Consultation on ideas for the Manchester Piccadilly rail station city quarter

Manchester City Council is consulting on various ideas for the regeneration of the neighbourhood around Manchester Piccadilly rail station. Two large documents can be downloaded at www.manchester.gov.uk/hs2piccadillyconsultation and responses are asked for by 8 November 2013.

This is mine, with some background first.

The proposals are in two parts: the Mayfield area to the south and the HS2 area to the north. The Mayfield area is set to change first, not least because of Network Rail’s imminent plans to add two extra platforms to the station on the south side, and the impact that change will have on the surrounding area. HS2 will come later, on the north side, but has to dovetail in.

So, to the Mayfield proposal. It is an update on a previous plan from 2010, and towards the end of the document there are, to my mind, the most thoughtful elements. Some of the early pages contain statements that are somewhat ‘any-place’. Does anyone still expect “mixed retail and leisure” will make a scheme viable in the near future? Later on, as I say, there is a sense that market conditions will be very challenging, along with some lighter design touches to what earlier appears to be some heavily massed buildings. The urban park approach is to be highly welcomed, but not one in permanent shade.

The proposals rightly emphasise in the proximity of the train station as an asset for any new offices nearby. But this proximity is also an asset in the evenings. People can meet up, talk or socialise to around 9.30pm, then catch a train over the road and be tucked up safely in bed up to 50 miles away early enough for a ‘school night’.

A niche music quarter

No-one wants a city quarter that just displaces activity from other quarters. So, how about a niche quarter for music? Music today does not require the bespoke complex studios of a few years ago, and to a large extent the recording and transmission of music is covered by the digital economy. But the experience of live music, of musicians as well as music, is these days somewhat limited to large venues and large acts. The micro cultures of trad jazz, of electric folk, of R&B, never mind say African or Japanese inspired music, are hard to nurture yet bring wonderful cultural and social benefits.

Prof Richard Florida and others have written extensively on culturally driven urban renaissance, and there is strong evidence that much of the British 1960s pop culture grew out of cities with international ports, cultures and music shops where music of black origin, especially the American South blues, gained a foothold in youth culture.

So imagine an area of the city where just 100 like-minded people drawn from a 50 mile radius can meet after work in an evening and share a liking for hard core soul music, or whatever, times twenty or thirty. Similarly, most musicians will be holding down a day job while pursuing their passion. The residential properties within the Mayfield area would appeal to some such performers with a day job in the city if evening performance and networking were possible.

In a nutshell, the suggestion is for a number of small scale, flexible indoor spaces aimed at audiences of 50 to 150 roughly. The Robert Bolt theatre (in Sale, M33) gives an example of this small, multi-use format. And the anchor tenant could be the Royal Northern College of Music.

(The next post will be on the HS2 proposals for north of the station.)

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