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St Peter’s Square v Piccadilly Gardens

Jonathan Schofield appreciates how the new proposals don’t have any daft lawns

Written by . Published on July 25th 2010.


St Peter’s Square v Piccadilly Gardens

Last weekend for a fleeting moment in the old Visitors Information Centre in the Town Hall Extension five proposals appeared.

The best entrant in Confidential’s opinion is the second simplest and the one pictured here. This levels out the sunken gardens, creates strong pathways and moves the weight of the tram station to the north west side of the track thus reducing the imposition on the Cenotaph – sadly the brief doesn’t allow the station to be moved.

This was the shortlist for the re-modelling of St Peter's Square, the most confused public space in central Manchester. The winner will be announced in a couple of months and the work will be completed by 2014. All the entries were anonymous to keep the judges on their unpreferential treatment toes.

Part of the Council’s press release announcing the shortlist said: ‘St Peter’s Square currently lacks a unified identity and is somewhat cluttered because it has evolved gradually over the years.’

‘Somewhat cluttered’.

The Square is more of an obstacle course than a public space: there’s the weird walled crèche, the grim sunken Peace Gardens, a cycle track designed for knocking people over and a bus lane that makes an island of the tram stop. Worst of all the tram station is smacked into the face of the cenotaph with all the grace of an Asbo kid showing his arse to a war veteran on Remembrance Sunday.

The five shortlisted entries all identify these issues and iron them out in various cunning ways most of which fail. But even the worst of the entries has a trump card up it sleeve which will help in creating cohesion.

The Mosley Street part of the Square on the south east side and the bus lane between will be closed to traffic. Only Princess and Oxford Streets, to the north east and the south west will remain open - trams will continue to run through the square.

This has given the entrants a fantastic opportunity to create a truly memorable civic space.

The best in Confidential’s opinion is the second simplest and the one pictured here. This levels out the sunken gardens, creates strong pathways and moves the weight of the tram station to the north west side of the track thus reducing the imposition on the Cenotaph – sadly the brief doesn’t allow the station to be moved.

The way nature has been treated in this design is bold and imaginative. On the Princess Street side a wood of very tall native and exotic trees will be housed in circular seating structures. How on earth such tall trees can be delivered intact is hard to work out but they would have to be tall from the beginning not mere saplings. If they were the latter we’d have to wait years for the effect and I don’t know about you, but I’m impatient.

The problem with the Council brief for these designs was the decision to ask for a Peterloo commemoration (when fifteen people were struck down in the struggle for democratic rights in 1819). It’s a problem because any such monument should be somewhere along Windmill Street round the corner, where the Peterloo Massacre actually occurred.

The big X motif on our fave design is horrible, doesn’t mark the spot and is a clumsy reference to the ballot box cross. The over the top detail on it referring to massacre would be hard to decipher coherently either.

Confidential has often argued that Manchester should have its own Walk of Achievement marking Manchester’s pioneering spirit (Click here). Paving stones could contain a fact each and provide a walkway for city children to learn how important their city is and thus build identity and sense of place. It’d impress tourists and guests to Manchester as well. Maybe St Peter’s Square could be the location.

The monumental error of the monument aside all the proposals are notable for avoiding any attempt at grassing over the space.

This brings us to the sorry state of Piccadilly where the lawns have suffered their own massacre.

The official line comes from Councillor Pat Karney, Manchester Council's city centre spokesman.

He told Confidential: "Piccadilly Gardens has proved hugely popular this summer with families flocking to enjoy the warm weather. Unfortunately, it has been the victim of its own success as the combination of the prolonged dry spell and the very high number of people concentrated in a small area, have left it parched despite regular watering. I will be calling a meeting of officers to consider whether we need to review the situation."

Apparently there are new ideas about how to plant the grass without having to replant it at huge cost every two or three years. But these measures won’t be implemented until January. So that’s six months of mud and ugliness.

Confidential knows there is tremendous sentimentality about the lawns, but if they can’t be maintained adequately under the new measures and in two years they are burnt out again, perhaps it’s time to consider a hard surface with lots of judicious planting to create pretty and maintainable greenery.


We don’t need lawns in the busiest squares in Manchester, as the entrants to the St Peter’s Square design competition all realised. Lawns under millions of feet get beaten to a pulp every time. Personally I look forward one day to strolling between two exciting, bustling squares of real scale – as St Peter’s Square and Piccadilly Gardens undoubtedly are – and finding them both mud-free.

