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Labour's latest sacred cow under attack from the arts world

July 26, 2018 8:00 AM

Manchester's Labour bosses stand accused of paying lip-service to making buildings disabled accessible as they fail to include suitable wheelchair access in the planning conditions for their latest sacred cow, a £ 112 million arts centre, to be called "The Factory" on the site of the former Granada Studios.

The board overseeing the new development have drawn criticism after failing to feature a single qualified architect and as a result the project has already been hit by a number of push-backs including a £1.65m overspend on redesigning the theatre to rectify acoustics problems before a single brick was laid.

In a letter from the Theatres Trust, consulted in its capacity as the national advisory body for theatres, which said revised designs raised serious concerns over the standard of wheelchair access.

Concerns were raised over the separation of wheelchair users from ambulant user when entering and leaving the theatre, and how wheelchair users and people who need assistance would be evacuated in an emergency. The plans also reveal that there is only one wheelchair-accessible toilet within the entire theatre.

In its letter to the council the Theatres Trust emphasised that "We would expect access provision within a new build theatre of such high profile to reflect current best practice."
"We would also expect a new theatre to provide inclusive access for wheelchair users allowing them the same journey from entrance to seat as ambulant members of the audience, but this is not reflected within current plans."

When the revised planning application went to Committee, Manchester's Labour bosses did not permit the Liberal Democrat opposition to ask questions.

The new centre which is being built to host the Manchester International Festival once every two years has already come under criticism for the substantial financial burden it will add to the budget of a City which is unable to house it's homeless or provide decent services for it youth. There are also serious concerns amongst community arts groups that the centre will suck in all the arts funding that comes to the city, leading to them being underfunded and facing closure.

Liberal Democrat Lead Campaigner for Deansgate Ward, John Bridges, observed that "These are not minor details - these are serious design flaws that developers must be held to account on."

"This is the second time that the design has been wrong, and each time it is costing millions of pounds of council tax payers money to put it right. Not allowing Liberal Democrats to question developers on these critical issues is really worrying as it politicises the planning committee and brings the whole decision-making process into disrepute."

The proposed opening of the centre, to be called "The Factory" has already been delayed by a year until September 2020.