Manchester City Council’s framework for Central Retail Park will be decided on this week by the Executive

Trees Not Cars campaign group says overwhelming majority don’t want offices on the former Central Retail Park


Campaign group Trees Not Cars has been campaigning to turn the former Central Retail Park in Ancoats into community green space and social housing since last year when a petition they launched received over 12,000 signatures. The group ran their own consultation alongside Manchester City Council’s consultation on the future use of the site; the council proposes developing the 10.5 acre site into predominantly luxury office space. 

Trees Not Cars’ consultation received 215 responses, 79% of which were made by people who live in the local area. 85% live or work in the area. The campaign’s online consultation lasted five weeks and four days and involved delivering over 2,000 flyers to flats and houses near Cotton Field Park and New Islington Green. The flyers had a QR code which redirected residents to Trees Not Cars’ website where they could complete the campaign’s consultation, as well as directed them to the council’s consultation

Out of the 215 responses, 90% don’t think the area needs luxury offices now that we know a large proportion of office workers can work from home, as we’ve seen during the pandemic. 96% of respondents who live in the area don’t think we need luxury office space.


Instead, of overall responses, over 4 in 5 (84%) want more public spaces in the area, particularly ‘green’ and ‘natural’ spaces where people can socialise. More seating, play areas, cycle routes, canal access, and toilet access are mentioned as ways the area could be improved.


Those who responded to Trees Not Cars consultation describe using the area around Central Retail Park for walking (56%), exercise like running and cycling (30%), relaxing (25%), and socialising (14%).

Gemma Cameron and Julia Kovaliova are leading the campaign and both had babies last month, further emboldening them to fight for green space.


Gemma Cameron says: “Our consultation makes it clear that people who live and work in the area don’t want luxury offices. The pandemic has shown us how crucial green space is for our physical and mental health, and has shifted our lifestyles towards remote working. It’s baffling why the council would plough on with pre-pandemic plans in the midst of so much uncertainty. What is certain and will always be certain is people need green space, and Central Retail Park is the obvious site in Manchester for a public park.”

Screenshot 2020-08-06 at 19.36.52.png

Julia Kovaliova said: “People live here, and we’re using the area to exercise, relax, and socialise. But the spaces where people can do this is extremely limited, especially as the city plans to continue attracting significant numbers of new residents. New Islington Marina has been overwhelmed during the pandemic with the private Cotton Field Park closed to public use, New Islington Green is set to be built on, and the proposed Mayfield Park will cater to new residential blocks being built around it. Truly great cities have truly great city parks. Why isn’t Manchester City Council listening to the people, the environmental crisis, and common sense, and developing Central Retail Park into public green space?”

Piccadilly Ward councillors carried out their own consultation which aligns with the Trees Not Cars consultation. 99% said the development should include public green space, and 80% said they think housing on the site should be genuinely affordable for local people.

Manchester City Council’s framework for Central Retail Park will be decided on this week by the Executive.

A report for the Executive recommends approving the framework. The council’s consultation received 598 responses, 79% of which were made by people who live in the area. Despite the high number of responses, the report is vague on reporting the data (for example it says ‘several’, ‘a large number’, ‘some’ rather than providing figures). However, the findings seem to align with Trees Not Cars’ findings, including respondents noting a lack of green space and questioning the need for office space. 


Nevertheless, the report recommends the Executive approve the draft framework with only minor notes: to highlight the proximity of public spaces in adjacent areas (not provide more public space in the framework); “note” the requirements to be more walking and cycling friendly (it’s unclear whether this means to make it part of the framework); and the very vague and wooly comment to “greater capture the aspiration to deliver zero carbon objectives”.

Julia Kovliova says: “The council plans to adopt the framework without really listening to the people of Manchester. People have made it very clear to the Council, Piccadilly Ward Members, and us through our consultations that public green space is crucial to the future of this site. Instead, this report recommends the framework highlight existing public space as if the people who live and work here don’t really know the area. We are the people who know the area best and likely much better than council officers and Executive members who don’t spend everyday here. The vague and wooly language used in the recommendations means nothing has to change about the framework. The report is frankly insulting to the people who responded to the consultation and shows it to be just another tick box activity. What a disgrace.”

