Restoring Manchester Town Hall: an update on what’s happening behind the scenes

The Grade I-listed £325m restoration project is well underway - but how's it going and when will it actually reopen?
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Manchester Town Hall was closed in October 2021 to be lovingly restored and plans to reopen and welcome you back in 2024.

Our Town Hall is the biggest heritage project currently underway in the UK and will provide a permanent legacy for Manchester – improving public access to this remarkable building and its artefacts, and safeguarding it for future generations.

A new update report highlights both ‘excellent progress’ which has been made so far and also the ‘ongoing challenges’ faced. 

Progress and achievements

Just the initial scaffolding alone was a mammoth job – especially for the main clock tower, rising to a height of 87m above Albert Square.

With the ‘construction’ phase of the project halfway through, the extremely high quality of work already carried out has been recognised by bodies including Historic England, the Victorian Society and the Considerate Contractors’ Scheme – and showcased with the reopening to the public of a completed part of the expanded Albert Square. This part of the Albert Square work was brought forwards to support neighbouring hospitality businesses. 

One of the project’s key objectives is to create as much social value as possible for the city through its spending and employment practices – supporting local businesses and creating a legacy of skills, jobs and inspiration for Manchester residents.  

It is not just meeting those targets but exceeding them, generating an estimated £13.1m worth of wider benefits. Almost 60% of its spending has been with Manchester-based businesses, compared to a target of 40%. And 45% of the workforce consists of local labour, against a 30% target. Some 237 new jobs have been created through the project with 40% of these filled by Manchester residents. So far 75 apprenticeships (level two and three) have been created with 68 of them taken up by Manchester people, and a further 48 higher level apprenticeships. Our Town Hall has also provided 110 work placements and almost 6,000 hours of volunteering on community and charity projects in the city.  

With 90% of work packages already procured, there is certainty around a high proportion of costs. 

Challenges and pressures 

However, the volatile economic climate – especially as it is affecting the construction industry where inflation is particularly severe – allied with the impacts of ‘discoveries’ as work progresses means the budget for this highly complex project is under significant pressure. 

Between July 2020 and June 2022, overall materials prices across the construction industry soared 44.1% with shortages of steel and other metals, plaster, stone and timber for example, as well as labour shortages. 

The unique nature of the project also means that although survey work was carried out in advance, further challenges are being discovered as the project team gets up close to previously inaccessible areas and into the fabric of the building. 

In some cases, these mean more extensive work is required than originally anticipated – for example, because of the crumbling condition of stonework, guttering and pipes. In other cases, this can cause design delays as bespoke solutions are required – for example, to meet the challenge of enabling the building to meet modern fire safety standards without undermining its heritage.  

Risks are being constantly assessed and addressed but with only around half of the construction phase complete there is still a long way to go.  

While the project is still reporting to budget, sophisticated computer modelling shows that if 100% of the potential risks occur the realistic worst-case scenario would be a £17m overspend – equivalent to around 5% of the overall budget.  

No further funding is being requested at this stage and the project team are working tirelessly to mitigate against challenges and reduce any potential amount – for example, almost £4m worth of savings have already been identified within the project. Any potential increase could also be partly met through contingency funding for inflation impacts set aside in the Council’s capital budget.  

When will the Town Hall reopen?

The completion date for construction work (which should not be confused with the reopening date for the building) is currently set for June 2024 but this is under review. The building will reopen to the public once construction work and internal fit-out are completed. The date for this will be announced later this year.  

Members of the Council’s Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee will discuss the report about the once-in-a-century scheme to repair, restore and safeguard Grade I-listed gem Manchester Town Hall when they meet on Tuesday 11 October.  

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