there is very little if anything of the original buildings left, there is no evidence that it was even there at the time of Peterloo, and no evidence of it having any connection with the Peterloo massacre. The former police station is redundant and empty with no conceivable future use, and the synagogue users would seem to want a better, more fit for purpose building. As for the proposed replacements, the aesthetics are always very subjective, and on that basis my opinion is no better or worse than anybody else's. However, if you walk around the site rather than looking at some of the distorted views that have appeared in the medias, I think it is very difficult to sustain an argument that tall buildings here will have a negative impact on Albert Square and the Town Hall. Of course we could always concrete over a few more fields instead.

There are 13 responses to “Urban Density -v- Suburban Sprawl”

  1. Chrissie McCall Says:

    Manchester is not just the city centre. MCC are ruining areas with their drive to build on valuable nature areas.

  2. Anon Says:

    While agreeing with the points about density and a vibrant city centre, max density is often achieved at 6 stories and empty investment flats serve no-one. Bootle St area is a problem, but there are better solutions than this cookie-cutter for overseas money hiders.

  3. Manc Says:

    It isn't the location or height that is the problem at Bootle St. It is the fact that the buildings proposed are terrible designs. They are too dense and too dark. Thinner and more glass and they might be (just) acceptable. Even then we have the poor street interaction, low likelihood of any viable activity at the top of the steps etc.

  4. franky Says:

    I agree with you no tall buildings near ancient or old buildings.we must keep the old manchester intact

  5. Julian Says:

    Another example of developer led regeneration with little or no attempt to harmonise with the surrounding area either in height or aesthetics. Manchester's regeneration can generally be applauded but more high density, prime market flats that are out of reach of the majority of Mancunians, that dominate what little public space we have is in need of a rethink. Yes the buildings around Bootle St have been neglected but they are a part of our common heritage, and with imagination and political will/leadership can form part of a more inclusive and confident regeneration scheme.

  6. Anon Says:

    You talk about green space but there is no real green space in the city centre. And MCC have never shown any interest in creating any. And just how are the public supposed to accept that MCC can be impartial when deciding on planning consent for projects of which they are a partner?

  7. David Blake Says:

    Mr Leese, the fact still remains that the council has designated the area in which St Michael's lies as a conservation area. Now, what is the point in this exercise if our designated conservation areas are not to be conserved?

    Also, the 'distorted views' which you mention are nearly all renders provided directly by the St Michael's partnership itself. And if the views provided by the developer itself are 'distorted', then imagine what the reality will look like.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    There are so many holes in this argument it's difficult to know where to begin.

    Firstly, there is practically no connection between the specific proposals mentioned and urban sprawl. They are catering for different markets through different housing typologies by different types of developer.

    Yes, there is a pressing need to increase overall densities to satisfy demand and improve the sustainability of the city but this will only be achieved through increasing densities across the board. City centre towers are but a tiny fraction of overall demand. If only MCC had not discarded the design principles pioneered in Hulme and resorted instead to a developer-led rash of low density boxes right throughout the inner city and suburbs; dismal dormitories of anonymous housing that fail to adequately support local amenities, public transport and walkable neighbourhoods.

    Running through many of the objections to both St Michael's and Castlefield is not an objection to development per se, or even tall buildings. It's an objection to poorly considered inappropriate design. These are two of the most distinctive parts of the city centre and are conservation areas too. People evidently care about these areas which is something which should be encouraged rather than dismissed or misrepresented with straw man arguments. A shame then that citizens are showing themselves to be better custodians and guardians of the city's heritage as well as the quality of the city's built environment than the city council with its top-down approach to planning.

    This is not merely a matter of taste. A new buildings' features can be assessed objectively as having a negative impact on a conservation area - scale, facing material for example - because a conservation area is designated on the basis of a generally clear and coherent set of characteristics. If something is excessively alien to those features, then harm will be caused.

    On the Abercrombie pub, it's not the case that it's been proven that it wasn't there at the time of the Peterloo massacre, merely that there are no maps in existence to prove that the existing building is the same licensed premises that WAS recorded as being on that site since before the Peterloo Massacre took place. In all likelihood it is one and the same building.

  9. Lynne Edwards Says:

    To imply as you do that you're building homes that are 'affordable' in the centre of Manchester is laughable and dishonest. Yes we need more housing but don't try to kid us that those towers in Bootle Street will be for anyone but investors and monied individuals ( and to line the pockets of developers). Build on the outskirts where it's cheaper and where they will benefit from the development. The council does its own thing riding roughshod over the opinions of the people it serves.

  10. Rebecca Bradley Says:

    What contempt you have for the workers, residents and visitors to our city. To suggest that raising an objection means we cannot have walked down a street. How dare we express our concerns about the direction MCC has taken with regards a number of development schemes when clearly we must be what...paid protestors? Again what lack of respect for those who simply disagree with your viewpoint.

  11. m25 Says:

    Disappointing observations from Sir Richard on Bootle Street.
    - If Bootle Street is a 'grotty back entry' then surely the Council could (should?) have done something about it earlier, or can we only regenerate areas of the city when foreign investors bring the money - as we have seen in East Manchester?
    - Suggesting that 'we could always concrete over a few more fields' is a ridiculous argument as another poster has suggested. As if the only regeneration options over to us are tower blocks for rich people or concreting over 'a few fields' that don't exist in the City Centre in any case.

  12. ManRes Says:

    What M25 said ^^^

  13. Matthew Says:

    Hopefully Manchester learns from London's mistake and doesn't get too far into bed with developers wanting to erect high rises as an easy answer to housing demand. Not only is it not in keeping with Manchester's urban identity (which it should be proud of), they are not the most efficient use of land in terms of housing density, they are not integrated additions to the city and GVA is far less and are more expensive to build / maintain / service than mid-rise mansion blocks. Don't be behind the urbanist curve, think 'Complete Streets' - i.e. taking a leaf from the UK's most attractive & desired urban neighbourhoods and not Singapore or Dubai - hardly known for their sense of community!



The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

Recent posts