Greens Critical of Chorlton Development Plans

14 December 2017

The Green Party has responded to Manchester City Council's proposals for the redevelopment of Chorlton centre, stating that these do not meet local needs and are a threat to the area's green spaces and biodiversity.

Issy Patience, Green Party council candidate for Whalley Range stated:

“I question why Manchester City Council is so keen to allow MMU to profit from land that morally shouldn’' even belong to them. They allowed Birley Fields in Hulme to be built over, to the detriment of the local community – on land that also belonged to the people.

“We call on the Council to promote sustainability and biodiversity in Chorlton. Any housing must be affordable to meet local needs.”

Dr. Nigel Woodcock – Chair of Friends of Longford Park and the Green Party's 2016 council election candidate for Chorlton added:

“The Green Party is in favour of sustainable development, and we recognise the need for affordable housing in Manchester. However, the current proposals for Chorlton appear to guarantee neither, which leaves me gravely concerned.

“As Chair of the Friends of Longford Park, I am desperately concerned about MMU’s apparent desire to make money out of land that was bequeathed to the people for sports use. By rights, it should be given back to the people, and biodiversity should be preserved. If there is to be any housing, then I'd suggest the retention of a large green buffer with the park, and only affordable housing should be built.

The party's full response can be read below.

Formal Response

In general, the proposals seem positive and the party is supportive of the general aims.

There is, however, one fundamental concern relating to the package of proposals, and that is the impact of any significant amount of new housing on the services and facilities in Chorlton, which are already under severe pressure.  The following comments are based on an assumption that consideration will be given to increasing the provision of necessary services, including doctors and school places, in accordance with the number of dwellings to be built across the three areas/sites.

With regard to the specific proposals for each of the three areas/sites the following comments are offered.

1. Chorlton Precinct

We support the aim of helping to create a more vibrant town centre underpinned by a strong residential component.  There is urgent need for affordable housing in Manchester and this site could provide an element of affordable housing.

In this context, we do not understand what is meant by a “range of residential accommodation”.  If it means just a range of sizes of accommodation, none of which is affordable, then we take issue with the statement.  If it means a mix of sizes, tenures and prices, a good proportion of which is affordable, then we support this aspect of the proposal.

We are pleased to see that the new shopping/residential blocks will be flanked to the west by housing that will relate in scale to the adjacent Conservation Area.

Bearing in mind the good accessibility of the town centre by bus, tram and cycle, we support attempts to include pedestrian and cycle routes and access into and through the centre, and would suggest, therefore, that car parking provision is kept to an absolute minimum to help to ease the congestion that afflicts Chorlton so much of the time.

In order to create a lively and balanced town centre, including the new development but also taking into account the surrounding uses, we would request that a policy of limiting all A3 – A5 uses within the centre be applied.  The existing precinct, whilst dated, is in almost exclusively retail use, and this environment needs to be kept in the new development to encourage a strong daytime footfall.

Consideration should be given to restricting loading and unloading hours of the commercial properties in the development, since access to the proposed service area would appear to be opposite new residential properties, and since there will be residents living above parts of the commercial zone.

Finally, consideration should be given to using the latest technology and design criteria to ensure that the buildings are as environmentally efficient as possible.  This should include, amongst other things, insulation and use of micro-generation of energy.

2. Ryebank Fields

We have some significant concerns regarding this element.  Whilst there would be appear to be little in principle to indicate that housing would be inappropriate for the site, the specific proposals raise a number of issues.

Given the proximity of the site to the Longford Park Conservation Area, we approve of the intention to maintain and strengthen the planting belt between the site and the Park.  This should be a firm green barrier that should not be penetrated.  It is important for wildlife and visual amenity and we would object strongly to any punctuation of the barrier by footpaths from the site directly into the Park, as appears to be suggested in the Illustrative Development Frameworks in the brochure.  Since the Park is in Trafford, there can, of course, be no control over the continuation of any footpaths within the Park in any case, so this is a non-starter.  Similarly, there should be NO development in the Tree Priority Zone (as shown on the constraints diagram,) as opposed to the quote, “substantial development to be avoided”, which is what is stated in the brochure.

Our main concern relates to the type of housing proposed.  Contrary to what is stated in the brochure we do not believe that MMU would like to sell the site so that it can be used for much-needed new homes in Chorlton.  We believe it would like to sell the site to make money for MMU.  Whilst there is a great need for new homes in Chorlton, there is no evidence that there is a need for high- end, large homes in large plots.  There is a well-established need for affordable housing, especially in Chorlton, and this site would be ideally suited for such development for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the land was transferred to MMU, we believe, for use as playing fields only.  It has not been used for this purpose for many years and has been left to regenerate naturally.  We would argue that the site in its current state is an environmental asset for the surrounding community and biodiversity, but that if it has to go for housing, it is a site that has no current financial value and, given the site’s history, therefore there is no reason why any “hoped-for” land value should render the provision of affordable housing non-viable.

Secondly, there appears to be an assumption that high quality has to be equated with expensive, low-density executive or luxury homes.  This is not the case, and we would argue strongly for a high-quality development of houses well-designed for families needing affordable homes.  There is a great opportunity for the development of sustainable homes, using passivhaus principles and design, and incorporating SUDS into the layout.  This would make it a landmark development that would benefit Chorlton, Chorlton people, and the environment equally.

There is an assumption that a relatively low density of up to 15 houses per hectare would be in keeping with the surroundings.  This is clearly not the case.  The houses around Longford Road, Newport Road, Nicolas Road and even Peveril Crescent, form the bulk of the context for the development, and these would appear to be at a much higher density.   There is an opportunity to provide more houses on this site – more “much-needed” houses.  Whilst we understand concern about increased car usage resulting from the development, there would likely be fewer cars using a development associated with smaller affordable homes than from one associated with expensive large homes.

There should be NO through access across the site.  Any through route would instantly become a rat-run to the detriment not only to occupiers of the development itself but also to residents of Ryebank Road at both ends, and the other roads around.  Access must be from Longford Road/Ryebank Road only, or possibly with a separate access serving some new homes from the Trafford end of Ryebank Road.  Any through route would be a traffic, environmental and amenity disaster.

We note the existence of a gas main running through the site and the desire not to move it.  This is a constraint on design which may have to be accepted, though gas mains can be moved and this may be an option if a little more land can be released as a result – subject to no encroachment on the boundary tree belt.

3. Former Chorlton Leisure Centre

There is clearly little information available on this element of the proposals, but we welcome the fact that the building, which is somewhat iconic in Chorlton, is an “Asset of Community Value” and we would hope that the building could retain its community focus as a place specifically for and about Chorlton people.

We would simply point to the successful model of the nearby Stretford Public Hall.  This is also a locally iconic building that was an Asset of Community Value and which is now being managed and run by the community for the community in a range of cultural, artistic, commercial and community uses.  We would support any project that mirrored in some way this approach to strengthening the local community.

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