Ugly mud face Piccadilly

Ugly mud face Piccadilly

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48 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

D KesslerJuly 21st 2010.

Who are the designers?

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 21st 2010.

I think this sentence said it all: 'All the entries were anonymous to keep the judges on their unpreferential toes.' The answer is we didn't know who the entrants were.

Leigh ScottJuly 22nd 2010.

I would like to see the gardens have a little band stand where local musicians can play classical or popular stuff with seating areas and small cabins selling manchester touristy stuff.

I love this comment. "Worst of all the tram station is smacked into the face of the cenotaph with all the grace of an Asbo kid showing his arse to a war veteran on Remembrance Sunday".

mancangelJuly 22nd 2010.

any chance of people who couldnt make the weekend getting a chance to see them? i've emailed the council but to no avail; it was such a fleeting 'consultation' for such an important space. I totally agree with all mancons comments above btw and am really excited to see what happens, so much room for inprovement here as long as library walk is protected, i fear for the day it gets a roof put on it as has been suggested in the past.

CkrisgJuly 22nd 2010.

Any chance Pat Karney will get a local bylaw passed to keep the winos, big issue sellers and various scum out of the new square. If not welcome to Picadilly number 2 family friendly its not!!

DibigoJuly 22nd 2010.

So you are 'scum' if you sell the big issue???

Burt CodeineJuly 22nd 2010.

Is picture 5/6 an amalgamation of various elements in the scheme? I seems to have moved the shelter into the forest...looks pretty special but then again if it's a bit of a fib I'll be quite glum :(

KneemanJuly 22nd 2010.

Confidential sentence of the week: 'Worst of all the tram station is smacked into the face of the cenotaph with all the grace of an Asbo kid showing his arse to a war veteran on Remembrance Sunday.'

ckrisgJuly 22nd 2010.

DIBIGO reread I didnt say that, keep them out of the square yes.

Hero
Andrew RevansJuly 22nd 2010.

Presumably the tall trees just extend over the site of the "peace garden" and don't encroach into the "square" proper? If the latter, they will just add to the clutter; if the former I think they're a great idea.

The tall colonnaded face of the Town Hall Extension was never intended to be seen flat-on. Until the early 1970s the "peace garden" was home to a collection of small Victorian buildings, some of which had very handsome facades. All was swept away to accomodate never-built additional council accommodation. Putting big tall things on the site will massively improve the cohesion of the area and should make the square look like a square again.

Hero
Andrew RevansJuly 22nd 2010.

Sorry about the repetition and bad spelling of accommodate....

J E SibberingJuly 22nd 2010.

Any idea why moving the tram stop away from Lutyen's cenotaph isn't an option, e.g it could be sited where the useless, sunken, rarely-used Peace Garden is located?

ckrisgJuly 22nd 2010.

The Tram Stop could be moved, but who is going to pay the massive cost and imagine the months of delays. Metrolink have to shut the entire system down for a broken tram

JamesJuly 22nd 2010.

The grass is the least of your worries in Piccadilly Gardens. I would never contemplate eating or sitting out on the grass in the hot weather because of 2 reasons - a)the anti-social louts that the gardens atttract b)the horrible architecture and desgin of the gardens that you have to look at. There are far nicer parts of Manchester to sit where you can actually relax and also take in some fatastic buildings.
Piccadilly Gardens redesign was a terrible mistake and I think everybody knows it. I wish they would start all over. That hideous concrete curve defies belief. It seems that St Peter's Square will go the same way as the 5 entries have absolutely no imagination or creativity to them at all.

JonJuly 22nd 2010.

I think the concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens is imaginative and creative... Also, the louts (in my experience) tend to just sit around talking, smoking, playing in the fountain. They're not 'my kind of people', but it's still great. Public spaces should be about all sorts of people mixing together and using the space. If you try to remember what Piccadilly Gardens was like 10 years ago, when it was genuinely antisocial, the contrast is so extreme it is almost impossible to compare then and now.

Returning to St Peter's: I like the tall trees, but they are confined to a very small space at one end of the plan. Also, tree planting schemes, unlike concrete walls, are the thing that always get scaled down from planning to reality. They are expensive; and if you take away the trees then it seems that all this plan leaves you with is a paved empty space. No clutter - tick. Ummm... but that's because it is actually Nothing...

