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Library Walk Inquiry: The Inside Report

Emma Curtin of the 'Against' campaign takes a look at the Inquiry so far

Published on October 31st 2014.

Library Walk Inquiry: The Inside Report

LIBRARY Walk has been closed to the public for some years as refurbishment work to Central Library and the Town Hall Extension has taken place.

Meanwhile Manchester City Council has ignored government guidance - or wasn’t aware it was in place - and built a designer glass lobby across this much-loved access path between Mount Street and St Peter’s Square.

Let’s call it a ‘glass lobby’ because a council representative confirmed last week that, “it is not a building”. 

Over 1,300 people signed a petition and 127 letters of objection were submitted. The contentious moving of the Cenotaph had two written objections.

All this means you could be forgiven for not realising Library Walk is still a public Right of Way. The non-building has Planning Permission, but this isn’t enough to close the Right of Way, which is the subject of an on-going Public Inquiry. If the Council lose, the building may have to be dismantled. 

An expensive Inquiry would have been avoided if the Council had listened to people earlier. 

The glass lobby was not included in the original St Peter’s Square Consultation. So the first real opportunity to object was to the Planning Application. Over 1,300 people signed a petition and 127 letters of objection were submitted. The proposal was approved in a Planning Committee meeting packed with objectors. Demonstrating the strength of feeling, the Inquiry has heard, that none of the other applications related to St Peter’s Square, including the contentious moving of the Cenotaph, had more than two written objections.

Oh look there's no 'glass lobby' on these plansOh look there's no 'glass lobby' on these plans

The meticulously fair process of the Inquiry has been slow but occasionally entertaining with questions such as, “Are there any take-aways on Library Walk?” and statements such as “I am not a satnav, I am a human being.” 

Council witnesses earned their corn last week, facing cross-examination by up to fifteen interested parties. Some information exposed may not be pertinent to the Inspector’s decision. Nonetheless, it was surprising to learn that the officer in charge of the development was unaware of relevant government guidance. 

Confusion in the ranks about the separation of responsibilities between Planning and Capital Programmes raised concerns about Council processes. Essential to the Council’s case is the argument that works at Library Walk are not complete, so eyebrows were raised when it was confirmed a site visit wouldn't require protective clothing, usually essential if there’s the slightest ongoing work. It was quickly agreed activity will be suspended next week.  


Back in the thirties just as Library Walk's beauty is about to be revealed to the publicBack in the thirties just as Library Walk's beauty is about to be revealed to the public


The real reason for the closure of Library Walk remains unclear. 

The Council hope to Stop Up the Footpath, install gates at Mount Street and retain the glass lobby built at St Peter’s Square. Planning Conditions will allow public access between 6am and 10pm. But, this doesn’t give the same protection as a Right of Way. The development critically damages the experience of passing through Library Walk, which the 20th Century Society describes as “unique within Europe”.

Rumours that architect of Library Walk, Ian Simpson, gave a lecture years ago describing it as his favourite space in Manchester seem moot when the work is so far advanced. Opponents of the closure reference Gordon Cullen's concept of Serial Vision to explain how the design of the Walk between curved buildings slowly reveals views of St Peter's Square and The Friends Meeting House. Peter Zumthor was also quoted alongside architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. 

The challenge facing objectors championing architectural quality is to make their argument in terms relevant to the Inquiry's specific remit. The inspector must firstly decide if the closure is necessary. 

The council's arguments include the bizarre idea that the Central Library, with its huge portico, needs a more legible entrance. 

Now where is the entrance to Central Library, can't see it anywhereNow where is the entrance to Central Library, can't see it anywhere

More serious is the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour, but their crime figures don’t actually refer to Library Walk and a Council officer admitted the proposal creates new opportunities for crime. A very serious attack occurred in 2010 but there is not a shred of evidence to suggest crime levels are worse than on other city streets. Witnesses spoke of safely using the Walk day and night. Confidential’s own Jonathan Schofield rubbished perceptions of fear and Dr Millington suggested ways to improve safety without closure.

