Why the Bootle St plans (St Michael’s) must be rejected

Bootle St police station facade

There is a petition to express opposition to the ‘Black Towers’ which are an integral part of the Bootle Street plans. Please sign the petition here

 

After the police moved out of the 1930s Bootle St station, the property was purchased. Initially the impression was given that the old police building was to be converted into a hotel. In 2016 the present plans were announced. They are shocking in their scale, destructiveness and lack of respect for the surrounding area and must be rejected. Here are the reasons why.

1) The area doesn’t ‘urgently’ need redevelopment.
It’s said the site needs to be redeveloped. This is not true. The site is one of countless parts of the city centre where a building has been vacated. The urgency lies with the developers, who obviously are keen to see a financial return on their investment. It’s perfectly okay for the site to remain as it is for the time being. Better to wait a few years for a better development that suits the location than to rush ahead with an inappropriate one like this.

 

The Abercromby pub July 2015

2) The Abercromby pub will be destroyed
Pubs have a special status, especially when they are of historical significance. They are often the only buildings to survive from the earlier city. That’s certainly true of the Abercromby, which was first built in the early 1800s. It has connections to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, a key development in history. Not only that, it is a successful business and a well-loved watering hole in the city. 4152 names are on a petition to save the Abercromby. People come to Manchester for its uniqueness and historic character. That aspect will be degraded if the pub is destroyed. The developers have tried to downgrade the value of the pub by saying that some parts were built in the 20th century. That argument is not valid as other parts of the pub are original. It’s the name, significance and role in the history of Manchester that’s important. If the development goes ahead, people will never forget that a well-loved pub was destroyed to make way for it.

Manchester Central Synagogue

3) The Reform Synagogue will be demolished.
There’s an attitude among planners that dictates ‘If it’s in our way and not listed, demolish it.’ The result of this tendency is for scores of interesting buildings in the second and third category to be lost. It’s not just the highest grade of historic buildings that help to define the character of the city. Many less remarkable ones do as well, and they should be kept wherever possible. The Reform Synagogue may not be in the highest category as regards architectural merit, but it is still a place of worship and deserves respect. It was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Manchester city centre after the war (completed 1953). Just imagine the significance of a new synagogue in Manchester after what happened in Europe only 10 years previously. It must have encapsulated a sense of hope, rebirth and optimism. And now it is to be demolished. I’ve been aware of it for many years and have photographed it quite a few times. It has an austere elegance that’s far superior to the architecture the planners want to replace it with. They say a new place of worship will be provided – along the lines of Cross St Chapel – but a new facility can never replace the history and aura of the original. The building is certainly run down and in need of renovation, and so it should be renovated. And in passing, the developers have chosen the name “St Michael’s” as he is the patron saint of police officers, whose former building they are going to demolish. But co-incidentally St Michael is also protector of the Jewish religion.

ManPoliceStnSouthmill-F710

4) Bootle Street police station façade will be destroyed.
The police station was built in the 1930s and served the city through the war years and the decades that followed. It was in use for around seventy years. By the end of the period it had become unsuitable for a modern police force. It’s said it was like working on the set of Life on Mars. The police have moved out, but that should not be the end of the story for this building. I wouldn’t advocate keeping the brick built part, but the white stone eastern façade is a striking piece of architecture: stolid, traditional, neo-classical and not fashionable with today’s planners and architects. One of the superb aspects of the façade is how it fits in with the streetscape. Looking along Southmill Street, the Victorian brick-built façades alternate with the white stone facade, followed by 19th century façades leading to Albert Square. The interplay of styles, colours and materials is an essential aspect of the area. All that will all be lost if the planners get their wish and the façade is wrecked. And there’s another aspect to keep in mind. Now that the police have gone, the façade functions as a monument to their work over the decades. In this sense the façade functions as a memorial, and memorials should be kept. Some people criticise ‘façadism’ but there are many successful examples of it in Manchester.

