Category: Manchester


I was excited to see what progress has been made on the Owen Street towers. It’s the largest development in the city at the moment and one of the largest in Europe. When finished there will be four towers on a site that has been cheap industrial units and surface car parks on land between the end of Deansgate and the Mancunian Way. It’s been like this for decades and isn’t a great entrance to the city centre as you drive in from the western and south western suburbs. Here’s what it will look like when it’s finished. We’re looking at the towers from the Castlefield canal basin.  

There will be four towers. The smallest tower will be 122m (37 storeys), the next will be 140m (40 storeys), the third will be 158m (5o storeys), almost as tall as the nearby Hilton Tower. But it is the fourth we are most excited about. It will be 200.5m tall (64 storeys), the first building in Manchester to break through the 200m barrier, just. Being 31.5m taller than the Hilton Tower, it will be the new tallest building in the city and the fifth tallest building in the country. At ground level there will be gardens and a podium building full of all kinds of services (gyms, a cinema etc.) for the occupants of the apartments. They have started the tallest tower and two others it seems. The tallest will reach its full height by late 2018 and the entire scheme will be done and dusted by 2020. Here’s what it all looked like yesterday.

It’s such a big project that they’ve set up their own concrete factory on another piece of spare land so they have a constant supply. The four towers being built now are just the beginning of a considerably larger development for this part of the city. Plans for the rest haven’t been released yet.

I got talking to one of the builders who was doing something with the perimeter fence. They are always interesting to chat to and know stuff about what’s going on. He was obviously proud to be part of this project and did a lot of waving at the fresh air above our heads as he described where the towers were going and how high above us they would be. I was able to tell him about ANOTHER scheme that’s being developed at Trinity Islands about ten minutes walk away. That will be six towers on either side of the inner ring road linked together by sky bridges high above the ground like those buildings you see in Singapore or Dubai. And one of them is planned to be ONE METRE taller than the tallest Owen Street tower. We decided that there was a lot of willy waving going on in Manchester at the moment with architects and developers saying ‘my willy is bigger than yours!’

I think this will be my new project to follow closely over the next few years.

 

Directly across the street from the newly begun Axis Tower, they are planning to build another tower, even taller than Axis. The existing building came down before Christmas but they haven’t started building the new one yet, it’s just a flat piece of land at the moment, so no reports.

Just around the corner on First Street is another building being put up and well on the way to being finished. It’s imaginatively called No.8 First Street. There’s a rash of these names recently….No.1 St Peter’s Square, No.2 St Peter’s Square, 101 Embankment, No.1 Spinningfields and so on. I suppose this one has been named so because it’s the eighth building going up along First Street. It’s just near HOME. This is what it will look like when it’s finished. It’s an office block. I like the little ‘parks’ inside the buildings. There seem to be a lot of them going in the new builds. Apparently Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, has taken space here to expand their Manchester presence. 

It’s well under way. My pictures don’t look as alluring as the renders on a grey, February, Manchester day.

I went into the city on the tram yesterday. I find myself doing this more and more. Driving around the city centre is increasingly difficult and unpleasant. I’m told it’s a problem shared by successful cities and is a good one to have. If you can drive with ease around your city then it’s not doing well as people aren’t out and about doing stuff and stimulating the economy. So the closest my Mini gets to the city centre these days is Chorlton tram station.

I got off the tram at Deansgate/Castlefield station. It’s a busy, ingeniously and beautifully designed station on top of the railway arches by the Rochdale Canal in the shadow of the Hilton Tower. It’s an impressive place to arrive in the city centre. Getting down to street level at the opposite end to the Hilton Tower there is the tiniest patch of land; awkwardly shaped and hemmed in on three sides by busy roads, the canal and the tramline, all of which have to be kept moving. Out in the suburbs you might think about building a nicely sized house with a not overly large garden. Here they are building a 93m tall (7m short of the magic 100m that we like), 28 storey tower. It’s going to be fun watching them do this one. They have, temporarily, stolen some of busy Whitworth Street as a storage yard. The plan is to build straight up from the tiny space and then cantilever the higher floors out over the canal to steal more space from fresh air. It will be a narrow tower and people buying apartments in it will have 360 degree views of the city with windows on both sides of the building. It’s one of the projects in the city being funded by Chinese investment. This is what it will look like.

