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Manchester skyscraper scheme set for green light

Of all the plumbing and engineering challenges involved in constructing a new building, an oft-neglected one is the difficulty of getting water pressure to the necessary levels on the upper floors of a skyscraper.

This is, of course, a task that can be accomplished by pumps to get the water up to a tank at the top, but the systems involved and their maintenance are invariably complex and large in scale in such buildings.

If the skyscraper was traditionally the signature building of American cities, nowadays it is Asia that is dominating, from Shanghai to Dubai, but they are also becoming an increasing feature of many big cities in Britain. The plumbing task of getting water up high is something increasingly necessary in the UK. 

While London is leading the way with the Shard, Cheesegrater, Walkie-talkie and Gherkin, other cities are seeing their skylines rise too. This is particularly true of Manchester.

The city may not yet have a tower as high as the 1,016 ft Shard, but its own tallest building record is being broken with great regularity. Its first modern skyscraper, the CIS Building, was briefly the tallest office block in Europe when it was completed in 1962, but it remained the highest manuncian tower in a largely low-rise city until the Beetham Tower exceeded its 387 ft height in 2005, before topping out the following year at 554 ft. 

Now, however, a plethora of skyscrapers are either planned or under construction. So fast is the skyline rising that the building due to take the record away from the Beetham Tower will not even be half-finished before its days as Manchester's tallest are numbered.

While Tower A at the Owen Street scheme will be 201 metres (658 ft) tall, the highest of Allied London's planned Trinity Island skyscraper cluster in the St John's area - Tower X - will be 699 ft high if the council's planning committee rubber stamps the scheme at its meeting next week. With planning officers recommending approval this week, that is highly likely. Thus the loftiest of the Owen Street buildings will be completed next year and then spend a grand total of four years looking down on all its neighbours before being usurped in the race for the sky. 

The main factor pushing Manchester's skyscraper boom is residential. Some of this is linked with the gradual shift of the student population into the city centre, with the 18 Wakefield Street development becoming the fourth Manchester building to exceed 100 metres in height in 2012. However, the bigger trend has been the growth of city centre living, with vast numbers of apartments being constructed over the last couple of decades. In the 1990s, the city centre population was measured in the hundreds. In the next decade it will pass 30,000. 

While this trend is by no means confined to Manchester, it has become particularly pronounced in the city and as space becomes harder to find, skyscrapers are becoming the building of choice. The Owen Street project will contain 1,400 apartments, with even the lowest of the four towers being higher than the CIS building. The St John's area will have over 2,000 apartments, with Trinity Islands also contributing around 1,400. 

Of course, not all of Manchester's new developments are skyscrapers. Across the city centre from St John's, the former London Road Fire Station was acquired by Allied London a couple of years ago, after years of wrangling between the council and its previous owner Britannia Hotels, which bought the property in 1986 and then left it empty.

Allied London plans to change all that with a new mixed-use revamp including new apartments and a hotel. Insulation fitters may be moving in sooner rather than later, with planning officers also recommending this plan for approval. 


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