5) Development is inappropriate in a ‘quiet zone’.
Cities don’t have to have to be ‘developed to death’. Cities should have light and shade. They should have busy parts, quiet parts and this is a quiet area. Bounded by two community assets: the synagogue and the pub. They are close to a historic concert hall façade – the Free Trade Hall – a superb piece of ‘façadism’, and the site of a memorable event in history – the Peterloo Massacre. It is already designated as a conservation area. The construction of a brash, destructive, materialistic commercial development like this is completely out of character with the area. The Friends Meeting House dates from the early 19th century and is a place of quiet contemplation. The new development with its towering blocks, bars and restaurants will just a few feet across the street from the rear of the Quakers meeting house.

6) Towers too high, too close to the town hall
One of the most damaging aspects of the plan is the imposition of two massive towers. They stand too close to the town hall. From the town hall balcony they will screen a significant part of the view to the south west. Viewed from the south west they will obscure the town hall clock tower. They will diminish and encroach upon the character and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian square. It would appear that the developers have had to resort to oversized towers in order to fully realise the commercial potential of this rather limited site. I’m a fan of tall buildings but not in a location like this. Make Architects already have a controversial development in their portfolio. 5 Broadgate in London was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. An article on BDOnline states: “Make’s building arrogantly ignores the existing urban context.” The same looks to be true of this proposal. The black shiny exterior gives them a high-tech quality, reminiscent of a science fiction film and totally out of character in the Victorian setting.

7) It adds nothing new to Manchester
The development just adds more bars, offices and apartments to the city. There is no new cultural offering, no new significant piece of architecture, no new community benefit. It offers more of what Manchester already has an abundance of. Just one block away, the Great Northern and Bar 38 have provided the same type of amenities since 2000. Spinningfields offers something very similar just across Deansgate.

Bar 38 20 July 2000 Bar 38 and the Great Northern Piazza 20 July 2000 about 200 yards from the proposed development.

If the plan is approved, it will send out a negative message, further eroding the already tarnished reputation of Manchester City Council as regards planning decisions. The popular voice will be very harsh on St Michael’s: ‘They knocked down three buildings to make way for that? How could they do that? What on earth is wrong with them?’

If the development were located on a different site, further out of the city centre, and without the need for demolition of heritage buildings, I would have no particular objection to it.

But in this location, the development is inappropriate and harmful. I believe most local citizens will agree with me and for this reason, planning permission must be refused.

A petition has been started to express opposition to the towers. Please click on the image below and sign the petition.

Bootle St Black Towers petition

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Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

ArtSmithsArms-G831
 
There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016


 
One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats


 
Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.


 
I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016


 
That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering

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If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

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Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

 
I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

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Movie locations in Manchester and Stockport

Stockport Railway Viaduct, 1980s

Stockport Railway Viaduct, captured on Ilford HP5 black and white film around 1987. I developed the film myself and made prints. Later I scanned the  negatives and optimised them in Photosohp.

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Friday 12 February 2016. Many movies have been made in the Manchester area but few are set there. Images from films can be a big inspiration for photography. Not many films have been made in Manchester but all of the movies mentioned here have a strong visual impact.

For me, A Taste of Honey (1961) remains my number one locally made movie. It was filmed mostly in Stockport, Manchester and Salford. Hell Is A City (1961) is a racy police thriller that reaches a climax on the roof of the Refuge building, now the Palace Hotel. Alfie (2004) and Captain America (2011) are set in New York but used the Northern Quarter as a location, due to its similarity to Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) is a cult classic with some great city centre footage. Cliff Twemlow made films in Manchester in the 80s. Read the fascinating book about him by C. P. Lee. 24 Hour Party People is set in 80s Manchester but filmed twenty years later. The Iron Lady and Victor Frankenstein are recent projects but are not set here. That’s why after 55 years, ‘A Taste of Honey’ remains my number one as it’s a great story with wonderful characters and celebrates life here in the North. So come on filmmakers, it’s time for a modern classic movie to be made and be set around here, and I would like to be the stills photographer!

Staircase, Manchester Town Hall

Staircase near the Lloyd St entrance of Manchester Town Hall, completed 1877

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Northern Quarter during the filming of 'Alfie'

Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter was turned into New York in September 2003 for the film ‘Alfie’.