Trees Not Cars is currently in a legal battle with the council, opposing its plans to use the site as a temporary car park before the long-term plans are brought in. The hearing is scheduled to take place in January 2021. Until then the site cannot be used as a car park.


On Thursday 17th October, 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.

We are excited to announce we are taking the Council to court to stop the temporary car park plans and as a result the council have been unable to open the carpark since the October approval.

We are currently FUNDRAISING to cover the legal fees and support our campaign to ensure the site is used for TREES not cars.


Trees Not Cars Community Campaigner takes Manchester City Council to Court


A judge has granted Gemma Cameron, founder of ‘Trees Not Cars’ campaign group, permission to appeal Manchester City Council’s planning decision to use the former Central Retail Park as a temporary charging 24/7 440-space car park for two years. Obtaining permission is very difficult and rare and means the judge believes there are reasonable grounds to challenge the Council’s decision to build a car park. The hearing will take place in the coming weeks.


Cameron began pursuing legal advice immediately after the October planning committee decision and is being represented by local lawyers who understand her desire to act in the community interest. In response, the Council has sought advice from the country’s best planning lawyers to defend themselves against a community campaigner.


Until the appeal is determined, the Council cannot undermine the proceedings and start using the site as a car park.


Cameron says: “We’ve received top advice from planning lawyers and are thrilled a judge agrees there are solid grounds on which to challenge the planning committee’s decision.


“The Council announced these plans after declaring a Climate Emergency. We must hold them to account and ensure they deliver on their promise. We hoped our petition with over 12,000 signatures, as well as the protests we held and meetings we attended, would persuade the Council to ditch their car park plans and work with us to develop more environmentally friendly alternatives. We even had a meeting with Sir Richard Leese, Leader of the Council, but we left the meeting feeling he hadn’t really listened to us and is more concerned with raising revenue than with children’s health.


“We now find ourselves in a position where the only way to fight for clean air and protect the health of the children at New Islington Free School is to take legal action. Our action so far means no cars have parked on the site and the children are breathing easier.”


Julia Kovaliova, also of Trees Not Cars, is a mother of a ten-year-old who was diagnosed with asthma after the family moved to Ancoats. He attends New Islington Free School. She spoke at the planning committee in opposition to the plans, saying she fears her younger son will be diagnosed with the same condition unless air quality is brought within healthy limits.


She says, “The only way to keep cars away from my son’s school is to take legal action. We hope the Court will agree the planning committee made the wrong decision and overturn it. My family is just one of many who have moved to Ancoats in the past 10 years and we need green spaces for our children to grow up happy and healthy.”


In the long term, the Council intends to use the site as office space. Trees Not Cars, however, want to work with the Council to develop a scheme that includes significant community green space and social housing to respond to the affordable housing crisis in the city. They don’t believe the plans just released by the Council are fit for purpose - see separate statement below for more details.



Statement about long-term designs


People living in Ancoats and the city centre deserve better than these plans with their disingenuous attempt at including the public realm we need. Most of this ‘green space’ is shunted to the roofs of buildings, which will be inaccessible and unusable. Green roofs are environmentally-friendly because they’re covered in vegetation. They’re not spaces for children to play, have a picnic, or walk your dog. So while green roofs are great, and more buildings in Manchester should have them, they’re irrelevant as far as community green space goes. 


Manchester City Centre is being designed for young childless worker bees who move between spaces to work, eat, and sleep. It’s not being designed as a livable city with playgrounds and parks for adults and children alike to live happy, healthy, and enriching lives. The assumption is families will move out to the suburbs, but this isn’t where families want to live. There’s a global trend of people moving to and spending their lives in cities. Manchester calls itself a leader but it’s designing out the fundamental features it needs to be an exemplar of the city of the future.


Considering the scale of the affordable housing crisis we have in the city it’s shocking the council aren’t using any of a 10.5 acre site for social housing. This was promised at the October planning committee by councillors, and that promise has been broken. This clearly demonstrates where the council’s priorities lie. Far from developing a city for the many, they’re building a ghetto for the wealthy.


Fundamentally, there’s been absolutely no community input to these plans. This is yet another example of Manchester’s top-down development model. They don’t know what the people want, and they’re certainly not bringing people along with them.

©2019 by TREES NOT CARS.