This project has been a long time coming. It was first mooted about 2006 but fell foul of the Banking Crisis in 2008. It was resurrected several times since and we thought we would never see it happen. But it is. Yesterday they were pouring concrete into the foundations and you can see the base of the crane going in and appreciate the size of the site.

This tower is by Deansgate Locks, a series of railway arches now filled with popular and rowdy bars and Manchester’s rather fun Comedy Store. It’s known as the ‘Straight Village’ ; a heterosexual version of the famous ‘Gay Village’ further along the Rochdale Canal on Canal Street. It’s busy most evenings but especially at the weekends when it’s  stag and hen central when parties of young men and women celebrating the last weekend of singledom of one of their number descend on the area. The hen parties are worse (I know from experience) than the stag parties. If guys did to random girls what the hen parties get away with random guys they would get arrested. I suspect this poor guy, in the canal, fell foul of one of those hen parties. Brought into the city by a hen party, used and abused then dumped into the canal. Poor guy.

I thought I’d do a round up of all the construction projects that are happening in the city at the moment. We are in the middle of a construction boom it seems. From the city centre to the universities and out to the airport and then over towards Media City at Salford Quays, cranes punctuate the skyline. Guys, and women, in hi-vis vests and hard hats are everywhere. Across the suburbs houses and apartment blocks are going up to cope with the growth of the population.

A lot of the projects were on the drawing boards (if they use those these days, probably not) last year. Back in June 2015 some of us voted for Brexit. We wondered how it would affect the national economy and Manchester. There was real worry that the economy would contract and that all the building projects would be put on hold and then quietly abandoned.

Well neither of those things, so far, has happened. Quite the opposite, with growth in the UK economy top of the major world economies and the Manchester building projects are going ahead. After Brexit the £ fell and that made investing in Team UK considerably cheaper. Investors are taking the long view. We will eventually sort out Brexit and sail into calmer  economic waters and then all those investments made cheaply now will reap big dividends. London, as always, is the favoured city for investing but Manchester has joined it on the world’s radar and £billions are pouring into the city to build homes, offices and infrastructure. It’s seen as the core of the Northern Powerhouse, the name given by the government to regenerate the northern cities and economy. While Liverpool and Leeds are also enjoying growth, cities like Newcastle and Hull are still waiting. Manchester remains the star though with more development going on than all the rest put together.

This project is called Exchange Court. It’s an 130m, 44 storey apartment tower, 39m shorter than the Hilton Tower, currently the tallest tower in the city. Technically it’s not in Manchester at all but in the twin city of Salford but it’s within sight and walking distance of Manchester Cathedral and any visitor to the city wouldn’t know that Salford was a separate entitity. Both cities work together to develop the city as a whole. It’s built near the plateau that used to house Exchange Station, hence the name. A few years ago this area, called Greengate, across the river from the cathedral, was an open expanse of surface car parks, now it’s in a building frenzy.

The core of Exchange Court is just rising. I believe the tower will reach its full height some time in 2018. Apologies for the grey skies. It’s Manchester in February. Get over it.

The company who are building it, Renaker, have also built this apartment tower complex, Greengate Tower, about 100m from Exchange Tower. People weren’t keen on its bulk and colour while it was going up but, now that it’s finished and people are moving in, we are learning to like it. Renaker also own the car park between the two projects and plan another tower. 

This is what Exchange Court will look like. I like the golden cladding.

It was up early for work and home in the middle of the morning to start the weekend. We decided to go out for lunch. I’d been hearing lots of good things about The White Hart in the village of Lydgateto the east of the Oldham area of the city. It’s up in the hills and almost in Yorkshire. In fact, before they reorganised the boundaries and put it firmly in Greater Manchester, it was in Yorkshire.

I’d never been to Lydgate so wasn’t sure of the route. It wasn’t easy to find. We thought it was simple to get to but a few roadworks and the odd wrong turn up a winding lane or six and we were completely lost. At one point I was stood in the middle of nowhere, looking at some horses in a field, desperately trying to explain to the restaurant where we were. More by luck than judgement we eventually found our way there, only 15 minutes late for our booking. 

