Open letter from Ancoats Resident & the responses so far...

Julia responding to Sir Richard Leese's email response (to Julia's open letter) - 31st March 2021

Dear Sir Richard Leese,

 

I’m very grateful for the time you have taken to respond to my email, and I appreciate the points you have raised about green space development, as well as new employment and housing opportunities across Manchester. 

 

Although these points are all very valid in times of economic distress and governmental budget cuts, our generation has learned to accept financial difficulties as part of life. 

 

I represent the so-called Millennials, who finished schools, graduated from universities and joined the workforce or, to put it simply, became value-add tax paying contributors to our society despite many economic shocks. One of which you have mentioned, the 2008 crash in particular, negatively affected our ability to purchase a home with a back garden.

 

Despite this, I have joined the TreesNotCars campaign to help our children - a future generation most disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic - to grow up in a friendlier environment in order to have a better chance at succeeding in life. 

 

I’m sure you would agree that green spaces close to home and playgrounds full of children’s laughter are a big part of that beautiful postcard picture of the future city of Manchester.

 

Now the Council is facing big decisions ahead. However, whilst explaining existing Council frameworks, you didn’t mention whether residents have the power to influence decisions over planning applications in their area.

 

What purpose does the consultation process serve? Do all of the existing frameworks support the best options for the residents? Will the number of objections to various developments ever be considered in the planning process?

 

Shouldn’t the Planning Committee be able to amend its plans with the backing of the residential opposition without legal fear of an appeal? 

 

Perhaps, the message should be that our collective voices can improve an existing framework and application processes instead.

 

Additionally, although there are parks in Manchester, Ancoats’ children don't have enough green space within a reachable distance. Sadly, a 20-30 minute walk to a play area in Phillips Park is not very attainable by a mother with a toddler or two. It also isn’t very affordable to pay £4 per person for a return tram ticket every time she needs to take her children to the park. Plus, the area around Phillips Park is heavily populated already, so that the park serves residents in its immediate vicinity. This is why, even if we wished to, we cannot call Phillips Park a local park for the children living in Ancoats.

 

Of course, Ancoats is a unique and desirable place to live, especially for a young family with primary school and nurseries nearby. It is a modern and beautiful neighbourhood. However, with the loss of four acres of New Islington Green, and long term  plans for office space development on the former Central Retail Park site, it is set to become another area of concrete and glass jungle with children trapped in it. At least 200 children currently attend New Islington Primary School and approximately 80 in the local nursery. 

 

To see for yourself, I would like to invite you to revisit us for a follow up episode for your v-blog once lockdown measures are relaxed. Filming on a sunny Sunday afternoon, rather than on a quiet day during school and working hours, would reveal a completely different picture of the level of usage this place gets.  

 

You will see all the benches and all available grass spots peppered with local people, having coffee or eating their lunch from a nearby bakery. And most importantly, you will hear our children running around, feeding ducks, and playing on the meadow. 

 

With more residential developments springing up around Cotton Field Park, it will soon become difficult to breathe here. I wonder where all the future occupants of the approved development on New Islington Green or professionals from the proposed zero-carbon offices on the former Central Retail Park site would come for their lunch? As an example, I’m attaching a drone video we recorded with my eldest son - it shows a beautiful scenery around Cotton Field Park, but it’s already too crowded and noisy.

 

https://youtu.be/-jxEoVdXyz4

 

Yes, Ancoats children need a playground, but local residents are desperate for more green spaces. 

 

We want to preserve this area and give our children a chance to enjoy the outdoors in the city that we love so much. I wasn’t born here, I chose to live and raise my family here. And I hope to help the Council make the right decisions about the future of our city - which, of course, isn’t its architecture, politics or even economics, but our wonderful children. 

 

I truly hope that the Manchester City Council will choose to listen to its residents and save Ancoats.

 

Perhaps a greener Manchester City Centre, where people can cycle and walk rather than drive, can become a more desirable place to live and more attractive for visitors and investors alike.

 

What will it be?

 

"Car-dominated, noise-polluted and devoid of nature? Or walkable, welcoming and green?" 

 

According to the Urban Playground book by Tim Gill, “adults who shape cities - architects, planners, developers and also politicians and decision-makers - have a massive impact on the lives of children. Yet, children are all but invisible to them. Within the UK's planning system, for example, newts and bats are deemed more worthy of attention”.

 

I’m sure you know that Mr Gill is a global advocate for children's outdoor play and mobility, and a Design Council Ambasador. I have recently attended a seminar where his book was praised for its messaging and believed to be a must-read for every local authority. In case it hasn’t reached Manchester City Council yet, I’m posting one to your office.

 

Kind regards,

 

Julia Kovaliova

Sir Richard Leese responding to Julia's open letter 6th February 2021

From: Richard Leese <cllr.richard.leese@manchester.gov.uk>
Date: 6 February 2021 at 15:29:57 GMT
To: Julia Kovaliova
Cc: Angeliki Stogia <cllr.angeliki.stogia@manchester.gov.uk>
Subject: Re: Open letter from Ancoats Resident
 



Dear Julia,

 

Thank you for your email. Firstly something briefly about the Council's approach to green space. We currently maintain 143 parks around the city ranging from pocket parks at one extreme to Heaton Park at the other, with a massive variety in between.

 

Nowhere in the city is more than a few minutes walk from a park, and every part of the city has reasonable access to a major park, for example in your case, Philips Park, which I would guess is around a 25/30 minute walk or 20 minutes and two stops on the tram. The number of parks is growing, the most recent to open being the Sponge Park in West Gorton. In your email you cited Mayfield, but all our major developments are built around green space, most notably the proposed linear park for the lower Irk Valley, and green space proposals for both the lower Medlock Valley and the rebuilding of North Manchester General Hospital. 

