Manchester Town Hall was built in 1877 and, although still structurally sound, has many elements reaching the end of their natural lifespans. It also does not meet modern access and safety standards.
A report outlining options goes before the council’s resources and governance scrutiny committee next week (21st July) and the executive the following week (27th July). No final decision on the programme or its budget will be taken until autumn.
Essential stop-gap works have been costed at £250m; a comprehensive restoration would cost £400m. However, unless outside funding is found, the council’s preferred option is a £330m upgrade programme.
A further report will be presented to the council’s executive in autumn setting out the proposed programme and costs. It is intended that contractors to deliver the scheme will be appointed in the first half of 2017 with investigative works starting in 2018 and repair works starting in 2019 and concluding in 2023.
Survey work conducted since December 2014 has found that electrics, plumbing, heating, ventilation and lift installations in the Town Hall are in poor condition, reflecting their age. As they are embedded in the fabric of the building, replacing them involves significant building works.
The surveys also found that the condition of the building’s stonework, windows and roof is also deteriorating and will require intervention. The Town Hall also suffers from poor insulation and energy efficiency.
More than 54,000 parts of the building fabric need attention, of which 40% require immediate repair or replacement – a figure expected to rise to 85% within five years if no action is taken.
The building is also currently underused, with wasted space in areas such as the basement and a comparatively low ratio of staff to office space. From August 2016 there will be only 250 staff in the Town Hall, as some staff have had to be moved on a precautionary basis out of areas where surveys had identified that remedial works are required.
Four options for levels of works were considered:
Do Nothing: Not carrying out works beyond unplanned repairs would see the building slide into disrepair with spaces becoming unusable and unsafe. Parts of the building would start having to be mothballed and its ultimate closure would become a possibility.
Essential: Works to prevent the decline of the building, ensure it meets legal standards and keep spaces usable. While resolving the building’s internal issues such as the electrics, heating and plumbing and addressing decay, this option would not significantly improve public access or make a difference which people visiting the Town Hall would notice. This option would also lack flexibility for future improvements. The estimated cost for essential works is £250m.
Upgrade to modern office standards (including commercial space): Improve access to the building and its services, bringing all spaces up to modern standards while restoring key heritage features and protecting others. The estimated cost for this option, including works to create commercial opportunities which would help offset the cost, is £330m.
Comprehensive – full restoration and commercial: Bringing offices up to modern standards while completely restoring all heritage features to their original conditions and materials. It is estimated that this option would exceed £400m.
The comprehensive option has been rejected as too expensive without major external funding, so the upgrade scheme is the recommended option.
Deputy council leader Bernard Priest said: “The Town Hall is an icon of Manchester, conceived by our Victorian forbears as a proud symbol of the city’s confidence and cherished by Mancunians ever since. We’re calling this project Our Town Hall because it belongs to us all.
“But it’s almost 140 years old and it is seriously showing its age. If we don’t act we will have to stop using, and start mothballing, significant parts of this much-loved building sooner rather than later. Ultimately it would have to close altogether. Such a situation would be unthinkable.
“Instead we need to seize the opportunity to safeguard it for current and future generations, make the building and its treasures more accessible to Mancunians and visitors alike and bring it up to modern access and safety standards. These benefits will be felt for many decades to come. We also need to make better use of its spaces and enhance Albert Square.
“This is a complex project and it’s essential that we get it right, which is why we will need to do more detailed work around the scale, timing and nature of the programme. This includes looking further at commercial options and the potential for third part support which we anticipate could reduce costs.”
Laing O’Rourke’s recent renovation of Manchester’s Central Library and Town Hall Extension have already shown how historic buildings can be overhauled to meet modern needs while retaining their historic characters. The council says that it was always envisaged that the Town Hall would be refurbished next to ensure that the Town Hall Complex retains its grandeur.