Ambitious plans to revitalise Rochdale’s famous Town Hall are set to go before the council’s cabinet later this month.
Plans for the Grade 1 Listed building, said to be one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic Architecture in the country, include restoration of some its most significant pieces of art, including the Magna Carta mural in the Great Hall.
Proposals will also seek to bring sections of the building, previously closed to the public for a number of years, back into use as public and commercial space.
Improvements to the area in front of the building to make it more attractive and inviting will complete the scheme, which would be delivered in phases over a five year period.
Detailed ideas for consideration include creating a new hall with a high vaulted ceiling in the old library space on the second floor. This area, which was previously subdivided to create offices for council staff, could accommodate a seated audience of about 80 people or be used for smaller events in a way that would complement the activities in the Great Hall.
Other unique features of the Town Hall, such as the old police cells on the ground floor, last used more than 30 years ago, would also be restored for new uses. And there are plans to create a new version of the Roche Suite that would host wedding ceremonies in an improved setting.
There is also a desire to restore much of the historical artwork in the Town Hall including the Magna Carta mural and the roof panels in the Great Hall whose images of royal crests have now disappeared under layers of varnish.
The plans also contain ideas on how to improve the area around the entrance by removing some parking places and laying new paving.
Mark Widdup, Director of Economy and Environment at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Rochdale Town Hall is a spectacular building which has played a large part in the civic life of Rochdale and stood as an important landmark in the region for the last 144 years. As its proud custodians we want to ensure its future for generations to come so that it can continue to be used and loved another 144 years from now. It’s clear that this magnificent building is a star attraction and doesn’t need wholesale change. What we are seeking to do is enhance what is already there to make this fantastic building even better.”
The proposal is the culmination of work which has seen Rochdale Council and The Rochdale Development Agency work with specialist heritage architects to look at a range of options to revitalise the much-loved building, which was opened in 1871.
As part of this work a detailed significance appraisal of the building was carried out in collaboration with English Heritage. Their report found that the building represents a celebration of the arts and crafts architecture of the Victorian period. It also contains significant individual pieces of art, including the Magna Carta mural.
A report was then put together which looked at how the most architecturally significant parts of the Town Hall, such as the Great Hall, can be protected and restored. It highlighted that while the building can continue to host weddings and other functions, there is scope to substantially improve these facilities and get more people to use and enjoy the building in the future.
The council is planning to submit a major bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help finance the scheme, which will be considered by the council’s cabinet at their next meeting on 29 September.
The council will be consulting with the wider community and stakeholders, including Heritage Lottery Fund, on these plans over the next few months.