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.”
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.