The White Hart used to be the village pub of Lydgate I imagine. It still functions as such to a point but pubs that just sell drink in the UK don’t really do well anymore. The ones that do well have good food. That’s the route The White Hart has gone along. The chef is very highly thought of, producing food that has a great reputation. Foodies from all over the city make the journey up into the hills to sample it. I hope they have better luck than we did with the trip. This is what the exterior looks like.

Inside it’s had a makeover. It does look like a traditional English country pub with open fires and low beamed ceilings but has some modern touches that wouldn’t look out of place in some trendy eatery in the city centre. Great staff as well.

It isn’t one of those places where you go if you are hungry. The portions aren’t that big. You go for the quality of the food and the tastes that the chef creates. They brought us some breads. They make their own. I had some sourdough bread (the pale one) which was tasty. The darker one was flavoured with treacle and walnuts. It was fantastic! I’ve not tasted bread so nice in a long time. I tried to flirt my way into taking a loaf home or even getting the recipe. No chance. But I did flirt well enough for the waitress to bring me another slice.

We had a bottle of Chilean Merlot.

We had some lamb, potato and mashed carrot and swede. It sounds simple, but the delicious sauces that came with it elevated it to a taste sensation. Not a huge portion but utterly delicious.

For pudding we had cold rice pudding with a sugar crust with blood orange segments and orange sorbet with an orange peel crisp. All very cheffy and wonderful.

Here’s the view from the pub across to the city centre. It was a misty early spring day but you can make out the towers of the city centre about ten miles away. You can make out the dark block of the Hilton Tower on the left and, if you look to the right, the distinctive profile of the CIS Tower.

If I could live in any house I would love to live in a Georgian house. I like the simplicity of the architecture and, as I like order, I like the symmetry. Altrincham must have been quite wealthy in Georgian times as there are a number of grand Georgian houses in the town centre. They are not quite mansions but they are large and have lots of space. Sadly the ones in the centre of Altrincham are no longer houses, the roads they are on are busy  with traffic as people come into the centre for shopping and work. In a quieter bit of the city they would still be much sought after homes but here they are now offices. This one, on Market Street, is particularly grand and is now full of lawyers.

On the edge of Altrincham is the Dunham Massey estate with a huge mansion in a deer park. It’s open to the public these days and is a popular place for people to walk on the weekend and during the week if they are free. It’s surrounded by many acres of farmland and was once the home of the Earls of Stamford and Warrington. It’s now owned by the National Trust. When the Earls of Stamford and Warrington owned it, this beautiful building was the estate’s office in Altrincham. It’s now the HQ for the National Trust in Cheshire. I’m intrigued by the bricked in arches on the side of the building. It looks as if a big entrance was once filled in with a large window in the middle, and later that window was filled in as well.

Further along Market Street, opposite the present market, is Altrincham Town Hall. It was built in 1900 which, technically, makes it Victorian but it’s more Edwardian in style. I like the Dutch style gables. It’s now offices and such. Altricham is now governed from the much larger Trafford Town Hall opposite Old Trafford Cricket Ground much closer to the city centre.

A modern apartment block next to the old Town Hall was built in a similar style. Sometimes modern attempts at an older style fail but this one seems to work well.

In front of the old Town Hall is this statue of an Altricncham Market trader. Maybe they looked like this year’s ago but the hipster, artisan cheese makers and bakers there now are a different kettle of fish.

And a little spring garden in a tub…

 

I had an interesting day. My Mini needed a service and a little job done on it. I decided to take the day off, drive the car to the garage and then go into Manchester city centre for a mooch, some lunch and some Tom time. But yesterday afternoon the plan unravelled when I got a call and was asked to come into work to do a specific job. So I dropped the car off and took one of those bus things, that the public use, to get to the office. I have problems with public transport. I’m happy to use the tram system which is quick and straightforward and often faster than driving around the city. Buses, I find, are too full of the public for my liking and they do tend to wander about a bit when getting from point A, where I am, to point B, where I want to be. 

