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THE FORMER LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE BANK building, opened in 1890, stands on the street called Spring Gardens at the top of King Street. It was later occupied by Barclays Bank, and lay empty until it became Rothwells bar and night club.

The facade is magnificent, recalling the merchants houses of northern Europe, particularly those on the main square in Brussels. One of the attractions of that square in Brussels is that it has preserved the look of three centuries ago, and there are no modern buildings visible.

Not so in Manchester, where we can see the monolithic form of Sunley Tower (Piccadilly Plaza) intruding over the roofline.

Many cities, such as Paris, Dubai, and Prague have kept their historic city centres free of tall buildings. Instead, outlying areas have been reserved for modern development, where architects can give full rein to their ideas, creating a bold, modernist environment.

In Manchester a handful of Modernist-style office towers have been inserted into a mostly Victorian cityscape. The towers detract from the historic character of the city centre, but at the same time fail to create an exciting, American-style skyline, as there aren't enough of them.

Most people familiar with Manchester city centre would probably not shed too many tears if Sunley Tower and the rest of Piccadilly Plaza were torn down (I actually quite like it, in its original concept, though it's totally out of place in this location).

So here I've digitally demolished the offending office tower, allowing the 1890 building to shine through again.

SPINNINGFIELDS is the area next to Deansgate which in the 1999 redevelopment plan has been extended to cover the area right down to the River Irwell. This area is to be transformed over a ten year period into a district of multi-storey luxury apartments, cafes and offices. The Law courts, Rylands Library The Pump House Museum, and a few other buildings are to be retained, but Northcliffe House, the 1971 Magistrates court and the entire city centre campus of City College (formerly St John's College, where I once did A Level German) will disappear.

Here we are looking across the Irwell from the Salford side of the river towards the City College campus. Workshops are accommodated in the industrial style building with the unusual curved roof. The main block, dating from the early 1960's, is on the right. To the left is the Pump House Museum.

In ten years time, tall apartment blocks recalling Paris or Madrid, will stand on the opposite bank of the river. Water buses, similar to those I saw in Venice, will operate between here and Salford Quays. It will be a far cry from the cramped and decrepit industrial buildings partially damaged during the war and later swept away during post-war redevelopment.

Study this scene very carefully and revisit Eyewitness in Manchester in ten years time to compare how it looks then.

THE AREA ALONG CHAPEL STREET Salford is a specially designated urban renewal area - it is to be upgraded and redeveloped, extending the city centre across the Irwell.

There are many historic buildings in this area, including this one on the former Irwell Street, now Trinity Way, just next to the railway line - the corroded girders of the railway bridge can be seen at the top of the picture.

I have no information about this building, which I assume is listed, and has been secured pending future re-use. The tower would make a great place for a multi-floor apartment with views over the city in four directions.

THE OPERA HOUSE stands on Quay Street opposite the site of the Hospital for Skin Diseases, an interesting but unlisted building dating from the turn of the 19th/20th century, which disappeared without warning in late 1998.

Here, in August 2000, we see a new office block under construction where the Hospital for Skin Diseases used to stand. Another link with Manchester at the peak of its Victorian success is lost.

For a time, the Opera House was threatened with demolition but thank goodness, it has survived.

WE ARE STANDING at the end of Whitworth Street, looking towards Piccadilly Station, where the office tower is currently undergoing redevelopment and is shrouded in scaffolding. The tower dates from the 1960 redevelopment of the station, which changed its name from London Road to Piccadilly.

On the right we can see the Old Fire Station, one of Manchester's most magnificent and most palatial buildings. Since 1982 it has been standing mostly empty. Plans for conversion into a hotel never materialised.

THE OLD FIRE STATION is one of my favourite buildings in Manchester, and is a reminder of Manchester's late Victorian golden age when, following the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, the city enjoyed a period of confidence and prosperity.

The Fire Station, opened in 1905, exudes the opulence and splendour of this era. It remained in its original use until 1982, when the firefighters and their equipment moved to more modern facilities.

Why has it not been possible to find a new use for the Old Fire Station. Hotel? Arts Centre? Shopping arcade? Surely it's in an ideal location right next to Piccadilly Station, even more so when the new station entrance on Fairfield Street (in the distance on the right) is ready.

GATEWAY HOUSE, on Piccadilly Station Approach (also known as Piccadilly South) has an exterior balcony with good views.

Here we are looking west across the bottom of the approach and across London Road. Many old buildings used to stand here - now only one remains, occupied by an Indian restaurant. Surely this area could be put to better use.

Currently it's a hotch potch of small car parks, a car rental depot, empty lots, shrubbery, landscaping and benches, with the Metrolink line running through middle of it. Better to build a development on this space than on Piccadilly Gardens, half a mile away.

Another interesting item in this picture - the early 1960's Hillman Minx in the lower centre.

Join Aidan on his Manchester Photo Walk.
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