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.