By Trees Not Cars (@TreesNotCars)
On Thursday 17th October 2019, 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. They ignored 12,200 people who signed our petition to disagree (10,000 of these living in Greater Manchester and 5000 in Manchester city centre). We believe the 10.5 acre site should be used for community green space and social housing.
Trees Not Cars have won a judicial review against Manchester City Council, blocking them from using the former Central Retail Park as a temporary 440-space car park next to the city centre’s only primary school.
It marks a major victory for a grassroots community group that has campaigned tirelessly for over 18 months to stop the plans which completely ignored the impact on air pollution in an attempt to force the plans through. The judgement reflects the legitimate fears of over 12,000 people who signed Trees Not Cars’ petition against the car park plans.
Gemma Cameron says, “We have stopped the council from putting a car park next to a primary school. This is the first time we are aware of a community group beating the council in a legal challenge. It shows that organised community groups can take on Manchester City Council and win. It’s time for communities to fight back.”
The judgment in the case of (Gemma) Cameron (a founder of Trees Not Cars) vs Manchester City Council was published this morning. Cameron was represented by leading planning lawyers John Hunter and Piers Riley-Smith of Kings Chambers in Manchester. Manchester council was represented by a team of lawyers led by Christopher Katkowski QC, a London-based barrister said to be one of the leading planning specialists in the country.
Katkowski is an advisor to Boris Johnson’s Government and architect behind the Government’s proposed controversial new planning laws that would see sweeping changes to the planning system. The planning changes have been sharply criticised by Manchester councillors, researchers, and campaigners.
The decision found that Manchester Council had
Failed to consider the impact of air quality on the local area around Ancoats
Failed to consider the impact of building a polluting 440-space car park next to the only primary school in Manchester city centre.
Was unlawful in that the Council recommended planning approval based on the wrong information, the wrong air quality assessment, and traffic analysis.
The campaign revealed that prior to the crucial planning meeting that the Leader of the Council and Councillor Pat Karney wrote emails suggestive of seeking to influence the planning committee’s decision. Councillor Leese reminding Councillors that “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.”
Questions were also raised as to why it was in the days leading up to the meeting Councillor Karney, (Labour Group ‘Whip’, Chair of the Constitutional and Nomination Committee, Executive Member for the City Centre) reconstituted the Planning Committee. One of the Councillors added to the committee on the 8th October 2019 was Cllr John Flanagan, just 9 days before the meeting. Councillor Flanagan was part of an executive group that worked on the purchase of the site with the Abu Dhabi group in 2017. It was Councillor Flannagan who proposed the amendment which was passed at the planning meeting.
Gemma Cameron says, “Manchester’s Labour council instructed probably the most expensive planning Barristers in England in an attempt to crush a community group fighting for clean air for children. Even faced with the threat of us paying their exorbitant costs, we did not back down. We are absolutely thrilled that John Hunter and Piers Riley-Smith, our wonderful Mancunian Barristers have helped us achieve this landmark victory. It also would not have been possible without the enormous support and generous donations from the Manchester community who supported us in stopping this unnecessary car park from being built. We thank the 3 councillors who stood up to Leese and went against this application, citing the exact grounds we took to court. Now that we have won, we need to turn serious attention to questioning the judgement and competence of the Council in using public money to pursue a polluting car park at enormous expense to the taxpayer.”
Julia Kovaliova is a lead organiser of Trees Not Cars. She is a mother of three, with two of her sons attending New Islington Free School next to the site. Her eldest son, who is eleven, developed asthma 5 years ago.
“I am delighted by the judge’s decision and will be able to sleep easier at night knowing my son who has asthma won’t be exposed to even greater levels of air pollution. Our victory must be a wake-in up call for the Council, who can’t continue to prioritise car parks and offices over clean air and green space. They must now go back to their plans for Central Retail Park and include significant green space with trees, grass, and playgrounds for families.”
The campaign is now calling for the council to reopen their development framework for the 10 acre site to genuine community input. Trees Not Cars, following their legal victory, have reiterated their call that the Council “must now include significant green space and affordable housing on the site.”
Gemma Cameron added, “It’s time that Sir Richard Leese retire. After a quarter of a century, we need a fresh, new council leader in touch with the people of Manchester. Someone who fosters a new culture in Town Hall where residents are considered allies not enemies. Someone to fight our climate emergency and solve our housing crisis, making Manchester an affordable green city for all.”
The group are also calling for reform of the Manchester City Council’s planning department and consultation processes. Questioning why planning officers recommended an unlawful application for approval, and why a majority of councillors voted for the application. While the planning department needs scrutiny, the consultation process should be reformed so that residents are brought into the planning process from the start of an application and not at the end when it’s too late to meaningfully feed into plans.
Julia Kovaliova says, “This is our city. Residents need a seat at the table. It’s time Manchester City Council pulled out a chair.”
The council are seeking to appeal the decision. Trees Not Cars questions whether fighting a ruling to ensure the council considers air quality for children and residents is a good use of tax payers money.
The group also points out they offered to settle out of court with MCC last summer and they refused. They now want to know who gave the order for the refusal to talk to the campaigners.
Gemma Cameron asks, "How many school meals could have been paid for with the thousands spent on fighting a community group representing the views of the people of Manchester."
During the court hearing we learned the council no longer intended to open the car park.
Our legal action stopped the car park being opened over the 2 years of permission.
Greater Manchester Housing Action welcome today's decision. We have been a consistent supporter of the Trees Not Cars campaign, and believe that the successful appeal raises serious questions about the planning process in Manchester.
This press release originally appeared on the Trees Not Cars website.
19 February 2021