So a planning application is being submitted to transform the Corn Exchange into the “Carnaby Street of the North”. The news should send all right-minded locals reaching for the smelling salts. Although the notion of returning the Corn Exchange to an attractive and successful attraction is long overdue, why does the Manchester establishment feel the need to look to London – and a long washed-up tacky embarrassing London location to boot – for inspiration?
Manchester should have the confidence to rebrand the Corn Exchange as a centre for Northern excellence, one with no London flavour. On the other side of Corporation Street is the Printworks, once the largest newspaper plant in Europe and at that time an excellent example of Northern pride, but now an American-styled leisure centre. Soon it will be joined by a London-styled development, so it seems, with neither building offering anything with a local flavour, as if Manchester has nothing to offer to its own residents.
To complete the anomaly, the artist’s impression of the revived Corn Exchange shows people sat outside the building eating in restaurants when it is doubtful anyone will want to linger outside the Corn Exchange for more than a few seconds except for one or two days a year given the wind, rain and traffic noise. This is Manchester, not Monaco. Outside eating doesn’t work here.
As for the notion of emulating Carnaby Street, its glory days are long over. Clearly Aviva have not been there since the street was briefly the centre of “Swingin’ London” in 1966. No one who has seen modern-day Carnaby Street would now want to use it as their template. And even historically the notion is dubious. After all, which Carnaby Street does Aviva have in mind? The Carnaby Streetof the early 19th century where the local public houses were a hotbed of revolutionary political activity and the toast was “May the last of the kings be strangled with the guts of the last of the priests”? Maybe it’s the Carnaby Street of small tailor’s shops from the 1950s specialising in scarves loosely knotted around the neck, velvet suits and cheap throwaway clothes, hardly appropriate for the Corn Exchange. Or maybe the Carnaby Street overrun by punks in tartan bum flaps and Mohican haircuts from the late ’70s? But not, it is to be hoped, the modern-day Carnaby Street of tourist tat and over-priced retro clothes.
Before the 1996 IRA bomb wrecked the building the Corn Exchange contained a very successful bohemian flea market. This should have been restored when the building was repaired. Instead the council and developers made the mistake of trying to turn the place into an up-market mall. They then hampered its chances of success by replacing the historic and popular name of “Corn Exchange” with the nebulous and unlovable title of “The Triangle” title, and filling the land between the building and the Arndale Centre with obstructive street furniture and water features impeding access.
The Triangle has not been a success. Many units are empty, the place has a lifeless air and the owners have, it seems, tried to deter customers by greeting them at the various entrances with loud blaring music that sends most people scurrying for rival outlets. Now at last the authorities have seen the light and are pushing for a return to the simple, descriptive and historic name “The Corn Exchange”. Sadly their attempts at regeneration will again founder on an ill-conceived plan. The pre-1996 flea market and the gorgeous wood panelling of the upstairs offices was splendid. Restore that. Now that would be Swingin’.