David Adamson speaks with Friends of Ryebank Fields spokesperson Hannah Stanton about the group’s stand against MMU’s plans for developing the Chorlton site into 120 homes.

We’re in the age of greenwashing, where organisations produce these glossy leaflets about being green then carry on with business as usual

TIME TO READ: 10 minutes

“It's a case of the university saying the right thing, doing the wrong thing, and putting profits first.” said Hannah Stanton as she led me through the puddle-strewn paths of Ryebank Fields on the border of Chorlton and Trafford.

On land where a clear trench is carved out by, allegedly, part of the Anglo-Saxon boundary and ancient monument, Nico Ditch, battles lines are also being drawn between campaigners and the owners of the greenfield land, Manchester Metropolitan University.

As owners of the site off Longford Road since it was given to them by the city council in the 1970s, the university has appointed developers Step Places and Southway Housing Trust to build “much-needed housing on the land in line with Manchester City Council’s development plans for the Chorlton Area”.

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The aspen grove on Ryebank Fields Image: Stuart Spray

However the proposed plans for 120 homes on Ryebank Fields, which has ‘rewilded’ in an explosion of flora and fauna since its days as an astroturf pitch in the 90s, have been met with strong opposition.

As spokesperson for Friends of Ryebank Fields, Hannah, 40, says that while “developers are going to want to develop”, the university should hold itself to standards more in line with a ‘top 3 sustainable university…that charts a path for others to follow’.

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Ryebank Fields Image: Confidentials

Hannah said: “Man Met describe themselves as a world leader in delivering carbon literacy training, and that training will say we need nature-based solutions - none of it will suggest that it's a good idea to concrete over natural rewilded space.

“They have an amazing resource here for study, given that they tout their credentials as an environmentally sustainable university. They've got quite a rare example of urban rewilding that's been going on for decades. While a lot of rewilding will be starting now but won’t see results for decades, Ryebank Fields has had a twenty years head start.

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The rewilded trees of Ryebank Fields Image: Jay Clarke

“It's particularly egregious because they got this land for free. So to then sell it for a massive profit feels, essentially, like they're stealing what was common land, and what is very well used by the community at the moment.

“We can't control what happens in the Amazon but this is our bit that we can fight for, and if every community fights for their bit of nature, then we can try and put a stop to the fact that we’re one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.”

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The aspen grove on Ryebank Fields Image: Confidentials

In the first phase of their public consultation, Step Places and Southway Housing Trust laid out their intention to create a sustainable development “with the needs of the community and environment in mind”, however Hannah believes the biodiversity of the site can flourish simply by being left alone.

“This field has a lot of wildflowers,” she said. “And the developers are offering a few bug hotels - some rubbish human approximation of what they really need. We know that pollinator populations are in catastrophic decline, and frankly it’s insulting of them to give bugs and bees these ‘hotels’ when they’ve already got this paradise.

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A mock-up of the proposed development by Step Places and Southway Housing Trust Image: www.ryebankfieldsconsultation.co.uk

“It's that kind of arrogance that has led us to the point where our existence as a species is threatened. We're not these puppet masters of the natural world, we're part of it, and we can't design and manage our way out of everything.

“They’ve basically completed a tick box of eco-buzzwords -  wetlands, bug hotel, community veg growing - and it could look quite persuasive, but if you take away rewilded space and put in a veg bed you can’t argue that it's environmentally sustainable because it involves the destruction of a massive natural area.”

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Friends of Ryebank Fields spokesperson Hannah Stanton outside the Trafford entrance to the fields Image: Confidentials

With the second public consultation expected in the spring ahead of a planning application being submitted, Hannah says the swell of local support for Friends of Ryebank Fields will hopefully see any plans beaten back and the land left to continue playing its important role in the community.

“We know it’s a battle,” she said. “But we 100% believe that we can win it and I think Manchester Met are in a very difficult position trying to paint themselves as a sustainable university while flogging off rewilded land that they paid nothing for. I think that position is untenable and we intend to publicise that as much as possible."

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Protesters from the local community gathering to march to the developers' exhibition at Longford Park Stadium in February Image: Friends of Ryebank Fields

Hannah continued: “People hate hypocrisy, and if the council were to grant planning permission it flies in the face of their biodiversity strategy. I feel like that's where we are; we're in the age of greenwashing where organisations and companies produce these glossy leaflets about being green but don't actually take the necessary decisions, they just carry on with business as usual.

“We've galvanised the whole community here. And I think the more those plans edge closer to a planning application, the more opposition there will be and the louder it’ll become.”

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Ryebank Fields Image: Confidentials

A spokesperson for Manchester Metropolitan University said: “Step Places and Southway Housing have an impressive track record of delivering sustainable developments, making them inclusive, safe and resilient. This reflects the importance that the university attaches to sustainability. We are recognised nationally as a university where sustainability forms an integral part of our teaching, research and campus development.”

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The aspen grove on Ryebank Fields Image: Jay Clarke

A spokesperson for Step Places and Southway Housing Trust said: “We’re committed to providing a sustainable development that is sensitive to the existing environment. Our scheme includes much-needed new homes for Chorlton, including affordable housing that meets local housing need, low carbon buildings, community facilities, and public open green space, and delivers a net biodiversity gain for the site.

“Step Places and Southway Housing Trust are undertaking a comprehensive engagement and consultation process before any planning application is submitted. We’re grateful for the feedback that we have received so far on the initial plans and are in the process of reviewing all the comments.

“These will enable us to shape designs to make sure the scheme reflects the needs of residents and the local area. We will be holding a second round of consultation later in the year on a more detailed scheme, and we're looking forward to engaging with the community again then.”

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The aspen grove on Ryebank Fields in the snow Image: Friends of Ryebank Fields

Cllr Gavin White, MCC executive member for housing and development, said:  “MMU own the Ryebank Fields site in Chorlton, next to Longford Park, and are clear they want to bring it forward for development. “Obviously some local residents want it to stay as is, but that isn't something that MMU are considering at present. Working with the local Labour councillors in Chorlton, it is right that we try and engage with this process to ensure the best outcome for the local community if the site is developed.

“Step Places and Southway are undertaking a community consultation process at present before a potential planning application is submitted, and we would encourage residents to engage with that and share their views on this important site in Chorlton.”

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