Further justification is fire evacuation and accessibility. But how constructing another potential bottleneck aids this is hard to understand and in any case a Council officer confirmed on Wednesday that both the Library and Town Hall Extension are already safe and accessible. Questions from the Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group (MDPAG) raised concerns that the lobby itself may be inaccessible to many, including visually impaired and autistic users. 

The need for improved connection between buildings for the delivery of council services was challenged by Councillor Davies. Others queried the methodology for calculating projected visitor numbers. The Council's aspirations for accessibility, safety and improved connection between buildings could simply be achieved by opening doors directly out onto Library Walk and the Right of Way. 

Regardless of its outcome, this Inquiry has united people, passionate about the city. It feels like an exciting moment,

Next the Inspector must understand the disadvantage caused by the loss of the Right of Way. The Council reduces this to a matter of distance. The Greater Manchester Pedestrian Association (GMPA), the Open Spaces Society (OSS) and DPAG challenge the suitability of the alternative routes which are less accessible and not traffic free. They highlight that only part of Lloyd Street is a Right of Way. If Library Walk were closed this would be the only guaranteed footpath through the block. Academics and pedestrian groups argue against this loss of urban permeability. 

There is considerable evidence that people choose to walk further to use Library Walk. The real disadvantage of losing Library Walk would be the loss of a guaranteed right to experience an uplifting, special place in the city.  

This must be an uncomfortable moment for the Council but to quote Council Leader Sir Richard Leese, “That people are prepared to campaign for things in the city is important, it’s good.” 

Fingers crossed, Library Walk will soon be open and unobstructed again for our enjoyment. But, regardless of its outcome, this Inquiry has united people, passionate about the city. It feels like an exciting moment, one that underlines the need for the Council to listen and not high-handedly believe that only it knows best.   

The Inquiry will resume again on the Thursday 6 November at 11am in the Coroner’s Court, Manchester Town Hall. There is still one Council Witness to give evidence and at least six Opponent witnesses. It is as yet unclear when a judgement will be delivered.

Emma Curtin is a Mancunian architect and teacher at the Liverpool School of Architecture

What we have lost - but will be forever? Over to you inspectorWhat we have lost - but will be forever? Over to you inspector

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

Poster BoyOctober 31st 2014.

Land grab. Nothing more, nothing less.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Well done Emma! So important people like you are standing up to this outrageous issue of 3.5 million thrown to a carbuncle, ignoring not only the law but common sense. This wasteful and grotesque case has proven and damaged many peoples expectations of how this city is run and for what vanities and dictates. So many rules have been broken and this has been railroaded through with utter contempt of listening to people. Let's hope this shakes up our Council and makes them begin to work with rather than against people in a failing planning process. The exclusion of public dialogue, research, learning and respect of learning through dialogue for better outcomes has to end now.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Funny how whenever Library walk is mentioned on this site our local Councillors go quiet. At the risk of going all 'David' this is Leeses' arrogance.....no more no less.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Actually Councillor Joan Davies did a great speech and asked pertinent questions as part of against team. A rare lone voice it seems.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Excellent, Joan's a good 'un. Anything from Beth or Kevin?......What about City Center spokesman and lover of all thing Christmas Pat Karney?

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Thankfully Peel seems to have stayed out of it. Either outcome sure he'll say he was pivotal as per when not at all. As for Karney, stuck on the big wheel? Beth might be more quiet but surely that is better than spin doctors?

DavidOctober 31st 2014.

What happened to Lucy since becoming an MP she seems to have nothing to say

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

I'm surprised Mancon didn't promote the hearing at least a week in advance. There always seems to be enough people that are against it on here. I was there and there was a good sized turnout, but there could have been more. Armchair protestors on Mancon perhaps?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorOctober 31st 2014.

I'm surprised that you should even think that since I gave evidence and our first article on the subject was key...oh no I'm letting ranters with scatter gun logic get to me. Damn, I must stop.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

That was me JS. We've never met and I don't know what you look like, son, plus I have a full time job and couldn't be there all day, and if you had a real job yourself you'd understand. 'Scatter gun logic' indeed! FFS!

