Article published: Friday, October 26th 2012
Manchester City Council has formally approved plans to gate Library Walk overnight and insert a glass link between Central Library and the Town Hall Extension, despite opposition from hundreds in support of the iconic passageway.
Letters objecting to the scheme had poured in from 127 members of the public ahead of the packed crunch planning meeting, along with a 1,325-strong petition.
Supporters argue the proposals will spoil a “cherished” part of Manchester, and block off freedom of access to a public space by gating the passageway between 10pm and 6am.
Architectural heritage societies and disabled access groups also criticised the plans, as did Gorton MP Graham Kaufman, Manchester’s Liberal Democrat opposition and local city centre Labour Party councillors Joan Davies and Kevin Peel.
Friends of Library Walk member Tom Hiles told the planning committee the link would restrict freedom of access in the city. He also dismissed claims that gating the passage was needed to prevent crime, noting that only one reported attack had happened in the area in nine years, and warned councillors that the scheme had “not been made through a reasoned process”.
Council officials defended the £3.5 million Ian Simpson – designed link, disparagingly described as a “pod” by Joan Davies, on the grounds it would enable better access for people using public services once the Central Library-Town Hall redevelopment opens in 2014.
Head of project Dave Carty defended the decision to only allow the public access to the street during daylight hours, arguing that the time during which the public would be permitted to walk through the space was in line with “the Arndale Shopping centre, which is open 7am – 9pm”.
In a turnaround from what Davies had criticised as a “rather negative image” painted of the alleyway by town hall officials as a dangerous urine-soaked walkway, planners admitted that it was “very clear that Library Walk is a heritage asset” that would be harmed by the development.
Officers argued the estimated benefits from the project would outweigh the harm however, and the plans were passed with just two objections. Disappointed supporters denounced the outcome, alleging that the process was a “pantomime” of genuine public engagement, but said they would continue to pursue legal avenues to defend the walkway.
Speaking to Mule, Hiles said he was “incredibly happy to see so many people turning up today”, arguing that the number of people sparing their free time to attend a weekday afternoon meeting “demonstrates how passionate everybody is”.
He criticised what he saw as an “absolute minimum of public engagement” from officials. “Personally I wish the council had been more open and engaged with people when there were issues of public space on the table.”
Hiles added, “I think the St Peter’s Square plan was an exemplary exercise in public involvement and I don’t understand why this hasn’t been.”