Gary Neville, Manchester United legend, best bud and best man to David Beckham and all round nice guy occupies an enviable position in the city. Fans from both the red and blue sides of the city admire his footballing career. He’s married his childhood sweetheart and has a lovely family, staying faithful unlike many in his position. Not a whiff of scandal has ever been attached to his name. Having made a small fortune from his footballing days, he could have relaxed and played golf and lived out a comfortable retirement on an estate in Cheshire.

But he’s not that kind of guy and he’s turned his hand, and his money (together with some other United teammates) to property development. He does well with it as well. Hotel Football, by Old Trafford Stadium, is his and he’s converting the old Stock Exchange building into an upmarket, boutique hotel.

A couple of years back he decided to take the property developing up a notch and managed to get hold of the old Greater Manchester Police HQ building on a site between Albert Square and Deansgate. As well as that huge complex, his company got access to the Georgian Ralph Abercromby pub and the Reformed Synagogue that is next to the site. We waited to see what he would do with it. First there was rumours of hotels, restaurants, offices, a new synagogue bringing life to a deserted, quiet, underused bit of the city. All well and good until we saw what it was going to look like….

Now I like a skyscraper, the more the merrier in my opinion but in the historic, and often very beautiful, centre of Manchester you have to be careful what you build. In my humble opinion these were too big and the wrong colour for this site. They swamped Albert Square and ruined many other views across the city centre. Central Library looked like it had sprouted shark’s fins and I almost cried when I saw what they would have done to St. Ann’s Square where a great black wall (they were originally black, not this bronze colour) swamped the church. If these skyscrapers had been built on one of the zombie car parks that used to surround the city centre, we would be delighted with them I’m sure. But they would ruin this view of Albert Sqaure surrounded by some of the finest architecture and statuary in Europe with modern Manchester (Great Northern and Hilton Towers) looking over the square from a respectful distance.

I wasn’t alone in my unhappiness about the scheme. Groups with an interest in the city, national groups, private individuals, the local press, local TV and then national TV waded in with the condemnation. Changing the colour of the towers from black to bronze did nothing to make people happier. And Gary wasn’t happy with the knock to his reputation. The original architects stepped down and new ones have been brought back in. Today a new scheme was unveiled….

The Georgian Ralph Abercromby pub will stay. It is old and of historic significance. It was used in 1819 as an impromptu field hospital for people hurt in the Peterloo Massacre. This was an event in the city where people were demonstrating for democracy. The local militia rode into the crowd killing and hurting a number of people. It was one of a series of events that led to universal suffrage in the UK. If the original scheme had gone ahead it could have been that this pub would be biting the dust in 2019  when we would be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the massacre. Not good. 

The Portland stone element of the old police HQ building, along Southmill Street is staying so we will still have the view into the square. It will either be offices or another boutique hotel. It’s a lovely little building and all it needs is a bit of a scrub up. 

The synagogue is going. Some people regret this as it’s, apparently, a good example of a building of its type…the type being Cold War Bunker chic. I’m not a fan and the Jewish community that uses it are happy to have a new synagogue built into the new scheme.

There will be a park on the roof of the offices with steps leading up to it. I like this.

And the tower, another 100m+ one, will be set well back towards Deansgate and will be clad in glass. Glass works well in Manchester. It reflects the clouds. That works well in No.1 Spinningfields, so hopefully it will do the same here. The view across Albert Sqaure looks a lot better with the tower not lowering over the area.

And the view from St. Ann’s Sqaure is greatly improved as well.


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