Proposals which would make Manchester’s Albert Square one of the finest civic spaces in Europe, as well as further details of plans to refurbish the Town Hall, have been unveiled.
The outline plans, which would see the square enlarged by around 20 per cent to significantly enhance its role as a major events and Manchester’s most important public square, are part of the Our Town Hall project to protect and enhance the Grade I-listed building and its setting.
The ideas for Albert Square were set out as part of a presentation given to July's full Council meeting detailing progress on the project.
The proposals 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. Traffic surveys have shown that fewer than 3,000 vehicles a day use this route and can be readily re-routed. Taxi and bus stops would also be repositioned, subject to consultation.
The design of the reconfigured square will 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 everything from football trophy celebrations to more poignant events such as 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 the programme marking its anniversary. Works to the square will be scheduled to avoid impacting on major events wherever possible.
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 it complements 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 deliver social value for the city by maximising employment and training opportunities associated with it for Manchester people and spending with local suppliers.
The building, currently closed to enable works to progress, is due to re-open in 2024. The project is on budget and on programme.