Revised Manchester skyscraper plans unveiled

The transformation of the skyline of Manchester by the arrival of a plethora of skyscrapers is a process that is well underway, with some built, others under construction and more on the way. But this has not been the free-for all that some have imagined.

Many were less than impressed with the aesthetic qualities of the Beetham Tower when it became the tallest building in the city in the 2000s, not to mention the 'humming' sound made by wind passing through the 'blade' structure at the top of the building. Others have criticised the designs of the Owen Street cluster of skyscrapers now being developed, the tallest of which - Tower A - will overtake the Beetham Tower before its completion next year.

However, the fact that planning permission has been granted for so many tall buildings has not meant that every proposal can slip through the planning process unchallenged. The St Michael's project in the city centre has proven a case in point.

Already a high-profile plan because its backers include former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville, the scheme caused uproar when it was first proposed in February. Comprising a pair of copper-clad skyscrapers, the plan was seen as being visually intrusive upon an area of the city centre containing some of its finest heritage buildings, such as the Victorian Town Hall and the Edwardian Central Library. Its visual impact led to it being criticised by English Heritage, and proposals to demolish the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub also provoked plenty of opposition. With many of the public also unhappy with the plans, the planning application was withdrawn and new architects drafted in. Had Mr Neville and his fellow investors proceeded with the application, it might have been rejected outright or mired in a lengthy public inquiry.

Just as the visual quality of a building matters, so too will its interiors. Undoubtedly there will be plenty of plumbing and waterproofing work to do to ensure any new tall building works well, with the maintenance of water pressure on upper floors and the provision of good showers - always likely to be preferable to flats in apartments where space is at a premium - are matters of paramount importance.

The revised St Michael's plans have now been formally unveiled and are going on public display today (August 23rd). There will only be one skyscraper, a lozenge-shaped building, and it will be side-on to St Peter's Square and Albert Square, which stand either side of Manchester Town Hall and the Central Library, greatly reducing the visual impact. The bronze cladding has gone and the Sir James Abercromby will live to pull pints another day. The building is also slightly shorter, though still 39 storeys high and rising to 134.5 metres (441 ft).

A full planning application is scheduled for September, but the revised plans were first shown off in a consultation last month. Speaking about the reaction, Mr Neville said: "We were encouraged by the generally positive response to July’s consultation and by calls from certain quarters to be bold in our ambition and create something remarkable on the city’s skyline.

"We have kept faith with our central vision of creating a true world-class, mixed-use destination with a signature development of the highest quality including residential living, Grade A offices, a five-star hotel, exciting retail and leisure units and unique outdoor spaces."

The project may now find a more favourable welcome in Manchester and go ahead. But it will also serve as a warning that good design and high building standards will be important as developers seek to construct new tall buildings across the city.