The bus I got on was full of kids off to school. In spite of being the oldest person on the bus, none of them seemed to want to stand to let me sit down. It was weird being the oldest person somewhere. Barring accidents I would be the first person in that group to die! Sobering thought. At one point the bus driver turned round and shouted down the bus to whoever was constantly pressing the bell to stop the bus, stop it now! He eyed all the kids. It was actually, inadvertently, me who was leaning against a post on the bus and every time the bus jolted my back hit the bell. We got to the kids’ school and they all trooped off. I was impressed as every one of them said ‘thank you’, ‘cheers’, ‘nice one’ or some other appreciative phrase to the bus driver. Kids get a lot of criticism but this bunch were stars. I felt guilty letting them take the collective rap for the bell pushing. 

I got to the office where someone had had another think. The job I had to do went to someone else and I was sent off to Altrincham, about ten minutes walk for home where I’d been two hours earlier. At least I could use the tram. I did my job and made my way back to the tram station.

In spite of living near Altrincham, I don’t post much about it which is a shame. It’s in the affluent south western suburbs of the city where the city come to a dead stop as it hits Cheshire. Some people say it’s in Cheshire (hasn’t been in it for years) and some people refer to it as a country market town but it was surrounded by sprawling Manchester suburbia nearly 100 years ago. Having said that, the suburbia surrounding it isn’t at all bad with nice properties along tree lined streets connecting parks. If you want to buy into this suburban idyll you will need a healthy bank account. Small houses and apartments sell for £500,000. And if you want one of the large detached houses behind the wrought iron gates you are talking millions.

Altrincham has had a market since 1290 and it is still a thriving enterprise. Reimagined recently as a foodie paradise, it is doing well in its Victorian market hall. But the existing building is not on the original site. The original site is a 100 metres away on the Old Market Place on Dunham Road part of the busy A56. Today the A56 is one of the main routes in and out of the city centre and you don’t get the sense that the area used to be a market. The A56 is an interesting road itself as it is the road that linked the Roman legionary HQ at Deva (Chester) to the the little fort at Mancunium which would eventually become Manchester. People have been travelling along this road for 2000 years and probably longer. The original market would have been set up around the market cross on market day. The original cross has gone but this replica has been put up.

Around the market place, inns would have sprung up to cater for the influx of visitors into the town for the market. They are still there but now converted into restaurants. I’ve cut the busy A56 out of the pictures and you do get a sense of the old market town that Altrincham once was.

My favourite building in this part of the town is this next one. It’s a very grand one that used to be a bank I think. It closed as such years ago and the banks moved down to Stamford New Road, closer to the shops. The ground floor is made of the local red sandstone like Tarvin St Andrews last week. The top floor is Tudor inspired with black and white half timbered walls and Tudor style windows. It’s a fake of course, a Victorian pastiche of Tudor  architecture. It’s all too perfect, everything is very straight and calculated. Real Tudor buildings would have sagged and warped over the centuries.

A lot of money was thrown at this building, looking at the detail in the chimneys.

Another building I like on Market Place is this very simple brick built, Victorian office block that occupies a triangular site across the A56 from the  Market Cross. I call it the Flatiron Building as it reminds me of the more famous on in New York City. This one is older than New York’s though.

 

We’re on top of stuff at work and it is a quiet time of year. After all the tumult of 2016 we are getting used to the new realities of life and, hopefully, moving on. It’s going to be a number of years, though, until we sail into calmer waters of course. And we’re not sure how the outcome of the American elections will affect things, but the entire planet is in that boat.

Our little department decided to go out for a ‘working breakfast.’ I did suggest a ‘prayer breakfast’ but one of the team declined that offer. In fact what she said was ‘f**k off!’ We wear our religion lightly in the UK. We headed for a restaurant in the centre of the office park where our offices are. There’s a nice little lake there where people like to sit on warm days. It attracts water birds including these Canada Geese. They were introduced to the country to grace the lakes of large country estates. Having wings and a tendency to roam, they have found the UK to their liking and are found all over the place now. They are noisy and big and these ones are quiet used to people and can be a bit persistent if you are eating your sandwiches in the sunshine. Maybe, under Brexit, we can have them declared illegal immigrants and ship them back to Canada. They were stealing bread from British ducks today.

Here are some British Ducks who are having their bread stolen.