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Oh!...and YOU could have at least brought the meeting up on Mancon a week before the hearing!

DavidOctober 31st 2014.

It's far too late for the mentality of this arrogant,one party council to change.People should realise these people will never change,never become more responsive,and put the city before their own interests.Only when the people wise up,like in Scotland and totally abandon Labour will things change.At the moment because of decades of Labour rule,the whole establishment and media in Manchester is in their pocket,because without any believe in the possibility of change,they don't want to upset Manchester perpetual rulers.

Listen to us!October 31st 2014.

I really hope this glass thing gets taken down and the council are left red faced with the huge embarrassment it would cause. It's serves no purpose, isn't needed and has made a beautiful part of the city centre look ugly and it's cost £3.5m! I've followed the fight on Twitter and every single reason the council offer for a reason to have it has been shown to be codswollop. I just hope they aren't allowed to get away with it by making some sort of deal. I'll be very disappointed if they get away with it. The I know better than you attitude didn't work with Piccadilly Gardens and its not worked here. Listen to the people of Manchester. WE DON'T WANT THIS MONSTROSITY.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

It would make quite a fancy bus shelter don't you think?

DavidOctober 31st 2014.

It should be officially renamed Leeses folly and be listed by english heritage and kept to remind future generations of when Manchester was a one party Labour council.

moragOctober 31st 2014.

Great article, cheers. I'd like to echo what Emma has said about the inquiry, the process has been more intense and entertaining than anticipated and it is open to anyone to attend. You can drop in and out and even if you can just pop in for a bit a crowd really helps demonstrate people care about Library Walk and the wider issues it has become a conduit for. As it says above it resumes 11am on Thursday, and will also be on Friday 7th from 9.30. Still some really interesting witnesses to speak and it really is all to play for. The save library walk witness team are an amazing bunch of passionate, caring and expert people with diverse and important views. I'd also really like to thank everyone else for their support, its been amazing! Please if you do twitter follow us on @savelibrarywalk and if you fancy wearing a campaign badge you can collect them from the inquiry or email savelibrarywalk@gmail.com Please get in touch if you need any more information or want to get involved in any way. Thanks again, Morag

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Why was this built? Things that cross my mind are back handers, corruption, authoritarianism, parochialism, vested interests, and neo-liberalism, not to mention MCC's worship of Ian Simpson. Besides being concerned about the loss of right of way, and the general "We'll boss the city around, never mind what the populace want" attitude that time and time again emanates from MCC, I've seen the glass structure from through the gates to the right of the Central Library entrance, and, frankly, its a monstrosity that seems devoid of any design sensibility. Here's to a return to free access and the purity of design of Library Walk.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Whatever the outcome, will the man behind this ie. the man whose idea it was to have this built lose his job? Who is behind this anyway?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
DavidNovember 1st 2014.

Leese is the man.But the cowards on the Labour benches who won't stand up to the man,are as much to blame.

AnonymousNovember 1st 2014.

Are you saying Leese signed it off or it was his idea, or both?

NickyNovember 1st 2014.

David, is your surname Cameron by any chance ;)

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

What about the possibility direct action to occupy this space to prevent this being built ?

6 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Too late, it is already built.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2014.

Make shift doors can easily be opened and if that's illegal, the padlocked gate can easily be leapt over. Just saying ;)

DavidOctober 31st 2014.

A place for skateboarders to do there thing

AnonymousNovember 1st 2014.

It's 'their' David, not 'there'.

DavidNovember 1st 2014.

If only we had the Luftwaffe to get rid of it

AnonymousNovember 1st 2014.

Drone strikes. Americans are good at those aren't they Rinkdink?

rinkydinkNovember 1st 2014.

Please try to look forward, you are all depressing in your crapism

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 1st 2014.

Is that an Americanism?

rinkydinkNovember 1st 2014.

Crap I believe has a global meaning

AnonymousNovember 1st 2014.

