Ahead of the planning decision, campaigners make last-ditch complaint

PROPERTY developer, Renaker, is proposing to build two towers (one 21 storeys and the other 12 storeys) on Chester Road that local residents believe will be a blot on Manchester’s cityscape and ruin the views around the internationally important Castlefield basin in Manchester City Centre.  

The decision whether to give approval to the scheme will be made at the City Council Planning Committee on Thursday 9 February.

The Castlefield Forum and Castlefield Estates (owners of Dukes 92 and Albert's Shed) are desperately trying to get the Council to reconsider the scheme which, if it goes ahead, will disrupt what is considered to be one of the most important heritage areas in Manchester.  

With the assistance of professional quantity surveyors the Castlefield complainants have worked out Renaker are set to make at least £30m on the scheme. This is based on Renaker buying the land for £700,000 with build costs of about £200 sq ft, leading to a total development outlay on the 175,000 sq ft scheme of £35m. On present sale values, a conservative city centre value for a prime site with canal views is £375 sq ft which would be £65m (£30m profit). These figures are intelligent approximations, informed guesswork in other words. 

The Castlefield campaigners therefore argue a much lower rise scheme should be considered which would still turn a very good profit but not have a negative impact on the conservation area.  

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CGI view from Albert's Shed

Sarah Ramsbottom, Managing Director of Castlefield Estates said: “It's simple – we reckon this proposal breaches planning law. Renaker, who have a record of financing projects with the city’s money (£132m at the last count), stand to make many millions from this project while they fundamentally blight Manchester’s most significant heritage area. 

“The Planning Committee has a statutory obligation to ensure Castlefield, as a Conservation Area, is preserved and enhanced by any development. It is their job to protect our irreplaceable heritage, that breathes life and texture into the city’s environment, and to take account of the hundreds of local people and businesses, who have already made their objection to this known. I hope the Planning Committee have the courage to see this scheme for what it is – short term profiteering at the expense of the city.” 

Carol Middleton, Chair of the Castlefield Forum said: “This application has been unprecedented in the Forum’s history in being almost unanimously opposed by residents and Forum members. We are not opposed to development – we positively welcome it – but we are opposed to overdevelopment. This will change the character of Castlefield. It is not only an exceptional heritage area, but a unique open space that this scheme will blight. If this gets the go ahead it will represent a complete failure by our elected members to protect a Conservation Area. It will show that rules governing Conservation Areas can be conveniently swept aside to provide short term gain for private developers.” 

Meanwhile campaigners have spotted something in the latest version of the application. To oil the wheels Renaker have changed the planning application since a decision on the scheme was deferred in January to enable Thursday 9 February’s site visit to go ahead.

In the original planning report it was noted the scheme was unviable if made to include affordable housing. Now the report says: ‘Whilst this is not a site where the provision of on-site affordable housing is considered to be appropriate, the applicant (Renaker) has agreed they will provide a financial contribution which it is considered should go towards the provision of off-site affordable housing"  

Clearly Renaker, the Castlefield campaigners feel, is trying to sweeten the pill at the last minute, to get around Conservation Area objections. To the Castlefield campaigners, this smacks of horse-trading with the city’s heritage and its visual amenity.

Renaker Build have not responded to a request for a statement.