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Campaigners vow to fight council’s approval of car park plan for former Ancoats retail park

The council’s planning committee have voted to accept the proposal for a 440 space car park on the outskirts of the city centre. A decision, campaigners say, breaks the spirit of the councils climate emergency declaration and will increase carbon emissions and other pollutants dangerous to the health of children in a nearby school

Manchester City Council approved the plan to use the former Ancoats retail park as a temporary 440 space car park at yesterday’s planning committee meeting. Campaigners promoting the use of the former retail park as a community green space, who had attended the meeting, say the decision will increase already illegal levels of air pollution in the area and have promised to launch a legal challenge to the decision.

The campaign group Trees Not Cars have been holding protests, at the site of the former retail park, every Saturday since July and handed in a petition at the council meeting signed by more than 10,000 people opposing the car park plans.

Holding protests both outside and inside the council chambers up to 40 campaigners, including children and parents from the New Islington Free School, showed their support with banners and placards, and vocally expressed their dismay in the council chambers on hearing the decision.

The city centre’s only primary school, New Islington Free School, is located next to the proposed car park. A pollution monitor, situated on Great Ancoats St on the corner of the site of the proposed car park recording levels of nitrogen dioxide, has never reported a legal measurement. Nitrogen dioxide pollution exacerbates many breathing issues including asthma and COPD.

car park

Aerial view of Ancoats retail park taken before the retail outlet buildings (central) were demolished. Image: Google Maps

Julia Koyaliova, who has a 10-year-old son with asthma who attends the Free School, spoke at the council meeting and referred to an email sent by leader of the council Sir Richard Leese to other Labour Party members. The letter stated that the site was currently costing the council £2m a year[1]  in maintenance and servicing debt and that they needed to recoup around £40 million from the site; the site cost the council £37 million. Koyaliova said:

“This is what this application is all about: business and not health, not the climate, not a green future. Not trees and parks but profit from cars. But I’m here to tell you that residents are united in wanting trees not cars… You must disregard what Sir Richard Leese has told you. But ask yourself instead: why did he tell you that?”

Koyaliova’s comment echoes that of other residents’ groups opposing the plan, who argue that the plan for the car park does not sit well with the council’s declaration of a climate emergency in which they promised that all major decisions will consider what effect they will have on the climate.

The planning committee councillors voted seven to three in favour of approving the application. The approved plan included one small amendment, in a nod to the air pollution issues, to include a barrier of plants to be installed between the car park and the school. A spokesperson from Trees Not Cars say this is insufficient to prevent air pollution spreading to the school.

Councillor John Flanagan, a planning committee member, said they had been placed in an:

“Impossible position… We are tied by the rules of planning but we have just passed a climate emergency… We feel in some ways this application has let us down.”

Trees Not Cars plan to work with other local campaign groups to bring about a reform of the planning consultation process to allow residents to have an earlier input into council planning schemes. This was also a reform suggested by researchers at the Urban Institute of Sheffield University, who conducted a study in Miles Platting called Whose Knowledge Matters, which investigated how urban development and the planning process that precedes it affects local residents. Gemma Cameron, a campaigner with Trees Not Cars, said:

“10,000 people signed our petition, nearly 500 objections were made, all three ward councillors objected, and the governors of New Islington Free School objected… Nevertheless, the planning committee have voted through the car park.

“It doesn’t feel like the council are listening. Moreover, they are ‘master planning’ the long-term plans for the site behind closed doors and aren’t bringing us into the process. It’s the same pattern we’re seeing across the city with residents not listened to or consulted meaningfully.

“New Islington residents had a couple of days to respond to a consultation about their community green being replaced with offices. Residents at the Princess Rd roundabout weren’t consulted at all – the council held two ‘drop-in’ sessions only. The Environmental Scrutiny Committee recommended the Great Ancoats Street scheme be sent back to consultation, but the Executive rejected the recommendation.

“The consultation process needs to be reformed. We need to have our voices heard and acted on. We need to be part of the planning process from the very beginning.”

The council received 477 objections over the course of two planning applications, the second application reduced the temporary time limit of the car park from five to two years. Objections received included statements that the car park would lead to adverse health outcomes for local children, increase traffic and increase emissions of greenhouse gases and other traffic related pollutants.

The council argue that the car park will not cause an increase in emissions or traffic flow, when compared to the former retail park’s previous use. The plan for the site after its use as a car park is to develop the site into a hub for high-spec office space, with the aim of enticing the media, telecoms and technology sector.

Nick Hubble of campaign group Walk Ride said:

“Everytime you build a new road or car park, you’re effectively putting up a billboard saying ‘We want you to drive here.’ The more people who drive into the city, the dirtier the air gets and the more gridlock there is. If you put in a new cycleway or bus route, then you’re telling people ‘We want you to cycle or take the bus.’

“Simply declaring a climate emergency, or unveiling a statue of a suffragette engraved ‘deeds not words’, won’t cut the mustard unless accompanied by resolute, tangible policy initiatives… Today’s decision by the planning committee makes it clear where the council’s priorities lie.”

Trees Not Cars say they have secured the services of a lawyer, who is willing to work pro-bono, to challenge the decision on the grounds that it is a human rights violation due to the increase in air pollution predicted by campaigners.

 

Conrad Bower

Featured image: Google maps

 

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