Development by former Manchester United players has been widely criticised by heritage bodies
The new architect on the controversial towers scheme in Manchester has admitted he was “surprised” by the sudden decision of Make Architects to pull out of the scheme.
Former RIBA president Stephen Hodder (pictured) confirmed that his firm, Hodder & Partners, has replaced Make as the lead architect on the £140 million project.
The St Michael’s development, formerly known as Jackson’s Row, is backed by Manchester United stars turned property developers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.
But proposals to erect two huge tower blocks, 21 and 31 storeys high, in the heart of Manchester, have been condemned by a number of heritage bodies.
Make’s decision to abandon the scheme, just days before a presentation of a new strategy to government advisory body Historic England, came as a shock to Hodder who said he only learnt of the decision on Monday.
He told Building: “I was surprised…we have established a very good working relationship with them [Make]. This scheme poses many challenges and, given the momentum that the project has, we’re at a key moment so, yes, it came as a surprise.”
His firm had been brought in by Manchester city council, a partner in the development, to review the design of the scheme earlier this year amid mounting opposition to the proposals, and had been working alongside Make to make changes to the original plans.
He said: “We are in a challenging position…the challenge is not only to genuinely address the concerns that have been articulated but also to meet Gary Neville’s and the city’s huge ambitions for the site.”
In a statement, the developer said Hodder & Partners had been brought in three months ago and added: “In the light of the overall response to the first proposal, it was clear a different design approach was required. We reflected whether the original solution met the overall objectives for the site and Stephen Hodder was brought in as part of that challenge process. This led to an extensive review of the approach.
“Stephen Hodder’s involvement led us to a different philosophy which we believe will command a greater level of support and create a fantastic new development and destination in the city.”
Hodder met with Historic England – a fierce critic of the scheme – yesterday (Wednesday) to present a new way forward for the city centre scheme.
Commenting on the new approach being taken, he said: “I think the best way to describe it is that we have made a re-evaluation of the buildings in the conservation area …the ambition is for a truly mixed-use development that is focussed around a live, work and play strategy but at the same time looks at making different value judgements on the existing buildings that are on the site.”
In a statement, Ken Shuttleworth, founder and partner, Make Architects, said: “We’ve been totally committed to the evolution of the scheme and have continued to work on revised proposals but we feel that the current direction does not align with our ambition for the site and it is right to step aside.”
Earlier this year, Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s planning director for the north-west, condemned the plans and said they “would affect some of Manchester’s most precious heritage” and “erase different layers of this area’s history, irreparably damaging the special character of the surrounding conservation area”.
Construction work is set to be carried out by Chinese contractor Beijing Construction Engineering Group International.