Ask Government to step in and REFUSE the Planning Application for the huge dark towers

(Scroll down for media comment and for info and email addresses for Manchester City councillors.) 

THANK YOU! More than 4,000 of us have signed this petition and registered our objection with the Council.  It's now clear, though, that the only way to have an objective and impartial decision on this planning application is to ask Government to intervene and appoint an independent planning inspector. We CAN ask and they CAN agree - but there's only weeks left to do it.  All it takes is an email to npcu@communities.gsi.gov.uk  - see below.

And this is why!---The Council is a business partner in the development company that put these plans forward - but it's also the planning authority. Many of us, including the media, 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
  • 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.)

If you agree that Government should intervene, please email the Department of Communities and Local Government at this address: npcu@communities.gsi.gov.uk - 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:

  1. this is an inappropriate location for these buildings, which don't reflect, respond to or respect their surroundings 
  2. the buildings are of poor design and appearance, from street level upwards 
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. the proposals are not sustainable due to their impact on the historic environment and failure to build a high-quality environment
  6. 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.

WE MAY HAVE LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS  

Government would have to intervene before the Council makes the planning decision, and while we don't know when that would be, we know the consultation period has ended, and committee is the next stage. The Planning Committee meets on 6th, and then again on 27th April, so there could be fewer than 4 weeks for Government to make the decision to step in. Please help! Here's that email address again: npcu@communities.gsi.gov.uk

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."

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

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 cllr.j.davies@manchester.gov.uk

Councillor Beth Knowles  cllr.b.knowles@manchester.gov.uk

Councillor Kevin Peel   cllr.k.peel@manchester.gov.uk 
 
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. cllr.p.karney@manchester.gov.uk

MORE INFORMATION:  

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: enquiries@st-michaels.com. 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

 

This petition will be delivered to:
  • Manchester City Council

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