The Council and democracy News - July issue

Albert Square - plans for the future

Plans to make Albert Square one of the finest civic spaces in Europe have been unveiled.

The proposals would see the square enlarged by around 20 per cent to significantly enhance its role as Manchester’s most important public square. This is part of the Our Town Hall project to protect and enhance the Grade I-listed building and its setting.

The plans for the square, which will be subject to full consultation at the design stage, would involve limiting traffic access to only the Princess Street side of the square and extending the square’s pedestrianised areas. Taxi and bus stops would also be repositioned, subject to consultation.

The design of the reconfigured square would also enhance its safety, security and accessibility, removing the need for the current concrete barrier around it and offering better infrastructure for major events.

Albert Square is the city’s best-loved square and already hosts popular events, including the Christmas Markets and Manchester International Festival’s Festival Square.

In recent years, it has also played host to football trophy celebrations, as well as more poignant events; these include the moving vigil in the immediate aftermath of the 22 May 2017 Manchester Arena attack, and the Manchester Together – With One Voice mass singalong which formed part of its anniversary programme. Wherever possible, work to the square will be scheduled to avoid impacting on major events.

The square, with its Grade I-listed memorial to Prince Albert, actually predates the Town Hall, and work on its construction started in 1863 – five years before work began on the iconic building.

Councillor Bernard Priest, lead member for the Our Town Hall project, said: “We are making significant progress on this ambitious project to safeguard, refurbish and partially restore the iconic Town Hall building while enhancing its surroundings.

“Albert Square is a much-loved public space where Mancunians and visitors come together for a huge range of cultural and civic events. It is, in many ways, the heart of Manchester. These proposals will see it take its place among the very finest international public squares.”

The Our Town Hall project will see the Grade I-listed Manchester Town Hall building repaired, refurbished and partially restored to safeguard it for current and future generations and improve public access.

Improved access will include ensuring there is suitable, welcoming access to all the building’s entrances and floors for all visitors and staff, including people with wheelchairs, walking aids or prams – something not factored into the original Victorian design.

This will include new gentle ramps enabling inclusive access to the Town Hall’s main entrances, sympathetically designed to ensure they complement the building and its surrounds, and new lifts to improve access and movement around the building.

Councillors also heard how the Our Town Hall project will help to deliver social value for the city through increased trading for local suppliers and by maximising employment and training opportunities for Manchester people.

The building, currently closed to enable work to progress, is due to reopen in 2024. The project is on budget and on programme.

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