- Manchester City Council
Ask Government to step in and REFUSE the Planning Application for the huge dark towers
(Sign petition with email "opt-in" to be kept informed. Scroll down for media comment and for info +email addresses for Manchester councillors.)
THANK YOU! WE'RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE - BUT IT'S NOT OVER YET! These destructive plans have been temporarily put on hold ⏸ by the developer after huge numbers of objections - but only, they say, for "refinements" at street level - the two huge towers stay the same. The developers still want and expect the Council to agree to the plans when they press "play" ▶️ so we must ask Government to intervene and appoint an independent planning inspector. We CAN ask Government, and they CAN agree - all it takes is an email to email@example.com
WE DON'T KNOW HOW LONG WE HAVE
Government would have to intervene before the Council makes the planning decision, and while we don't know when that would be, we know that if the developers were making any significant changes, planning law would require them to withdraw the application - but they've only paused it. Guardian 15 March. The process could start up again quickly, so we can't just wait - we must ask Government NOW to make the decision to step in before the Council agrees the plans. Please help! Here's that email address again: firstname.lastname@example.org - see below on what we should say.
THIS IS WHY THE COUNCIL SHOULD NOT DECIDE
The Council is a business partner in the development company that put these plans forward - but it's also the planning authority so would be giving itself planning permission to build these towers. Many, including the media (see below), have severe doubts as to whether the Council can be impartial and objective, because:
- it has a big financial stake in the plans being approved: it's a landowner and business partner in the development company, and will get £millions from its share when planning approval is given
- planning approval for these towers will immediately increase the value of nearby Council-owned land so that they can demolish and rebuild higher on those too, again, gaining £millions - i.e. it's a precedent, and won't end here
- the developer says that the designs for the skyscrapers are what the Council asked for - i.e. that the Council has encouraged and promoted these plans, which will permanently and irreversibly harm our city
- the Council clearly and strongly supports the plans at the most senior level. For example, the Leader of the Council has said (M.E.N.) that objectors have made "silly" arguments, and "just don’t like tall buildings". That's nonsense, as comments in this petition make plain. Our problem with these towers is that they're in the wrong place, 500ft from the Town Hall entrance, overwhelming our civic centre. Last summer, a town hall boss said that "...given the cash already ploughed into Neville’s project, it is ‘highly unlikely’ it will not be granted planning permission" (also M.E.N).
The Council often has to decide on planning applications where it has some sort of interest, such as school extensions. But this nothing like a school extension - it would have a huge impact on Manchester's nationally significant civic centre and beyond.
ASK CENTRAL GOVERNMENT TO MAKE THE DECISION
There are thus sound and solid reasons to ask Central Government use its power to step in and stop Manchester City Council from making this planning decision and allowing these towers to be built. The law allows this - but only for applications that are of more than local interest. In those cases, the Secretary of State can appoint an independent Planning Inspector to make the decision instead.
This is the only alternative to the fourteen councillors on Manchester's Planning Committee deciding to approve the application. The full Council of 96 members doesn't get to vote on planning applications, given the "quasi-judicial" nature of the planning process. The 14 Planning Committee members would be the only ones to have a vote on a planning application that will cause permanent, irreversible and substantial harm to our city centre's nationally significant heritage assets. None of their ward constituents have been consulted, as none of them represent the city centre. (Scroll down for more information on the committee and the councillors.)
WHAT SHOULD WE SAY?
If you agree that Government should intervene, please email the Department of Communities and Local Government at this address: email@example.com - keeping in mind that Government will only step in for applications that are of more than local interest. (NCPU is the National Planning Casework Unit in the Department for Communities and Local Government.)
"More than local interest" is the key point to mention: it's number 4 in these 6 key planning reasons why the application should be refused:
- this is an inappropriate location for these buildings, which don't reflect, respond to or respect their surroundings
- the buildings are of poor design and appearance, from street level upwards
- the proposals fail to comply with the Council’s Core Strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework, or to fit with the Guide to Development in Manchester and published Conservation Area policies
- substantial harm would be caused to the setting and significance of important heritage assets of more than local importance, including our nationally valued Town Hall and civic buildings
- the proposals are not sustainable due to their impact on the historic environment and failure to build a high-quality environment
- the benefits of the proposals are narrow, partial, and insufficient to balance the harm done to our city's assets.
The reference number to add is 14664/FO/2016.
WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS
National and local press, TV, and radio have commented on this planning application and the harm it would do to Manchester's heritage assets. Some have also commented that the Council is unlikely to listen to objectors. It’s been everywhere from The Star and the Sun to The Times, on the BBC and Granada, and even in the USA news. Here’s a few:
The Times, 17 February, said "Manchester’s leaders should resist this attack of tower-mania." That "the Council leader has made his allegiances clear and that if Manchester's councillors won’t look after the city’s interests, then Sajid Javid should step in." (i.e. the Secretary of State - see below.)
Manchester Evening News, 20 February: M.E.N. The Council is compromised by the cash deal for the site, undermining "…the ability to take a clear-eyed decision on something...worth so much to the city purse".
The Guardian, 20 February: Guardian "Don’t trash Manchester’s history to make way for skyscrapers."
The Guardian, 23 February: Guardian "Wanton vandalism." +The architect says that the Council pushed re the design.
Manchester Confidential, 21 February: ManCon People are angry about the planning system. "The current planning regime plays at engagement. It appears to care little for public consultations or written responses. It seems to regard both as visits from troublesome and undesirable relatives, a duty rather than a virtue."
The Guardian, 15 March: Guardian "Gary Neville has admitted his £200m plans for two bronze skyscrapers in Manchester city centre have “failed miserably” in the wake of huge opposition from heritage groups. The former England footballer faced a fierce backlash for his plans to bulldoze three historic buildings to make way for luxury flats, hotels, offices and restaurants. On Wednesday Neville said he had asked Manchester city council not to consider the application in its current form and that it would undergo further refinements."
Manchester Confidential 15 March ManCon "We have failed miserably" said Gary Neville.
THERE WILL BE DAMAGE TO OUR CITY: THE DEVELOPER SAYS SO:
In their own planning application, the developer says: "The proposed development will also result in major adverse impacts on the setting of the Grade I Town Hall, Grade II* Town Hall Extension, Grade II* Central Library and Grade I St Ann’s Square and consequently also the character and appearance of the Albert Square, St Peter’s Square and St Ann’s Square Conservation Areas. The Heritage Statement therefore concludes that "the proposed development will result in substantial harm to the identified heritage assets."
That is what Historic England said last July - that these plans "would cause a high level of harm" to our city centre - but their view was dismissed by the developer. The same developer is now admitting in his own planning application that Historic England were right. Thousands of us agree with Historic England that there would be unacceptable, irreversible and permanent damage to our city centre. The comments in this petition can be read on-line (click on "join the conversation" below).
The "St Michael's" development proposals on the site of the old Bootle Street police station in Manchester city centre are just 150 metres from the Town Hall entrance in Albert Square. The dark 31 and 21 storey towers will overwhelm a heritage area of national importance - Albert Square, the Town Hall and our historic civic centre - and will be seen from many miles away. They're of much more than local significance, will have an impact on much of Greater Manchester and will be seen by millions of people.
ONLY 14 COUNCILLORS WILL MAKE THE DECISION, BUT SHOULD ALL 96 MANCHESTER CITY COUNCILLORS KNOW WHAT WE THINK?
It is the job of your local Councillor to represent your views and opinions and to decide how the Council should carry out its many important functions. Their job is to represent public interest, as well as the individuals living within the ward in which he or she has been elected.
To find your local councillor: bit.ly/2lPtyTZ - their email addresses are all listed so that you can tell them your views directly.
The full Council of 96 members does NOT get to vote on planning applications, given the "quasi-judicial" nature of the planning process. The decision is made by 14 Planning Committee members only.
They are listed on the Council website: bit.ly/2l4zMef
- Councillor Ahmed Ali firstname.lastname@example.org (Rusholme)
- Councillor Shaukat Ali email@example.com (Cheetham)
- Councillor N Ali (Deputy Chair) firstname.lastname@example.org (Levenshulme)
- Councillor Barrett email@example.com (Sharston)
- Councillor Chohan firstname.lastname@example.org (Longsight)
- Councillor Curley email@example.com (Charlestown)
- Councillor Dar firstname.lastname@example.org (Moston)
- Councillor Ellison(Chair) email@example.com (Didsbury West)
- Councillor Fender firstname.lastname@example.org (Old Moat)
- Councillor Kamal email@example.com (Gorton North)
- Councillor Paul firstname.lastname@example.org (Withington)
- Councillor Siddiqi email@example.com (Gorton North)
- Councillor Watson firstname.lastname@example.org (Whalley Range)
- Councillor Madeleine Monaghan email@example.com (Sharston)
None of these councillors represents the city centre, in which the buildings would be located, so their constituents have not been consulted by the Council on this planing application, even if they work in or travel to the city centre and would have an opinion on these plans for permanent harm to our unique civic heritage.
