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Community group wins legal fight against city council car park plans

Words: Laura Edgar
Car parking space / Sergio-Foto, Shutterstock_123221653

Trees Not Cars has won a judicial review against Manchester City Council over plans for a 440-space car park next to the city centre’s only primary school.

The city council paid £37 million in 2017 for the Central Retail Park as part of a joint venture with a private equity company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the owner of Manchester City Football Club.

The council granted itself planning permission to build the car park on the 10.5-acre plot on the edge of Ancoats and New Islington in 2019. A development framework consulted on last year would see the site become a one million-square-foot, office-led mixed-use scheme. Neither a park nor green space feature, however, a revamp of Cotton Field Park, located between the retail park and New Islington marina, does.

Trees Not Cars, a grassroots community group, campaigned against the plans as it believes the council “completely ignored the impact on air pollution in an attempt to force the plans through”. More than 12,000 people signed a petition against the plans.

The group successfully argued that the council had failed to consider the impact of air quality on the local area and the impact of building a polluting 440-space car park next to the only primary school in the city centre.

Gemma Cameron, a founder of Trees Not Cars, said: “We have stopped the council from putting a car park next to a primary school. This is the first time we are aware of a community group beating the council in a legal challenge. It shows that organised community groups can take on Manchester City Council and win. It’s time for communities to fight back.”

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said the council would appeal against 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 judgment does not affect the future of this site. Since temporary planning permission was granted in 2019 it has not been used as a car park and it will not be before the planning permission expires in October this year.

“We remain focused on bringing forward the development of this key site as soon as possible. The creation of a net-zero carbon business district, with public space at its heart and as little car use as possible, will support thousands of vital new jobs for Manchester people and play a powerful part in the city’s recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. It is a more appropriate use for this site, right next to the inner relief road, than a park.

“We do, however, recognise calls for more green space and the site will integrate with an improved Cotton Field Park, to the immediate north of the site. Work is also well under way to create Mayfield Park, a major new city centre park.”

The campaign urged the council to reopen the development framework so the community can provide “genuine” input. The council “must now include significant green space and affordable housing on the site.”

Image credit | Sergio-Foto, Shutterstock_123221653