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Piccadilly Gardens: Is This The End Of The Nightmare, Or Just The Beginning Of A New One?

Piccadilly Gardens as it looked in April 2017

Two stabbings in 48 hours is not a good start to the new decade for Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens.

The vast public square, the largest in the city and invariably the first place visitors to the city see, has long been described as a disgrace.

A fume-filled mix of diesel buses, trams, pedestrians, market stalls, the seriously  drunk, drugged, homeless and disorderly, Piccadilly Gardens can also be a mud bath, thanks to the decision to turf the entire area. That Manchester has a reputation for rain, and that grass used by 16 million people a year will get heavily churned when its wet, did not seem to occur to the city council or its consultants.

Manchester City Council has been nursing plans to remove the bus station, and this week it announced that designers have been appointed to rethink the public space.

Landscape architect LDA Design (Manchester) will come up with an outline scheme that will then be consulted on in the spring.

LDA was the consultant behind a £10M rethink promoted by LGIM Real Assets (Legal & General) in 2016, but withdrawn in 2019. Legal & General has a long lease on the café pavilion in the gardens, and its plans would have involved better lighting, relaying paths and raising the grassed areas to deter pedestrians from walking on them. LGIM would get more restaurant and café floor space as a trade-off.

The scheme came to grief when the costs of putting the square's design right outpaced the potential commercial gains to Legal & General.

The new plans envisage that the Berlin Wall of concrete that screens the gardens from the transport interchange will also be softened into a living green wall. The wider frontages onto Parker Street and Mosley Street will also be included in the design.

In the meantime, the dereliction of Piccadilly Gardens continues: the space in front of the casino has become a regular marketplace for drugs, the side street Back Piccadilly has been renamed Spice Alley in view of its principal illicit use for the sale of the once-legal drug, and the physical environment has deteriorated even further, the Manchester Evening News reported.

"The area has become a lawless no-go area and the problem is steadily getting worse," the paper quoted one resident saying.

In a statement to the media the city council said it is committed to funding the re-think, but with local government budgets under pressure, and the landscaping task alone likely to exceed the £2M projected by Legal & General, it is an optimistic Mancunian who would claim the end is in sight.