 

The city has around 19% leaf cover, and this is notwithstanding our comparative urban density, more than all but two of the other districts in Greater Manchester. Over the last five years we have planted almost 40,000 trees, and working with partners like City of Trees, that is intended to continue.

 

We will benefit from more green space but we also need places to live, as we have a massive housing shortage. We need places for people to work, because although our economy was growing rapidly pre-Covid, we still have high levels of unemployment and low-wage employment. We need the amenities to support all of that. The Council has a very clear strategic approach, using brownfields sites like the Pollard Street site for development, often requiring the remediation of highly contaminated former industrial sites. This approach allows us to protect not only the green sites in the city, but also reduces the demand for green belt development in our neighbouring boroughs.

 

We also operate within well-documented and publicly available long-term plans, in the case of Ancoats, the East Manchester Strategic Regeneration Framework. The former industrial site between Pollard Street and the canal has been identified for new, employment uses for many years, but with events like the 2008 crash and subsequent recession, and ten years of austerity cuts, bringing plans to fruition can be a lengthy process. I have to say from a personal point of view, and having once been the parent of young children, given its immediate adjacency to the Inner Relief Road, the tram, and the canal, it is a completely unsuitable place for children to play. Having said that I do agree that you have a very legitimate case about the absence of a children's playground in your part of the city.

 

That addresses your second question, so let me turn to the other two. This week's Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee is entirely devoted to the action the Council and its partners are taking to tackle the climate emergency. The reports to the committee are available on the Council's website and the meeting is streamed and can be watched live or on catch up.

 

The Planning Committee is a quasi-judicial committee. It is unwhipped, which is fairly obvious if you have ever watched it, and it is required to make its decisions in compliance with planning law, national planning guidance, and local planning policies centred around the local development plan. If planning proposals are refused outside of this framework, then the Council is at risk of having the decision overturned at appeal and having to meet the costs of that appeal, including potentially the costs of a public inquiry. If the committee had rejected the Pollard Street proposal for example, it would have been extremely unlikely to have sustained that decision at appeal, given the long-term designation of the site for employment purposes.

 

If you have any more questions or observations on our environmental or planning policies I suggest you contact my colleague Councillor Stogia, who is our Executive Member for Environment, Planning and Transport,

 

Best wishes,

 

Richard Leese

Dear Sir Richard Leese, 

As you are aware, in the last three years three schemes have been approved in Ancoats by Manchester City Council's Planning and Highways Committee. These include, Great Ancoats Street redevelopment works, 440-spaces 24/7 car park on former Central Retail Park Site and, more recently, office development on New Islington Green site. 

 

Each of these schemes received significant push back from the local and Manchester residents:

 

  • hundreds of residents signed the petition against Great Ancoats Street works , many of whom also participated in the numerous protests against the schemes;

  • planning application for car park on the Central retail Park's site received 330 objections and just under 12,000 signatures on the petition organised by the TreesNotCars campaign.                                 

  • 544 objections have been recorded in the Executive's summary report on the development on the New Islington Green site in addition to 5,400 signatures on the petition organised by the SaveNewIslingtonGreen campaign. 

 

However, based on the results of the above mentioned application, it seems that the general public was unable to influence planning decision. 

We've met before when Gemma Cameron and I came to visit you in your office and discuss the car park planning application prior its approval as part of our TreesNotCars campaign. 

As a mother of three young children and a co-founder of the TreesNotCars public initiative, I am appealing to you in particular. I had followed your work on the Leader's Blog, especially your video about Ancoats. 

 

Throughout the video you praised Ancoats for its uniqueness, you said that Manchester city Council had set an example of taking ‘something that was dying and brought it back to life.’ You mentioned that people were ‘queueing up to get a property here’, in contrast to the situation just 15 years ago, when you had to close a local school, while ‘now newly-build school is full and will need to expand’.

 

Your video blog is an admirable promotion of the Ancoats as a great place to live in the city centre especially for younger professionals and families.

 

Yet, we see a sporadic development of office and residential buildings seemingly without a particular landscape plan. More green spaces are being taken away, including New Islington Green, cherished by residents. The scheme was approved despite objection of local councillors. 

 

This issue is very personal to our community and to my family. For almost a decade I have lived in Ancoats. In August, I have welcomed our third baby. However, one of my older children has had asthma since he was six years old. My husband and I decided to start a family in the city centre due to its proximity to our work, good schools and wonderful opportunities for social engagement for our children and us.

 

But raising our children in the city centre is becoming more challenging without green spaces.

 

Instead of enjoying their time in parks and playgrounds in their spare time, my children as well as many others in the area, will be attending school directly adjacent to a busy polluted road, playing in a small Cotton field park with no play area.

 

Mayfield Park will add a great addition to green space in Manchester but it's a 20 minute walk from Ancoats and will cater to new residents there. We need more green space throughout the city.

To help us plan our future in the area, I hope you could clarify the following: 

 

Firstly, on average, how many objections a planning application must receive in order to be rejected by the Planning and Highways Committee to favour local residents?

 

Secondly, there is a lot if PR about "future jobs". But what about Manchester residents currently residing and working in the city centre? Is there  a plan for any green areas to be introduced in the community? 

 

Lastly, in July 2019, Manchester City Council had declared Climate Emergency with a target to become a zero-carbon city by 2038. What are the steps you are currently taking to achieve this goal? 

I hope to hear from you soon.

Julia

Open Letter to Sir Richard Leese - 23rd January 2021