None of the three councillors who do represent the city centre are members of the Planning Committee, so they don’t have a vote, although one of them may be allowed to speak at the meeting for a limited time. They are:
Councillor Joan Davies firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Beth Knowles email@example.com
Councillor Kevin Peel firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, although Councillor Pat Karney is "Lead Member for the City Centre" he is not on the Planning Committee either, he may be able to speak. email@example.com
Only local residents and limited organisations were invited to see the model of the plans shown for just 8 hours in September. After complaints, one extra day was added as a last chance in October.
Since that consultation, where 70% of people objected to what they saw, only the colour of the towers has changed - from black to bronze. The photograph above shows the developers model, on which every building was coloured white - including the giant dark towers, here coloured to show them clearly. White was not an honest or realistic way to show their impact - they're huge, and 500ft from Manchester Town Hall.
The plans revealed last summer had changed drastically in less than a year, from light-coloured medium-rise blocks to two high-rise black towers of 31+ and 21+ storeys (both have a 'crest' on top). The smaller is an office and the larger a 5* hotel and luxury apartments -"a place for leaders to call home".
These towers are grossly inappropriate to this location. They don't reflect, respond to or respect their surroundings. They are in the wrong place, out of proportion and overwhelm everything around them, including the town hall, central library and both old and new buildings in the city centre. The lower areas are crammed commercial sales areas, not the 'public open space' promised, and the already dark and dank Bootle Street will become even worse with a new 4/5 storey, essentially blank wall with one narrow alley.
The Council has already said NO to smaller towers further away from the Town Hall than these giants, so its support for these plans is inconsistent and bewildering. Manchester's policy on tall buildings says they'll be supported where they are "appropriately located", and that they "...should complement the City's key existing building assets and make a positive contribution to the evolution of a unique, attractive and distinctive Manchester, including to its skyline and approach views. Suitable locations will include sites within and immediately adjacent to the City Centre with particular encouragement given to non-conservation areas..." These towers are in a conservation right next to other conservation areas.
The developers want the Council to decide that the 'benefits’ of building the towers would outweigh the permanent and irreversible harm done to our city - but the 'benefits' are insufficient - too limited, too narrow, and in some cases not even real or relevant.
The 'benefits' listed include some limited 'public open space', some initial building jobs and later on, jobs in a hotel, offices, a few shops and lots of drinking and eating places - and the synagogue congregation get a brand new building. But the 'public' space isn’t a benefit - it’s not public, is largely a cul de sac for commercial sales and is mostly in permanent shade. And, obviously, jobs and new business activity would still be provided with a different, better and more appropriate design that doesn’t scar our city centre for ever. It isn't an 'either/or' decision.
This petition will be updated from time to time, so you can stay informed of important changes or developments, including the date and location of the Planning Committee meeting.
Developers email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Developers information line: 0800 032 5725. Developers website: www.st-michaels.com (click on tiny words at the bottom of the home page "download consultation").
More pictures and info on Dropbox at: http://bit.ly/2cKUWOq
- Manchester City Council
Yet to be finalised, but in line with the comments in the petition, and asking for refusal of the planning application:
The thousands of people who have signed this petition ask the Council to refuse planning application for the St Michael's development. Many have admired much of what Manchester City Council has achieved over the years, but are surprised and disappointed by the Council’s public promotion and clear support at senior level for these proposals. We believe the application should be refused as:
- This is an inappropriate location for these buildings, which don't reflect, respond to or respect their surroundings.
- The buildings are of poor design and appearance, from street level upwards. They are aggressive and overbearing.
- The proposals fail to comply with the Council’s Core Strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework, or to fit with the Guide to Development in Manchester or the Conservation Area guidance. The 'get-out clause ' of allowing for ad-hoc approval for tall buildings does not balance that failure.
- Permanent, irreversible and substantial harm would be caused to the setting and significance of important heritage assets of much more than local importance, including our nationally valued Town Hall and other important nearby buildings.
- The proposals are not sustainable, due both to their impact on the historic environment and their deficiency in the creation of a high-quality built environment.
- The benefits of the proposals as set out in the application are narrow and partial, insufficient to justify such a high level of adverse impact, despite efforts to contrive arguments to the contrary. The aim to provide jobs and new business activity can be met with a different, higher quality and more appropriate design that doesn’t scar our city centre for ever - it isn’t all or nothing.
