By Trees Not Cars (@treesnotcars)
On Thursday 17th, Manchester City Council’s planning committee voted through controversial plans to use a former retail park in Ancoats as a temporary 440-space car park for up to two years.
The decision has provoked shock and outrage from ‘Trees Not Cars’ campaigners who have been holding protests every Saturday since July, calling for the Council to use the site as a community green space instead. Over 10,000 have signed their petition.
Around 40 campaigners, some wearing green t-shirts attended the planning committee to show their support with banners and drawings made by children asking for green trees and not polluting cars. Campaigners were distraught and dumbfounded by the committee’s decision to approve the application, with residents vocally expressing their dismay that the Council will be adding pollution to a school playground and residential area.
Amid confusion, it appears that the Committee added an amendment that would allow some planters to be installed in the section of the car park closest to the school. But this is insufficient as pollution from the site will spread far and wide.
Campaigners intend to challenge the decision, which they say contradicts the Council’s Climate Emergency in an area where pollution levels are already illegal. According to Trees Not Cars, lawyers have agreed to work on the case pro bono, arguing that the decision is a human rights violation.
A spokesperson for the Northern Quarter Forum, part of Trees Not Cars group, said: “We are angered and disappointed in the decision, but it doesn’t stop here. The decision is illogical and we believe fundamentally flawed. We believe that there may be evidence to support a conclusion that influence has been exerted behind the scenes here between a very senior member of the Council and members of the Planning committee. We are fortunate to have available to us publicly-spirited Lawyers acting pro bono who we intend to instruct to challenge what we believe is an unlawful decision.”
New Islington Free School, the city’s only primary school, is located next to the proposed car park. A number of parents have joined the campaign. Julia Kovaliova spoke passionately at the planning committee in objection of the plans. Her son is ten and was diagnosed with asthma four years ago. In her speech to the committee, she asked members to vote with their conscience and not prioritise commerce over children’s health.
She referred to an email, leaked to Trees Not Cars, which Sir Richard Leese sent to councillors outlining his reasons why the site should be used as a temporary car park. The site was purchased for £37m, and the Council argues the temporary car park is necessary to help recoup costs.
Kovaliova quoted the first point from Leese’s email in her speech: “When the Council agreed to buy out the lease on the site we also agreed to temporary uses, including car parking, to meet the cost of purchase and holding costs, costs of around £2m a year, whilst the master planning and marketing of the site took place. In the longer term, we do need to recover at least £40m from the site.”
In response Kovaliova 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.”
Kovaliova also advised the committee that planning decisions cannot be made on the basis that the Council needs money off land it owns. She said, “You must disregard what Sir Richard Leese has told you. But ask yourself instead: why did he tell you that?”
Following the decision, Kovaliova said: “The Council argues the car park won’t have a significant impact on pollution levels. This doesn’t pass the straight face test. There will be 440+ cars moving into and out of a car park next to the school my son attends. My son has asthma. Show me the evidence that the car park won’t make my son’s asthma worse. Until you can prove it to me, I will continue fighting these plans.”
Trees Not Cars also plan to work with other local campaign groups across the city to demand the consultation process be reformed to allow residents to have earlier input into Council planning schemes.
Gemma, a lead campaigner for 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. We’ve been covered by the BBC, Radio4, GMTV. Nevertheless, the planning committee have voted through the car park. It doesn’t feel like the Council are listening. Moreover, they are ‘masterplanning’ 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 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.”
Backlash against highways schemes are putting increasing pressure on the Council. Active travel campaigners argue the Central Retail Park scheme, Princess roundabout plans, and Great Ancoats Street revamp all prioritise cars at a time when the Council should be discouraging car use to reduce air pollution.
Nick Hubble of 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. That’s the decision we face: do we work towards becoming a clean, healthy, people-focused 21stcentury city? Or do we continue to prioritise the private motor car and all the dirty air and congestion it brings?
“Today’s decision by the planning committee makes it clear where the Council’s priorities lie.”
26 October 2019