Langley Buildings, Dale St

The Langley Buildings on Dale St have little or no modern additions, making them an ideal setting for a historic film.

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Images along Manchester’s Princess Road – not Parkway!

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north


First of all, let me get one thing straight: The name of Manchester’s main dual carriageway south out of Manchester city centre, the A5103, is called Princess ROAD, not Princess Parkway. This name is valid as far as the bridge over the Mersey, several miles to the south. Then for less than a mile it is Princess Parkway until Northenden Road where it becomes the M56 motorway.

Princess Road street sign

Princess Road street sign – Princess Road runs from the Mancunian Way to the bridge over the Mersey

Princess Parkway sign

Princess Parkway runs the short distance from the Mersey Bridge to the junction with Northenden Rd where the M56 begins

Unfortunately many journalists, councillors and members of the public are not aware of the correct name of this very important road, which they call ‘the Parkway’ or ‘Princess Parkway’. Princess Parkway was planned in the late 1920s as a separate section of the road. The name was approved by Shena Simon and it was intended to be an attractive, tree-lined avenue leading to the new suburb of Wythenshawe. In later years Princess Parkway was covered over by the M56 motorway and the junction to the north, with its slip roads.

I know about these things! I took a great interest from childhood onwards. Another point of uncertainty: Why is the highway named after a princess and who was she? No one seems to know!

Here’s the article that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Monday 25 January 2016.

Princess Road is an enigma. Manchester’s grand highway to the airport, Wythenshawe and the south was begun in the 1920s but only completed in the 70s. It’s a wide, busy dual carriageway, but designated A5103, more suggestive of a minor A road. It’s called Princess Road but which princess was it named after? People call Princess Road ‘the Parkway’ but only the section south of the Mersey is Princess Parkway. The route was to have been a motorway all the way into the city. That’s why buildings were demolished on the west side. Greenheys Lane intersection is very wide. This was to have been the junction of two motorways, but they never materialised. Offices, apartments, churches, Southern Cemetery and several educational institutions are next to it including the striking MMU Birley campus building. Another enigma is why the new Metrolink stop was named Withington, a place that to my reckoning is at least a mile away. In my humble opinion it should have been called Princess Road Metrolink stop. And so who was it named after? I believe it might have been Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897-1965) but I can find no proof. Can anyone help?
Demolished Princess Road bus depot

Demolished Princess Road bus depot

 

Princess Road looking north from the Loop Line bridge

Princess Road looking north from the bridge over the former South Manchester Loop Line

 

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

 

"Withington" Metrolink stop

“Withington” Metrolink stop. It should have been named Princess Road

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Review of Manchester Photographer Jon Parker-Lee

Seamus Heaney - photo by Jon Parker-Lee

 
Jon Parker-Lee has been active as a photographer in Manchester since 1993. An exhibition in November/December 2013 at the basement venue 2022 in Manchester’s Northern Quarter celebrated his 20 years in the photography business.

I attended the opening night and was very impressed with the variety, style and high technical quality of the photographs. He told me he had picked them at random using a pin, but to me these photos look like they have been carefully chosen.

I’ve singled out ten of them and I’ve written something about each one. Hopefully this will inspire photography students to learn from Jon’s work and to go out, experiment and develop a style of their own.

As I often say ‘try to capture the intrinsic quality of the subject’ and the here, the portrait of the late Seamus Heaney seems to do just that. The poet stares with narrow eyes into the camera, white haired and dressed in a suit and tie. He has gravitas, and the photo reflects that, with its dramatic lighting from the upper right, casting deep shadows.

Attention is concentrated on the face by the use of a wide aperture – the camera was set to f/1.4 – throwing the background out of focus. The wide aperture is probably essential as the light is low, and the background is almost, but not quite black. It’s just a series of blurred shapes that could be a wall or a wooden cabinet. The setting is Manchester University.

