THE drawn-out row over St Michael’s shows no signs of abating, as the Twentieth Century Society turns to the Secretary of State to ‘call-in’ plans for two towers of 31 and 21 storeys to be erected within Manchester’s most treasured conservation area.
We consider that the merits of this proposal should be scrutinised and decided at the highest level by the Secretary of State
Designed by Make Architects, financed by the Far East, backed by the council - and fronted by United footballers-turned-developers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs - the luxury office, hotel and apartment scheme will see a number of historically-significant buildings - Manchester Reform Synagogue (1953), Bootle Street Police Station (1937) and the Abercromby pub – cleared to make way for the towers, located less than 150 metres from Manchester’s Grade I listed Town Hall and Grade II* listed Central Library.
Now the conservation group – joined in its criticism of the scheme by local councillors, 7500 petition signers and multiple heritage organisations – has called on Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to step in and launch a public inquiry.
Under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Secretary of State has the power to ‘direct the local planning authority to refer an application to him for decision’ (‘call in’), taking the decision out of the hands of the local planning authority. If the secretary does decide to call it in, a planning inspector, or lawyer, will be appointed to carry out a public enquiry and make a recommendation to the secretary, who will ultimately make the final decision.
According to the Parliament website, ‘very few’ applications are called-in each year, though those that are normally relate to planning applications which ‘raise issues of national significance’. Given the towers' close proximity to the Town Hall, considered to be one of the finest neo-Gothic buildings in the UK, its significance would appear indisputable.
Significant enough for government heritage body, Historic England, to wade into the row. Catherine Dewar, HE's North West planning director, said the proposals "would have an impact on people's appreciation and experience of the stunning town hall and library but it would also erase different layers of this area's history, irreparably damaging the special character of the surrounding conservation area."
"The two towers will crudely erupt through the domed roofline of Central Library"
Tess Pinto, Conservation Adviser at C20 Society, said: “We are objecting in the strongest possible terms. The development will not only sweep away some fine C20 buildings, but will also cause substantial harm to multiple conservation areas and to the setting of several nationally important listed buildings. When viewed from St Peters Square, the two towers will crudely erupt through the domed roofline of the Grade II* Manchester Central Library."
She added: “Given the highly sensitive location, the scale of the proposed development, and the major concerns that a number of specialist heritage organisations including ourselves share in relation to its impact – as well as the general public who overwhelmingly opposed the proposals at the public consultation stage – we consider that the merits of this proposal should be scrutinised and decided at the highest level by the Secretary of State.”
The C20 Society also points out that the proposals directly conflict with the council's own policy set out in the Manchester Core Strategy 2012-2027 (p.63), which states that 'Development in Manchester City Centre should preserve or enhance the heritage assets that have been identified, including listed buildings, conservation areas and schedule ancient monuments.'
It is not the first time the C20 Society has sought to scupper plans for St Michael's, after attempting in vain to secure emergency heritage listing status for the synagogue back in October.
The proposals would see Bootle Street Police Station demolished
However, despite the significant level of objection - including over 70% of the public who attended the consultation opposing the scheme - the final plans for St Michael’s were submitted to the City Council last month, including a lightening in colour and a small height increase – read here.
Ms Pinto told Confidential that the C20 Society has officially made the request to the Communities Secretary via the National Planning Caseworker Unit.
Confidential also approached the St Michael's Partnership for comment, however they refused to respond at this time.
This article was amended on Thursday 16 February to include the statement from Historic England.