Second thoughts for Manulife

May I offer a contribution to the debate concerning the future of the Manulife building on St George s Way, Stevenage. The former Manulife House is a good example of a large building in the wrong location. This anonymous looking pale grey monolith wedged

May I offer a contribution to the debate concerning the future of the Manulife building on St George's Way, Stevenage.

The former Manulife House is a good example of a large building in the wrong location. This anonymous looking pale grey monolith wedged between the fire station and St George's church, backs onto an area of mixed low rise dwellings. It creates the impression of a planning afterthought - the lucrative exploitation, perhaps of a limited piece of land which previously formed a well proportioned space between the twin towers of the church and the fire station. From many directions it obstructs the view of a fine post-Coventry Cathedral style Parish Church, an ecclesiastical building which deserves a far greater degree of civic pride and heritage recognition than its present half hidden, diminished appearance evokes.

In my view large buildings need to be carefully positioned. They are often grouped together when there is a scarcity of land or for a collective purpose eg, in a business area or a civic centre. In such settings individual structures are not so conspicuous, they only overshadow each other and at street level their impact is often more to do with grand entrances or enticing interiors. Alternatively large buildings can be carefully located in isolation so that they become powerful architectural features within a low rise townscape. A good example of such a feature is Southgate House which can be spotted from many vantage points around Stevenage and acts as a useful landmark from the town's more southerly approaches.

The decline in the fabric of the Manulife building over the past few years is now bordering on dereliction - what kind of impact must this have on visitors or prospective newcomers to the town? It seems clear from the spate of recent articles and letters to this newspaper that the owners of the building have no interest in demolition - presumably on the grounds of cost - despite the fact that they must have made vast sums of money during the years of its successful commercial operation. However, is their present offer to the Borough Council to convert the building into an hotel desirable or even realistic? If this is the only solution for the future development of this area of the town it would appear that the council have little alternative but to grant the planning application. On the other hand if there is still the possibility that the Manulife building could be demolished then I feel strongly that every effort should be made to obtain government funds or to work out a deal with a developer.

On the basis of the points I have raised I think it would be a great asset to the development of the town centre to replace this awful eyesore with an attractively built, low-rise residential scheme set amongst trees and gardens in keeping with the overall appearance of the surrounding area.

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