Review: Housing in a historic centre | Placemaking Resource

03 May 18 | Murray Graham

Timekeepers Square is sensitive to the heritage of its Salford city centre location, but gated aspects of the scheme may prevent integration, finds Murray Graham.

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Timekeepers Square is sensitive to the heritage of its Salford city centre location, but gated aspects of the scheme may prevent integration, finds Murray Graham.

Getting the No 8 bus from Bolton to Manchester on a friday night in the late 1970s and early 1980s meant long trips through desolate landscapes ravaged by years of industrial decline. Nothing shouted out that you were entering the civic heart of the city of Salford when you arrived at the university on the A6 road. It was always somewhere to pass through on your way to a gig or just another friday night out at the Electric Circus, the music venue. However, just off the A6, almost hiding from this desolation were the remnants of old Salford: the grade 2* listed St Philips Church, St John’s Cathedral and the former town hall at its heart.

The original character of the area was the usual industrial grid layout, which goes back to the nineteenth century. Historically, rows of terraced houses were located around civic spaces, encroaching right up to the rear walls of St John’s Cathedral and Salford Town Hall. Most of the area was redeveloped from the 1960s onwards, and not always successfully. Fast forward to 2008/2009 and with the backdrop of the recession, the city council’s Salford Central regeneration scheme began to take shape, which sought to breathe life back into the Chapel Street and New Bailey areas of the city. The 20 year programme could deliver more than 185,000 square metres of commercial floor space, along with 26,000 square metres of leisure, community, creative industry and managed workspace, a hotel and 800 residential units.

New terraces

The latest phase of the scheme is Timekeepers Square, the new name for the area that nestles between Salford Cathedral and St Philips Church. It comprises 36, two, three and four bedroom townhouses with gardens and parking. The primary aim for the project was to reinstate the area’s historic street pattern and give the neighbourhood around St Philips Church a new sense of place. The scheme was developed by the English Cities Fund, which is a joint venture between developer Muse Developments, the insurance company Legal & General and the government’s Homes England, in conjunction with Salford City Council.

Its architect, Buttress, looked to draw reference from the civic history and recreate Georgian terraces, responding to them in height, massing and rhythm. Two blocks of two and three bedroom terraced houses have been set out along the edges of a new pedestrian boulevard – St Phillip’s Walk – leading to the church.

The materials have clearly been chosen to respond to the existing buildings and streetscape. The brickwork colour and texture contrast well with that of the Georgian houses and the sandstone of St Philips and the cathedral. The somewhat flat façades of the terraces are punctuated with Juliet balustrades and boundary railings, which are recessed but provide relief to the brickwork and echo the cast iron railings surrounding the church. The only other material is the zinc finish to the two storey houses, which further adds to the restrained material palette.

All properties have secure parking and private ground floor gardens, while the three and four bedroom houses also have private roof terraces. My only reservation is the gated aspects of the development, which prevent the true integration of the development into the community. This raises questions about whether they are part of the local community or represent gentrification, offering homes out of the reach of many residents of Salford.

That said, it is clear that a key design objective was to create a scheme with a contemporary twenty first century identity, but one that is sensitive to the area’s heritage. The design of the buildings and the juxtaposition with the existing listed buildings has been a great success. Scale, uniformity and spaces all add up to creating a new sense of place, which will endure for many years to come.

Murray Graham is a director of planning at property and planning consultancy Iceni Projects.

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