Just hours left to comment on plans for a 40 storey tower 300m from our historic city core

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There’s just hours left for us to have our say on the revised plans. For your views to really count they must go to the Council, as the plans are in a formal planning application. So please either email d.brettell@manchester.gov.uk or respond on-line - click HERE  to reach the Council website page to give your opinion. 

The revisions show a single tower of 40 storeys (replacing two at 31 and 21 storeys), next to a bulky but lower office block. Some welcome changes have been made - the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub and the classic east frontage of the old Police Station escape demolition - but are these plans still wrong for this key site in our historic core?

At 40 storeys this is still a HUGE tower, totally out of scale with this historic setting, just 300m from our listed Gothic Town Hall. It overpowers Manchester’s historic core and dominates several conservation areas. Historic England say they cannot support a tower this high: that it will 'have a significant harmful impact on a number of highly graded listed buildings' and an 'overbearing impact' on Albert Square. Full letter here. 

The original two giant black towers got the biggest planning response in Manchester’s history. Over 4,500 people signed this petition against them, and some 1,400 people formally objected to the planning application, which was frozen for rethinking as a result - a new architect was brought in.

This giant tower is still too big and much too dominant for this location. There are obvious economic benefits to developing an underused site, but building so extremely high is not necessary to acheive the jobs and regeneration. Those benefits can largely be gained without such height and the damage to Manchester's historic core - the extra benefits from extreme height simply don't outweigh the damage done to our city core.

National Planning Law says that where designated heritage assets are harmed, and depending on the level of that harm, either planning consent should be refused, or the developer must demonstrate that the harm caused will be outweighed by sufficient benefits.

Development here will obviously bring economic benefits, including jobs - a major priority for Manchester. The dwindling synagogue congregation gets a new building, and activity will return to an underused site. However, without the overwhelming tower it would still bring jobs to the city - top half of the tower is apartments, not offices, so cutting it wouldn't have huge impact on employment opportunities. So -is is there really a need to build so high and so obtrusively? 

The developer acknowledges the plans instead of simply bring good to the city, they would cause a high level harm to our historic core. But it still wants the Council to agree that the damage will be outweighed by the benefits they list in pages 87-89 of the Heritage Statement Impact Report - do you agree? Should the Council agree and grant planning permission to build the tower? Or should the development be lower - more respectful and sympathetic to its location and do less harm - whicgh Manchester will have to live with for generations.  Less height would still bring huge economic benefit, and could still add an attractive new destination to Manchester.

The architects impressions in July 2017 showed an whispy and ethereal structure melting into blue sky: but the reality is 40 storeys of bronze metal, next to a bulky office block. We may or may not like the style of the design, but the planning issue is that whatever the material and colour, it’s not whispy and ethereal  - it’s an enormous tower in an out-of-scale and crammed development dominating and overwhelming Manchesters historic core, in a conservation area surrounded by several other conservation areas.  PLEASE have your say while there's time.

HERE'S HOW: Either email d.roscoe@manchester.gov.uk or respond on-line HERE where the entire revised application of 86 documents can be seen (click on the documents tab).  PLEASE include planning terms in your comments: such as the size, scale and sustainability of the design and development; whether you think that the economic and other benefits the developer lists are solid and sufficient justification for the harm (a formal planning legislation term) that would be done to our historic core under planning legislation, and whether this scale and type of development accords with both local and national planning policy and guidance. Just saying we don't like it - or just that we do! - will be discounted. Here's a letter written last week by an architect who understands planning legislation and terminology- Letter of Objection.

It's important that we tell the Council what we think. It is in a difficult position, as a legal partner with a financial stake in the St Michael’s proposals it will profit directly from its development, whether to this design or another. This a matter of more than local importance, and it may be that Central Government should step in to make the decision instead of the Council (if you think so, see below).

Thank you, Lesley

 

BIG THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE SUPPORTED THIS PETITION!     

PREVIOUS UPDATE:  MARCH 2017 

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 npcu@communities.gsi.gov.uk  

Government would have to intervene before the Council makes the planning decision, which we expect to be in April 2018.  

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 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 in the local paper that  '...given the cash already ploughed into Neville’s project, it is ‘highly unlikely’ it will not be granted planning permission').

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: 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. 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 114664/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 38 storey tower 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.

 



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