Most interestingly, the subject is placed off centre to the right. The empty area to the left leaves space for the poetic imagination.
Martin Amis

A similar attitude towards space can be seen in the portrait of the author Martin Amis. He stands on the left with a serious expression, set against a striped wooden background. The light is coming from the right, casting deep shadows to the left. The picture is not very sharp. The aperture was f/1.4. Only the eyes are in focus. As no flash was used, there are no catch lights in the eyes, giving an enigmatic quality.

JPL-Millibands

The photo of the Miliband brothers at the Labour Party conference was taken under difficult circumstances. This was just after the moment when he was voted party leader. The photographer had to act quickly in order to be in the right position to get the shot. There was no time for composition or lighting but the photo still catches something very important. The hands seem more expressive than the faces. To capture an image like this you have to be able to move quickly and you must be on top of the technical side of photography. The aperture was f/4 and shutter speed 1/80th of a second.

Amadou and Mariam

To record the essence of the subject you often have to capture the essence of their working environment. Jon photographed music stars Amadou and Mariam at the New Century Hall before their Concert in the Dark at the Manchester International Festival in 2009. Jon has depicted them small in the frame, placed against an almost totally black background. Only a small amount of light shines on them. They are both wearing dark glasses, and most of the picture is black. A paparazzi style photo taken outside the venue with a flash would not have captured the essence of the subject, as this image does.

BBC Easter Passion - Photo by Jon Parker-Lee

The photo of the lead actor in the Manchester Passion play 2007 was also taken under difficult circumstances. It was near the end of the rehearsal, actor and crew were tired, but the photo is still very successful. The subject is illuminated from above by flash and the crucifix behind ls lit up from inside, providing some rim lighting on his hair and shirt. Again John has placed the subject off centre, and look how the left hand side of the head is placed midway over the left hand side of the crucifix. Even with a shot taken in the space of a couple of seconds, composition is all important. There is just about the right amount of light falling on the ground. The control of light in this image is very good indeed.

The George Best tribute image from 2005 shows the potential of ‘a photo within the photo’ but what really gives the image a lot of power is the use of diagonal shadows at the top and the bottom. The piece of chewing gum – or is it a squashed piece of Blu-Tack – is in keeping with the improvised nature of the subject.

George Best tribute - photo by Jon Parker-Lee

I’ve picked out the photo of Gill Wright, project manager at Victoria Baths, because I know her. e setting is actually quite untypical of the Baths, as the changing cabins don’t normally look like this. A single light is set up inside a cubicle in the main pool. Gill sits inside, maybe a little self-consciously, with a smile on her face. She is very slightly off centre which could be said to break the rules of composition. Actually they are not rules, they’re guidelines. Overall, the image works well.

Manc Way - Photo by Jon Parker-Lee

I love the photo of road markings on the Mancunian Way from 2004. This is the closest subject matter to mine. The viewpoint is from above, making the road look like a wall and turning the letters into graffiti lit up by the orange street lamps. The line on the right looks like an exclamation mark without the dot. Without doubt, a strong statement about Manchester.

JON_PARKER_LEE_EXHIBITION

The vigil to remember the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is lit by just a few candles and little else. John has managed to achieve a picture that is sharp and without any blur due to movement. There is just the right amount of lighting on the faces of the three people in the foreground, including Neville Ball and Betty Tebbs. In terms of composition, they make three points of a triangle. Betty Tebbs, who is wearing the anti-nuclear necklace, is the central focus of the image. A point-and-shoot photographer would probably have just used flash. This photograph shows why you often have to use available light to capture the true essence of a scene. It is not easy to achieve, but Jon has managed it here.

Gill Wright Victoria Baths

So those are my thoughts. If you’re serious about photography there is no substitute for going along to an exhibition and studying top quality framed prints by a skilled, experienced and imaginative photographer – like Jon Parker-Lee! The exhibition finished in early December 2013, but you can keep up to date with Jon Parker Lee by going to his website www.jonparkerlee.com.

Comments:
Ian Wylie @ianwylie London
@AidanEyewitness Thanks Aidan. Great photos enhanced by really interesting comments.

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