Trees Not Cars ‘utterly baffled’ by council decision to appeal for car park they will never build
March 2021 - Press Release
At a time of ‘swingeing cuts to local services’, Trees Not Cars are extremely disappointed that Manchester City Council has lodged an appeal.
The campaign group won the judicial review on three grounds, and the council are only appealing one of those grounds. This means the council acknowledge they acted unlawfully on two grounds. Appealing one of the grounds will make no difference to the overall ruling.
The council also made it clear at the hearing that were they to win the case, they would not use the site as a temporary car park.
Gemma Cameron says, “When the pandemic hit, we offered to settle out of court. The council refused to enter negotiations. Rather than prioritise spending money and resources on the pandemic, the council continued to spend many thousands of pounds of taxpayer money to fight for a car park they never intended to build. What was the point?”
The campaign group estimate the council spent at least £70,000 on legal fees. The total cost will be over £100,000 to include covering Trees Not Cars’ costs.
Regarding the appeal, Cameron says, “I’m utterly baffled that the council are digging in their heels and spending even more taxpayer money on this appeal. It will make no material difference, apart from draining their resources further.”
Cameron continues, “The council taxpayers of Manchester have not heard from Councilor Leese and Councillor Karney since the case. They had plenty to say about it publicly before the planning meeting, why not now? When is someone going to explain why so much money continues to be wasted at a time of need?”
Julia Kovaliova, another leader of the campaign, says, “This appeal demonstrates how out of touch the Council is from its residents. 12,000 signatures on our petition showed that citizens were behind our campaign from the start. This controversial decision to appeal sadly shows that the Council is willing to continue its fight against the community it's supposed to represent.”
Trees Not Cars doubt legal basis for council appeal exists and say it doesn’t pass the ‘common sense test’
The council give the following reason for contesting the judgment:
“The reason we have contested this judicial review was not about its implications for the former Central Retail Park site but the precedent it would set and the potential impact of this decision on future applications if insufficient weight was given to the previous use of sites - in this case as the car park for a retail park.”
The judgement was made that officers “misled” the planning committee by not considering the impact on children of the introduction of a 440-space car park when the site had been empty of cars for 18 months. The site’s historic use as a retail park has no bearing on how the proposed car park would increase air pollution compared to its current state. Trees Not Cars argued the benchmark for comparison should be the site’s current use, not its historic use.
“We don’t believe the council has strong grounds for appeal,” says Cameron, “It doesn’t pass the common sense test, and we doubt it will have a legal basis for challenge.”
Trees Not Cars call for investigation into political influencing of the planning process
REVEALED: Emails from the council Leader and from the Labour Group ‘Whip’
REVEALED: Planning committee was reconstituted 9 days before planning decision
Trees Not Cars are concerned that the council’s appeal may be driven by political motivations rather than by sound judgement. They point to how it seems there may have been political influencing of the planning committee in order to make the Council money and recoup costs spent on the site.
Prior to the planning committee meeting, at which the car park plans were approved, the Leader of the Council and Councillor Pat Karney wrote emails suggestive of seeking to influence the planning committee’s decision.
Councillor Leese reminded 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."
Councillor Karney replied “These are useful facts and are helpful for local councillors to convey to their constituents. It is our first duty to listed and engage with people. Not to lib dems from Withington and Rochdale who were down there on Saturday. The people I represent need jobs and this would be on the doorstep for north and east Manchester people. I hope our Planning Committee comrades who always have to make difficult decisions will give this planning permission.”
Trees Not Cars also question why 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 United Group in 2017. It was Councillor Flannagan who proposed the amendment which was passed at the planning meeting.
Trees Not Cars are now calling for the council to launch an investigation into its planning department, and for journalists to launch an independent investigation.
Cameron says, “We want to know why officers misled councillors and whether political influencing played a role. Is our planning department broken? The people of Manchester deserve to know.”
10. Following submission of the application, on 22 August 2019, the leader of the
Council, Sir Richard Leese, wrote to the Labour group, including members of
the Planning Committee, stating:
“1. When the Council agreed to buy out the lease on the site (we
already owned the freehold) we also agreed to other 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.
2. We are not building a car park. The front half of the site has been a
car park for at least thirty years. When the retail park was still in
operation parking was free[.] We are now proposing to charge for it…”
11. Councillor Pat Karney replied:
“Thanks[.] These are useful facts and are helpful for local councillors to
convey to their constituents. It is our first duty to listed and engage with
people. Not to lib dems from Withington and Rochdale who were down
there on Saturday. The people I represent need jobs and this would be
on the doorstep for north and east Manchester people. I hope our
Planning Committee comrades who always have to make difficult
decisions will give this planning permission.