DESIGN AND APPEARANCE The plans demonstrate over-development which lacks a positive relationship to its setting and surroundings. Two huge towers might be impressive elsewhere, but are grossly inappropriate to this location. They are in the wrong place, inelegant, out of proportion and overwhelm everything around them.
The proposed 31 and 21 storey towers effectively present a huge staggered east-west wall running the entire length of the site. They are over-bearing, out of scale and out of character and will overwhelm Albert Square, the Town Hall and surrounds, and be seen from many miles away.
This is a strategic site of much more than local significance. The potential impact of this development, if approved, would be felt widely, with a permanent and irreversible impact extending not only beyond the immediate locality, but also well beyond the area controlled by Manchester City Council. For decades to come the towers would be seen and experienced by millions of people.
While the empty police station is obviously currently underused, the site demands and deserves a better solution to bring it back as a positive and attractive contributor to city life. The Places Matter review offers no defence: while it applauds ambitious wishes at head and foot, those are just wishes. It is critical of execution, particularly at street, 'steps' and podium levels, and it is incomplete; silent on the substantial harm to the heritage setting and only mentioning height fleetingly.
The benefits attributed to the development are limited and narrow, and in some cases not even real or relevant. They include some limited 'public open space', some initial building jobs and later on, jobs in a hotel, offices, shops and drinking and eating places; and the synagogue congregation gets a brand new building. The public open space isn’t public or open: it’s a crammed, poorly accessible cul de sac largely for commercial sales, much of which is in permanent shade. Images of the space at the top of the steps show live music that will disturb residents of the hotel and apartments as well as the Radisson Hotel and Great Northern and Beetham Towers. Bootle Street will become a much worse thoroughfare than it already is, instead of better. As a natural route west for pedestrians coming around the Library from the new St Peter’s Square through to Deansgate that street should be upgraded, not degraded as proposed.
We welcome ambition for our city, and investment in it. Enthusiasm and wanting to make things happen is great - but they have to be the right things, and these proposals are wrong. We can aim to achieve highest quality in new building while protecting and enhancing existing assets, to maximise the values and benefits both for our city and all investors in it - the whole of our city should be greater than the sum of the parts.
POLICY COMPLIANCE The proposals don’t comply with the Council’s planning policies and guidance, including the Core Strategy, nor with the National Planning Policy Framework. Neither do they fit with the Guide to Development in Manchester, for example the direction on successful streets, or with Conservation Area guidance. Proposals that do not accord with policy or guidance should demonstrate good reason for not so doing, but these don’t. In this location, even more than any other, the single-issue economic argument 'jobs’ is inadequate compensation for the damage that would irrevocably be done to Manchester - and in any case, the argument is not that it’s either/or - a better design would also bring economic benefit.
The planning application states that 'in summary, the general acceptability of tall buildings in the city centre arises from Policy EN2 which states that locations suitable for tall buildings will include city centre sites.' However, the same policy states that tall buildings will be supported where they are of excellent design quality and appropriately located, and that, fundamentally, '..tall buildings should complement the City's key existing building assets and make a positive contribution to the evolution of a unique, attractive and distinctive Manchester, including to its skyline and approach views. Suitable locations will include sites within and immediately adjacent to the City Centre with particular encouragement given to non-conservation areas…'. This site falls within a city centre conservation area and abuts and impacts on others. These buildings are not of good enough design quality, and do not complement the City's key existing building assets - a requirement expanded upon and emphasised elsewhere in the Core Strategy.
The 'get-out' that tall buildings be considered on an ad hoc basis, on their merits, is not sufficient counterweight to non-compliance. This is a test case both for the city centre’s effective but balanced regeneration and for MCC’s now inadequate tall buildings policy, which requires interrogation and strengthening going forward. MCC should be controlling this, not simply reacting ad hoc.
Advice notes on the Albert Square Conservation Area state that "The Town Hall and its extension are the most dominant buildings in the area, and any proposals should respect these landmark buildings." They say that the Town Hall is "an exceptional work expressing enlightened civic power". The application, however, suggests that the two towers should take the place of the Town Hall’s physical dominance and expression as the centre of the city.
HERITAGE HARM The proposals would impact adversely, permanently and irreversibly on a substantial and important part of Manchester’s heritage assets and character, which, as the application’s heritage documents state, are of national significance. The site is located in a conservation area abutted by other conservation areas and is only 150 metres from the Town Hall entrance in Albert Square. The listed Town Hall is the centrepiece of Manchester's historic civic centre, which is of national value and significance.
