Northern Quarter aerial shot
A controversial proposal to demolish a row of listed 18th century weaver cottages in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter was struck down in the Planning Committee meeting last week.

With the survival of the buildings for now secured, how do the victorious campaigners and councillors want this local heritage to be restored and used?

For several years a row of former weavers cottages situated on the bright and bustling Thomas Street and the corner of Kelvin St, have been unoccupied. Due to years of neglect, several had fallen into dangerous disrepair and were partially demolished in 2018. Northern Quarter residents have long had to contend with decaying local heritage. While the area has grown steadily more fashionable in recent years, rent and land prices have risen in line with a series of proposals for boutique hotels, high-rise offices and luxury flats. The cottages were on the market for £15,000 in 1995, in 2017 they were sold for £470,000 to an Altrincham based firm called Baniprop. Trust in developers appears in short supply as several Northern Quarter residents have alleged owners are letting properties decay.

The cottages on Thomas Street being a case in point referred to by the residents. Manchester-based Real Estate Investment Partnership (REIP) proposed a five-storey mixed development of flats and shops. Crucially REIP argued the development was “unviable” if the cottages were preserved and requested, they be demolished to facilitate the proposal. Council planning officers, despite a successful application for Grade II listing and a strong objection by Historic England, agreed and had recommended demolition for last week’s vote.

The planning committee responded with a unanimous rejection of the plans. Within the meeting there were many strong speeches against the proposal. Sam Wheeler, a councillor for Piccadilly Ward, argued against the demolitions stating the buildings were “part of our industrial, working class and labour heritage in this city. I can’t help but feel if this were some cotton baron’s mansion we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Jon Connor-Lyons another Piccadilly councillor highlighted that REIP had drew up and costed a plan for renovation but it was disregarded because “their concern is ensuring they get the largest return possible… in this application financial returns are clearly a higher priority.” Connor-Lyons finished by asking “Will Manchester stand up for our history or will we decide to throw it away for a quick buck for developers?”

The answer from the committee was clear. The decision to reject the demolition of the cottages on Thomas Street has given campaigners and local residents the breathing space to suggest and put forward an alternative vision for the site.

The Meteor contacted Wheeler, Connor-Lyons and a local residents association, Northern Quarter Forum, to get their thoughts on this decision and the future for the cottages.

Councillor Sam Wheeler

“I’m glad that the committee made it clear we needed to retain these buildings, they help anchor the Northern Quarter in its industrial heritage … Piccadilly councillors are more than willing to work with the developers on a way forward, but the retention of the buildings is non-negotiable. I hope REIP will choose to engage with us.

“REIP have a legal duty to maintain these buildings. If they don’t the council can directly intervene to do so and charge them the cost. If REIP want to relieve themselves of the ongoing burden of maintenance they have the option to sell the site (they paid £2,020,000 for it). 

“I would like the two listed buildings onsite to be reintegrated into the street-scape and economic life of Manchester. They have served this city since the 18th century. They survived the Victorians, the Luftwaffe and the Post-War reconstruction. I look forward to working with the local community to see the best way to do that”

Councillor Jon Connor-Lyons

“The decision sends a message that the city council will not let landowners and developers throw away our working class Mancunian industrial heritage.

“The next step is … September’s Planning Committee meeting. If the members of the committee are still minded to refuse, the developers will then have to go away and speak to us as councillors and the local community to address our concerns. They could of course just remove the application and start this process now, but that decision rests with them.”

“The best solution, and the one I want to see implemented, is a full restoration with potentially higher elements on certain parts of Thomas Street to make the scheme more viable for the developers. It is completely possible to restore these buildings as others have done the same on Thomas Street and have projected a good margin of profit, they just need the will to do it.”

Northern Quarter Forum spokesperson

“There now needs to be a concerted effort by the Council to identify any building that is not being maintained whether it’s listed or not. We cannot afford to lose any more buildings of historic importance and the character of the neighbourhood.

“We’d like to see a sympathetic restoration of all the buildings. The original listed building on the corner of Kelvin St. and Back Turner St. to be converted into a Weaver’s Museum and Northern Quarter Visitors Centre. Ironically the development was to be called Warp and Weft and marketed as ‘Artisan Dwellings’ so maybe convert the buildings into just that….affordable work space and living accommodation for our creative community, artists studios and music studios. The corner plot where one of the buildings has already been demolished would be a pocket-park and maybe even a market garden.”

Next steps

With demolition being rejected in August the developer REIP still has another chance for an amended proposal to be accepted in the next Planning Committee meeting on 24 September. But with a unanimous rejection of the initial proposal it is likely that councillors will be looking for serious concessions from the developer to approve any new proposal.

By Nicholas Prescott

Featured image: Google Maps

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  • Nick is a writer and researcher from Kent who decamped to Manchester in 2014. He heads up the Communities Team which works on facilitating engagement with co-op members and under-represented communities around Manchester. Alongside editing the monthly newsletter he writes on housing, development, environment and local democracy. Nick is currently reading an MA in Political Science at the University of Manchester and is interested in autonomism, municipal socialism and local asset ownership.

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