Salford is possibly getting two horrid black office blocks, courtesy of Ask Developments and Salford City Council. They are going to be based just opposite Manchester Cathedral on the site of the old Exchange Station, are in the pipeline for planning permission and they already have architecture specialists up in arms. But that's only the start of the story.
First of all look at the artist's impression of the things (main photo) then read these hilarious comments taken from the planner and architects forum skyscrapercity.com …
Heatonparkincakes: `Has someone died? Personally think they are utterly and purely ugly pieces of arrogant crap…They stick out like a cancer growth on an albino… It's an affliction and I will blame SCC [Salford City Council]…I think a few councillors need to have a second look at the crap that they will be hoisting on the good folk of Greater Mancunia.'
Seasoned Best: `Gruesome twosome? Two ugly sisters?...Thoroughly horrific.'
Slow Burn: `Truly, truly atrocious! Typical Salford shit…'
Required: `Hypnotically bad.'
Blackfriars (on the `dancing fountains' at the front of the blocks): `It looks like an empty car park where the water pipes have been tampered with by kids during a heat wave'
JRB: `Look at the new Chets Music School. Look at Victoria Station. Look at Manchester Cathedral...Then stick two black glass Milton Keynes office blocks next to them…Fuck Off!'
And if the architecture is bad enough, the process by which these office blocks have come about is even more ugly, if that's possible.
The office blocks, Embankments 101 and 100, are being built by Ask Developments, a private profit making company, but Salford City Council has agreed to guarantee 50% of the rent on the first block for the next ten years.
With Grade A office space of 196,000 sq ft available, commentators (including Estates Gazette and Manchester Confidential) have estimated this will cost Salford Council anywhere between £750,000 to £2million a year if the building lies empty. This money will come from the Council's revenue funds, which means directly from Salford tax payers. And Salford Council doesn't even intend to take any space in the block.
What's more, the decision by Salford Council to underwrite the speculative project was taken by its Cabinet in secret (or Part 2) last October, was rushed through as "urgent and not subject to call-in" and the decision notice was never posted on the Council's website (we certainly can't find it), as is a legal requirement.
Fortunately, the Salford Star, by other means, has managed to obtain a copy of the decision dated October 2010. It's approved personally by Salford City Council Leader, John Merry and states only that there will be a "tiered approach to Phase 1 of the Greengate Regeneration Scheme through…a head lease being taken within the parameters set out in the report". No report is included.
We asked Salford Council if the decision was available on the Council's website, and, if not, why not? We also asked that if this decision wasn't on the Council's website, what other official decisions aren't being posted for the public to inspect. We waited weeks and weeks for an answer. We didn't get one.
Meanwhile, Salford Council's Chief Executive, Barbara Spicer, had gone on record partly justifying the decision to underwrite a speculative, privately owned office block by saying that it "will create 880 jobs".
We asked exactly how an office block will create 880 jobs and whether these jobs would be for Salford people, given that we could be paying up to £2million a year for the privilege. We didn't get a proper answer on this either.
All we got was a standard quote from John Merry saying "We have been working closely with Ask to develop this site. During tough financial times we have to take a decision on whether we invest and plan for recovery, or we freeze development plans. At Salford City Council we feel very strongly that we should continue to invest in the city to bring in jobs and improve our economy.
"This scheme is expected to bring 880 new jobs to Salford, which will benefit local residents, as well as those from across the region" he adds "The rental guarantee we have put in place is there to give developers the confidence to invest in our city and we are happy we will be able to recover this rent when this much needed office space comes to market."
Time will tell. But Salford tax payers will be pleased to note that Salford City Council is also going to be financially supporting Peel Holdings (owned by John Whittaker, whose wealth has almost doubled to £2,075million over the last year, according to Sunday Times Rich List see here), next in its Port Salford venture, having already provided £22million towards the Peel joint venture community stadium.
"We will play a role in that and take some of the risk" Barbara Spicer told the Manchester In Business event a couple of weeks ago "Port Salford is seen as critical infrastructure for Greater Manchester and is part of the carbon economy local plan."
She added that Salford Council will be taking the risk in a lot more private profit making schemes…
"Where we were in terms of development five years ago and where we are now dictates a different role from the local authority, and actually we've got to get into that space a bit more."
Ever wondered why your recycling bins are only being emptied every month? Maybe it's because Salford Council is gambling public money on an increasing amount of private speculative schemes...
AND THERE'S MORE...
* As part of the construction of the two office blocks the Grade 2 listed iron bridge on Greengate is to be demolished and they talking about `relocating' it. The document doesn't state where exactly they would put a massive iron bridge...
* The `vision' and `strategic objectives of what Greengate can become' include...
"Create a land use pattern which significantly enhances the profile and environment of the area...Build on the diversity of the area's historic waterfront and urban environment including imposing railway viaduct, to create places which are lasting and memorable and where people want to live, work, invest and visit...Promote a well-conceived movement pattern and structure, urban in scale and of exceptional design quality, with flexibility to change over time."