The planning application clearly states: 'The proposed development will (also) result in major adverse impacts on the setting of the Grade I Town Hall, Grade II* Town Hall Extension, Grade II* Central Library and Grade I St Ann’s Square and consequently also the character and appearance of the Albert Square, St Peter’s Square and St Ann’s Square Conservation Areas. The Heritage Statement therefore concludes that the proposed development will result in substantial harm to the identified heritage assets.'
While acknowledging that the plans would cause the highest possible level of harm, as categorised in the NPPF, the applicant fails then to demonstrate sufficiently wide or substantial public benefits to outweigh that harm. Jobs and new business activity targets, for example, can also be met by a different, higher quality and more appropriate design that doesn’t scar our city centre for ever - it isn’t all or nothing; and eight of the listed 'benefits’ accrue solely to the synagogue congregation. Notwithstanding, the applicant asserts that the Council should decide that the harm is outweighed by the benefits of the proposals. I don’t agree: I agree with the objections made earlier this month by Historic England to to the Council on these virtually unchanged proposals.
In addition, while the buildings earmarked for demolition aren’t listed, they offer a significant social history for many people in Manchester and beyond. Clearly, there are strong community views about their retention, and strong suspicion that the option of wholesale clearance is preferred simply as the most convenient option given the brief set for the site by the Council (say the developers), the impact of replacement of the synagogue on the financial model, and of allowing the police station to stand empty and deteriorate. Once lost, such heritage assets can never be replaced, and there is a very obvious public view that more acceptable and attractive alternative approaches and designs could add value to the city and should be wholeheartedly and positively explored.
CONSULTATION Our city is the centre of the Greater Manchester conurbation, is the regional capital, and considered by many to be England's second city. The major adverse impacts of these proposals for this strategic site, acknowledged in the planning submission, are of concern well beyond the city centre businesses, residents and statutory bodies to whom local planning consultation normally extends. The developer’s consultations last autumn were seen as limited in range, scant and grudging, and while 70% of respondents registered their objection to the proposals, the only amendment was to cladding colour before lodging the application.
Seeking wider views is legitimate. Many people consider themselves to be stakeholders in our city; people who travel here to work, visit and/or invest here in many ways; people who admire and value our historic civic core and its heritage and character, appreciating what it adds to our city’s distinctiveness. Manchester is nationally known for many things - these include our Gothic masterpiece Town Hall and its nearby companions.
PETITION The Council has been made aware from the outset of this petition set up in September 2016 after the first exhibition of the developers proposals, in part to compensate for such limited consultation. Lists of comments and signatories have already been provided to the Council (Sir Howard, Dave Roscoe and Councillor Davies). Further updated schedules will follow, as numbers have increased dramatically since the planning application was lodged. They’ll also be provided to Historic England and to the NPCU at DCLG.
The hope was that the petition might go a little way to offer a wider opportunity for comment to anyone who uses, values and cares about our city. Many people have taken the time to leave comments that are publicly visible and that echo a number of points time and again - great pride in the city, appreciation and value of its heritage assets, disagreement with these plans and agreement that the proposed form of development is not appropriate to this location. Only one comment had been delete due to bad language. This is the link: bit.ly/2ljw58v
The postcode of signatories is recorded and available to be inspected e.g. by local councillors, should they wish to see how their constituents are represented. The vast majority are from Greater Manchester (though only the city centre has been consulted by the developers and Council), although there are also comments from further afield from people with a connection to/knowledge of Manchester.
The petition will stay open and available for signature and comment, and to provide a mechanism to let people know what happens next, such as how to access the planning committee report and when and where the committee meets.
Finally, the Council and developer say that this development is essential for Manchester as (1) a conduit to a Far Eastern investment stream to the city, and (2) there’s a pressing 'need’ for a further 5* hotel and high value apartments that cannot be met anywhere else in the city centre. However, the Council recently circulated a draft SRF for Great Northern, just a stones throw away. This proposed high value apartments in the warehouse, and invited comments on the future of the shabby car park building to the south. That site would be a much more logical location for a 5* hotel and other complementary tall and high-quality buildings, clustered with the Beetham Tower and the proposed tall buildings above the Bauer Millet car showroom. Great Northern also involves Far Eastern investment. What it does need is a clear strategy, which the Council's SRF should be able to provide.
RESPECT OUR CITY CENTRE started this petition with a single signature, and now has 4,537 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.