Giggs and Neville skyscrapers 'threaten Manchester's heritage'

Government heritage agency says £200m scheme, which includes 153 apartments, would erase city centre’s history

A plan by former footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville to build two bronze skyscrapers in Manchester city centre is a “planning disaster of a magnitude not seen in decades,” heritage bodies have warned as they urged ministers to intervene.

The pair’s £200m blueprint to build luxury apartments, hotels, offices and restaurants would see the demolition of a 1950s synagogue, a 1930s police station and an 18th century pub believed to be the only nearby building with a direct link to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.

Four heritage bodies on Thursday told the Guardian they want Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, to consider the application himself and stop what one described as a “substantial, unprecedented and unjustifiable degree of harm” to Manchester’s heritage.

The two bronze towers would include a five-star hotel, luxury apartments, restaurants, bars, retail outlets and a synagogue. Giggs and Neville insist the work would transform the St Michael’s area near Manchester town hall and the Central Library.

But the proposals, announced last July, have been met with fierce opposition from heritage groups and received a mixed response from Mancunians.

Proposed Kinetic track from Princess Street to Albert Square, Manchester.

Historic England, the government heritage agency, was the latest to attack the China-backed plans on Thursday. Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s planning director for the north-west, said: “We are deeply concerned about how this scheme would affect some of Manchester’s most precious heritage.

“It 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.”

Four other heritage groups – Twentieth Century Society, the Victorian Society, the Ancient Monuments Society and Save Britain’s Heritage – have gone further and asked Javid to “call-in” the planning application if it is approved by Manchester city council’s planning committee, which is expected to consider it in the next few months.

The 700,000 sq ft scheme includes a 200-bed five-star hotel, 153 apartments, 135,000 sq ft of Grade A offices and a synagogue. The site will also include 30,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space, including two sky bars/restaurants, in the 31-storey Number One St Michael’s, while Number Two St Michael’s will be a 21-storey office tower.

Historic England said the design, height and colour of the development on Jackson’s Row would dominate the Deansgate and Peter Street conservation area and “dwarf the nationally important” Central Library and Grade I-listed town hall.

Dewar said: “A dynamic city like ours needs to fully embrace development but this scheme is not good enough to justify the damage it would cause to the streets around the site and to the setting of the city’s most important buildings and spaces.

“It threatens Manchester with the loss of historic places that have soul and tell important stories about our city’s past.”

Save Britain’s Heritage said in a letter to Manchester city council: “It is one of the most damaging applications we have seen in many years, and would have far reaching consequences for Manchester’s historic buildings, townscape and skyline.”

Speaking at the unveiling of the project at Manchester town hall in July, Neville, 41, said he wanted the development to become the new landmark in the city. The former England full-back, who is director of Jackson’s Row Developments, said: “Our vision is to deliver the biggest statement in architecture and development that Manchester has seen in modern times.”

The ex-Manchester United players had not commented on the row on Thursday. Neville retweeted a comment posted by the St. Michael’s consortium on Twitter that said: “St. Michael’s will breathe new life into underused streets linking Albert Square to Deansgate … This project can stitch the wider neighbourhood together providing opportunities for more regeneration to occur beyond the red line”.

Opinion among Mancunians is split. Some have described the towers as “two massive turds pointing to the sky.” But those in favour say the critics “just don’t like change”. The website Manchester Confidential said it had been “removed” from a presentation given by the project last year after heavily criticising the plans.

Some 4,500 people have signed a petition calling for the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub, which is believed to be the only structure remaining in the St Peter’s Field area from the time of the Peterloo massacre. It is also said to be the inspiration for the pub in BBC’s Life On Mars.

“I’d be very disappointed if this place would go,” said one lunchtime drinker on Thursday. “Everyone knows everyone here and it’s nice to have welcoming staff. I’m not into pretentious wine bars. This is a proper boozer where you can get your pints asap.”

The pub’s landlord, Mike Christodoulou, 43, said: “I’m a Manchester lad, born in Old Trafford, and I’ve watched the city move and grow and it’s unprecedented. At the beginning I was looking at buildings getting knocked down but now it’s like the city’s coming together and we’ve got a new city on our hands. We’ve got to be proud of that.

“All I can say is we’re in good talks with the developers and, whatever the outcome, the Abercromby will live on within the new development.”

A Manchester City Council spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of this planning application, which the Council’s planning committee will be asked to adjudicate on in due course, at this stage.

“All planning applications are assessed against a range of criteria including the relevant planning policies, heritage and environmental considerations, their viability and their contribution to regeneration. Any feedback received on the application will be considered carefully as part of the planning process.”

A DCLG spokesman confirmed that the government had received the requests to call-in the application but declined to comment further.

How the rest of Manchester United’s ‘class of 92’ made their money

David Beckham: The biggest name of Manchester United’s famed Class of 92, Beckham hung up his boots in 2013 after becoming the first English player to win league titles in four countries. The former England captain now has his own fashion range, a number of lucrative advertising and sponsorship deals and he is a global ambassador for Unicef. He and Victoria Beckham – together dubbed ‘Brand Beckham’ – are said to be worth around £280m.

Paul Scholes: Scholes retired at the end of the 2012-13 season after an illustrious 19 year career at Manchester United. Now more likely to be found on BT Sport, which signed him as a pundit in 2014. The former midfielder is also a co-owner of Salford City alongside former United colleagues Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Phil Neville.

Nicky Butt: Butt is the only Class of 92 graduate who retains a full-time role at Old Trafford, where he is head of the club’s youth set-up. The former midfielder was appointed head of academy in February last year after 12 years at the club, in which time he won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League. He also is a co-owner of Salford City.

Phil Neville: The former United defender now regularly appears on Match of the Day as a pundit. Neville, who retired from playing in 2013, had a brief foray into management with Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. He was appointed assistant manager in July 2015, serving in the same role when his twin brother Gary took over in December that year. Phil left the role in May last year and is now said to be looking for a management role elsewhere.


Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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