Near the lake is the Fun Hut. It was locked today but on warm, sunny days they open it and out come the deck chairs. They also have footballs, rugby balls and other toys that we can use on the lawns around the lake. It’s mostly guys who like to play in their lunch hours. A fun idea we think.

I quite like a game of Table Tennis when the Fun Hut is open. In spite of the sunshine it was still pretty chilly though.

Spring is stirring. This is a good thing. The central reservation of the road near the offices is full of these little, yellow crocuses.

And there are some early daffodils. Last year I noticed these were in bloom on Boxing Day (26th December) but have only just come out now in their, more usual, early February. We must have had a colder winter than last year.

We needed some more coffee capsules for the Nespresso machine. We got some of the usual ones and tried a couple of the flavoured and the limited edition ones. I like the ones flavoured with vanilla or caramel. We hide those for personal use. No one knows we have them. We are bad.

I’ve not been brilliant the last few weeks. I think I’ve had that bug the Queen had over Christmas and New Year. She’s usually up and at ’em, shaking off illness and back on parade at the earliest opportunity but this time nothing was seen of her over the entire festive season. She was out of action for so long that rumours were swirling around the internet that she’d actually died and they were leaving the news until after New Year. Fortunately it wasn’t so.

If she felt as bad as I did I sympathise with her. What I thought was a simple cold, went to my chest. I just drank lucozade and popped Sudofed for two weeks. One night the vice like pain in my chest had me wondering if I’d bought it and my time had come. But, like the Queen, I came through. It did keep me inside though. On the positive side, I was able to shift the last of the holiday weight and a bit more.

I’d missed my usual visit to have my haircut so I decided to fit it in this morning. I went to my favourite place, BarberBarber in Barton Arcade, just off St Ann’s Square in the city centre. It looks like it’s been there since Victorian times with its vintage fixtures and fittings and barbers stylishly dressed and inked. Tourists gather outside to take photographs. It’s a guy only space where men go to have a great haircut and interact with other men. It’s run by Jonny, stylishly dressed always, he is something of a character. He came over from Ireland a few years back to set up this barbershop. He’s now expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, London and Birmingham. 

I usually end up talking to someone while I wait my turn. This time is was a guy who was getting his haircut and beard trimmed in time for his wedding on Sunday. He’s getting married in the pretty town of Clitheroe in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, north of the city. Then he, and his new wife, are off to Thailand for three weeks. When they come back they are moving into an old, stone cottage in Helmshore. I wish them luck. We had a good chat about places we’d both visited, we both enjoyed New Orleans and New York we discovered. We also talked about the subject on everyone’s mind at the moment, Donald Trump.

Andy, top picture, cut my hair. He’s done it a couple of times but we have missed each other recently with me visiting when he wasn’t in. It’s always good to get someone to cut your hair you can trust. You don’t book for this barbershop and if you want a particular guy to cut it you have to wait until he’s free. Having said that I’ve never had a bad haircut here. If you are in the city you should check it out and, if you are a guy, you could worse than having a cut.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength and good luck for people who are worthy of it. Golden dragons were connected to the Emperor of China, usually as a symbol of his imperial power and strength. 

There has been a Golden Dragon in Manchester this week. I seem to remember that Manchester, with its large Chinese population is a ‘dragon city’, an honorific that is accorded to certain cities outside of China that have done much to promote Chinese culture and links to China. Vancouver and San Francisco are such cities as is Sydney in Australia. 

The Golden Dragon has taken up residence on the ramp that used to link Exchange Station in Greengate on the Salford side of the River Irwell to the Manchester side by the cathedral. The station closed in the 1960s and it was torn down in 1969. Until recently it’s been abandoned land being used as surface car parks. The resurgence of Manchester has caused the property developers to look again at this land and it’s a hive of activity at the moment with skyscraper apartment blocks and office buildings shooting up.

The dragon is in front of 101 Embankment, a new office building, with its curved edges which people are admiring a lot. It’s a bit of a stunner, especially at night when it’s lit up.  The Swinton Assurance Company have taken the entire block. A sister block, 100 Embankment, is planned for next door. Hopefully the economy continues to prosper and it gets built. In the meanwhile enjoy the dragon.