DibigoJuly 22nd 2010.

A 'no various scum' bylaw... good idea, can really see that coming into effect. Imagine... "Your not coming in mae, you not heard about the no various scum bylaw? Yeah we don't let scum in. You're not scum? Prove it. Go and see CKRISG on no scum security. He'll let you know if your scum. Do yourself a favour though and hide the Big Issue mags that your trying to sell".

JonJuly 22nd 2010.

And... can I just say this is the first time I've seen the scale of the new (proposed) building on St Peter's square in situ. It looks SO much out of proportion to everything around it, towering over the library, the midland and the listed office space opposite it. It will overshadow any changes to the street level layout, and put much of it in shade, so maybe my comments are pointless anyway...

EditorialJuly 22nd 2010.

Jon there's a link to the Elisabeth House full story we did here http://tiny.cc/ada16

ckrisgJuly 22nd 2010.

Well said Jon - DIBIGO I'll make sure we dont write the rules as you cannot read. Piccadilly Gardens ws not antisocial ten years ago, it was ok.

DibigoJuly 22nd 2010.

CKRISG - No your right, I can't read. Piccadilly gardens has always been a dump... it's a shame someone didn't come up with a no various scum policy before you. I wonder why no one ever did?

scumJuly 22nd 2010.

Silliness boys...

J E SibberingJuly 22nd 2010.

Yes ckrisg, I know 'the Tram Stop could be moved', hence I asked why it wasn't an option. One of the plans already involves amending the cenotaph-side platform, so I'm not convinced that cost is the reason. As all the schemes seem to involve filling in the Peace Garden, wouldn't it be sensible to move the station there, in order to enhance the layout and vista of the 'new' square.

Simon JwtJuly 22nd 2010.

Isn't (underneath) the peace gardens where the council's very own private car park is going to be?

Daniel WildJuly 22nd 2010.

10 years ago Piccadilly Gardens was pretty nasty - I was working shifts in the city centre at the time and remember dreading going for the tram home at night thanks to numerous undesirables lurking. Fair enough the undesirables may still be lurking, ybut you can see them now.
If I remember rightly, weren't the concrete blocks supposed to act as 'screens' for tv and stuff to be projected onto?

Leigh ScottJuly 22nd 2010.

i thought it was wind dan?

Daniel WildJuly 22nd 2010.

That's probably right actually Scoteee. I definitely remember sporting events being projected onto them a few years ago though - possibly commonwealth games?

AnonymousJuly 23rd 2010.

It's well known that the Editor hates St Peter's Square and is in favour of satinising it into tasteful anonimity dominateed by shade provided by two very tall buldings to be built on its southern side I see the Peace Garden is kept and welcome the oh so tasteful trees round the library and other parts also mostly in the shade. But unless only clarksonite car fans are the only people allowed into the city centre with their toys then buses have to go somewhere as do trams.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 23rd 2010.

Anonymous is this in anyway English? What are you on about?

AnonymousJuly 23rd 2010.

It's well known that the Editor hates St Peter's Square and is in favour of satinising it into tasteful anonimity dominateed by shade provided by two very tall buldings to be built on its southern side I see the Peace Garden is kept and welcome the oh so tasteful trees round the library and other parts also mostly in the shade. But unless only clarksonite car fans are the only people allowed into the city centre with their toys then buses have to go somewhere as do trams.

AnonymousJuly 23rd 2010.

I am just responding to the article and the debate. You did like the proposed building on the Elizabeth House site. It will shade the square. You have written on several occasions about your dislike of the current situation in St Peter's Square. I do welcome more trees (as do lots of people according to the MCC Development Plan draft in it's section on the City Centre.) The City Centre Traffic plan explains clearly the problems of accomodating traffic in the two square miles of the Centre whice limit what can be achieved in the public realm
I am aking regeneration if another view of the exhibtion is possible

Here is a revised version of my rant for you.

It's well known that the Editor hates St Peter's Square and is in favour of satinising it into tasteful anonimity dominateed by shade provided by two very tall buldings to be built on its southern side. I see the Peace Garden might be kept and I welcome the oh so tasteful trees round the library and other parts which will also be also mostly in the shade. But unless only clarksonite car fans are the only people allowed into the city centre with their toys then buses have to go somewhere as do trams.