When the Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street was refurbished and extended into the Athenaeum building next door, a glass box was built between them both to not only connect them both, but provide lifts and stairs. Now that's fine, but coincidentally an extra entrance was also fitted to it, despite the gallery's obvious and grand Mosley Street entrance only yards away.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomNovember 1st 2014.

The new entrance to the Art Gallery is hardly ever used. Most people still use the impressive entrance on Moseley Street. And the glass link between the various parts of the gallery does have a purpose. It links three separate buildings in a purposeful way. They were three buildings that needed linking as they have the same purpose and people need to move from one to the other to fully enjoy the experience. The Art Gallery link has been immensely successful. The Library Walk construction joins two buildings that do not have a common purpose. Both buildings have entrances that have been used by generations of Manchester residents successfully for the last 80 years. Neither building needs this extra entrance which has also ruined one of the most elegant parts of the city at great expense in a time when the council is supposed to be strapped for cash.

Mark FullerNovember 1st 2014.

I'd be fascinated to read an evaluation of this 'non building' thingy, from the perspective of Feng Shui.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
EdwardNovember 1st 2014.

Well it's never a good idea to unnecessarily block ch'i energy. In terms of the 5 elements glass is water element, which might put out the councils flame.

rinkydinkNovember 1st 2014.


rinkydinkNovember 1st 2014.


AnonymousNovember 2nd 2014.

I'm no fan of this glass monstrosity, and believe it should never have been built. However, let's not romanticise library walk. It was a dark dingy alleyway that was used as a public toilet most nights; had had its fair share of violent attacks and needed swilling with cleaning fluid every morning to remove the vomit, faeces and urine. ManCon needs to be asking more questions. It is already significantly over budget, and some 6 months behind schedule. Already the build quality has been shown to be poor with leakages into the library area below. There is no maintenance budget for keeping the glass clean, and it will deteriorate over time. Look at the Town Hall Extension which has no window cleaning budget - with windows becoming so grimy since it reopened in May 2013 that you can't see through them. The doors of the glass building will be left open all day allowing the heat from Central Library and the Rates hall to flow out into the cold air; neutralising any benefits of the all-singing-all-dancing CCHP Power system. The overall build quality of the Town Hall Extension has been appalling; with paint peeling off walls, plaster cracking around the electrical systems and toilets not working because the water can't reach above the 2nd floor. And now they want to "transform" the beautiful grade 1 listed Town Hall building... catastrophe can only reign.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
CruftNovember 2nd 2014.

Sorry, 'fair share of violent attacks' - to me knowledge there was one sexual assault in LW. Obviously, one is too many, but is that one incident all that you're referring to? And you've characterised LW totally unfairly - it's only dark and dingy when the weather's dark or at night time - when it's sunny, it's beautiful, and even when it's just overcast it is still graceful and elegant. And it's not a bloody alleyway - stop doing the council's PR for them!

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2014.

Cruft, you might want to check back - it had its fair share of muggings and beatings over the years; not just a single sexual assault. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and whilst it might have been architecturally significant; it was practically an alley that was used as a public toilet; let's not romanticise that. It's certainly not the gem that the "no" campaign has built it up to be. That being said, it didn't need a glass monstrosity either.

moragNovember 5th 2014.

Hi anonymous, I've spent a really long time (probably longer than anyone should) looking at crime stats and I have never seen any that are publically available that show Library Walk to be a crime hotspot, indeed it is relatively safe compared to the rest of the city. Genuinely interested in any facts you may have to contradict this. Same is true of the dreaded pee etc too - its a problem through out the city and should not be justification for enclosure. Of course I cant argue about your perception, you may not like the place but 100s of people have said they think Library Walk is a beautiful space and want the freedom to be able to choose to walk down it. I agree with you on the need to ask tough questions about budgets too. And please do share your stats.

AnonymousNovember 3rd 2014.

I had the displeasure of seeing this at the weekend. What have you done Mr Leese? The sad thing is there is absolutely no need for it whatsoever. I don't hold out much hope for you if you want to run for Greater Manchester Mayor in 2017! Although you'd probably have enough neck to go for it!

AnonymousNovember 29th 2014.


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