Am I a Clarksonite?July 23rd 2010.

Can you be a car fan and not be 'Clarksonite'? (Clarksonite?!)

Kevin PeelJuly 26th 2010.

I'm delighted to see the plans for St. Peter's Square and hope to see them implemented as soon as possible for the benefit of all local residents and visitors. Pat is right that action needs to be taken to tackle the very serious ongoing issues in Piccadilly Gardens and I hope that a meeting can be called which involves local residents to discuss future proposals.

mancangelJuly 26th 2010.

its been a bit buried so hope no one minds me asking again: any chance residents can actually see and comment on the plans if they couln't make it to the 'fleeting' appearance?

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 27th 2010.

Mancangel....I suppose you'd have to ask the Council. But as far as we're aware that short weekend was all you got.

mancangelJuly 27th 2010.

Thank you, i appreciate your response. I have emailed the planning dept, and tried to ring them but no joy. rather frustrating as i happen to care about the city and would like to see (and fwiw comment on) the plans. i dont think one weekend is enough; surely it would be possible to put them online too? so much for "consultation"

AnonymousJuly 27th 2010.

I am trying to find time to talk to 'regeneration' about a second view. I let you know how I get on. Planning is too late as its all fixed then

Neil TattonJuly 27th 2010.

Does anyone know whether the money exists to see this project through? Was it supposed to be funded by the NWDA?

ConsultantJuly 28th 2010.

This money was banked before the NWDA cuts Unaplanner. It's happening.

mancangelJuly 28th 2010.

@anonymous great. from the outside the council is a labyrinth; never know who to takl to and constantly put on hold or in queues if you ring to ask a question. after many bad experiences i am very cynical about any intentention to consult

squirrelitoJuly 30th 2010.

Such a shame the Metro station couldn't have been shoved up to the Princess St end to really open up the space around the Library and Cenotaph, especially now the road traffic is being removed from Mosley St

AnonymousJuly 30th 2010.

Dear Mancangel I have been in touch with 'Regeneration (City Centre') the department responsible for it, and am making a representation. What I did was, on the phone, ask for the City Centre Planner in Planning. She was not there but a colleague put me in touch with R where I am submitting some points about it. The officer in R is away until Thursday.

However the real time for the consultation was when the brief was drawn up for the competition.

I often use city.council@manchester.gov.uk indicating the nature of the query and if possible 'for the attention of X department' the department. It is logged and you can follow it up if it doesn't work
There is another one for complaints on the home page of the website.

AnonymousAugust 5th 2010.

Piccadilly's concrete walls are PRIVATE. MCC's Green City team told me that the concrete construction by the tram tracks on Piccadilly is privately owned (check the Land Registry if you want to find out by whom.) I also understand that the owner is resistant to improving its appearance.

user67646October 27th 2010.

Any proposal for St Peters Square should include some sort of fountain...why are UK cities so devoid of these nice urban features? Go to New York, Vancouver or any European city and they've all got them...absolutely no reason why St Peters Square could'nt have one.

Ali McGNovember 3rd 2010.

Pic Gardens was a smelly poo hole before, but in its current guise I think is actually worse. It's modern, dull, boring, grey, crap lawns, a bloody good fountain (but it never works) and the wall? Sheesh. Oh - and don't forget the mature (plane?) trees that they felled in order to build the (nice, but too big for its location in a public realm) Number One Piccawilly building. It's a bloody shambles. As is Exchange Square (started off OK but too much stone, not enough twees and now that bloody wheel and horrid Triangle 'sculpture'...). I have no confidence in MCC to deliver anything good - because the only decent public thing of real acclaim - they demolished because they couldn't even get that right (B of the Bang...). Oh dear. Rant over. Sigh.

Ali McGNovember 3rd 2010.

Oh crap. I meant 'Its' not 'It's'. Sorry!

ALI MCGNovember 3rd 2010.

Oh I am a retard. I did mean 'It's' after all. I am just a thicko.

billy bob thorntonNovember 3rd 2010.

Everyone loves concrete, oh wait.

Daniel GriffinFebruary 10th 2011.

Picadilly Gardens is in a horrible state. It's problems stem from the fact it used to have buildings on it. When the buildings were demolished, they were left with this awkward stretch of land between Market Street, the bus station and the train station. As a result the only people gathering in the immeadiate area are feral schoolchildren and unemployed loiterers.

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