55 story building gains planning permission despite a well-reasoned heartfelt 'no' campaign

It does make you wonder whether campaigners and city centre residents have a chance when it comes to planning. Time, effort, blood, sweat and tears are given, hours of people’s private hours exhausted. 

How this council can treat its people in this way over offshore investors is astonishing.

We have a case here where local councillors from the utterly dominant Labour group on Manchester city council can weigh in favouring refusal, reports can be taken, barristers consulted, lots of personal money spent by those local residents and yet - it’s a waste of time. The statutory machine of “Planning” fires up, the artillery of vested interest opens fire and hey presto local action gets blown out of the window.

So it is with the Hulme Street/Great Marlborough Street tower the local residents have called the "The Tombstone". We’ve covered this planning battle extensively in our "botched application" article and our "not a low carbon building article" both written this year.

The articles give background to controversy after controversy over a 55 storey tower built just off Oxford Road that was given planning approval this week (1 July 2021). The tower breaks the original Strategic Regeneration Framework and impinges on residents' actual mortgage liabilities. 

1 July The Tombstone Tower Is 55 Storeys High And Is Very Very Tall
It's a very tall building in a very tight street pattern

The new tower will have many negative effects, not least by destroying the basis on which mortgages were given to nearby residents in Macintosh Village which included car parking space in an admittedly ugly multi-storey car park. That will now be demolished and rebuilt; during the years of rebuilding it will compromise those mortgages. The new building might result in people being thrown out of their homes.

At the same time, as evidenced in those previous articles, local campaigners had proved how the planning applications had lied about the environmental effects, about the sustainability, about access, about how long construction might take, the effect on families and much else. 

The application had even tried, childishly, to disguise the true height of the building in much of its imagery or make it disappear. The new tower will be 155m (508ft) tall on a tiny footprint over narrow roads, the nearby Liberty Heights student residency is 109m (308ft) tall. Some graphics showed no height difference. 

The residents weren't being daft and if a reasonable solution to the ugly car park and their rights had been proposed they might have been brought along. If a reasonable compromise had been proposed over those other manipulations of evidence then they might again have been brought along. 

2021 02 05 News Roundup Hulme Street Tower
Graphics for the proposal turn a heavy orange tower into a light transparent structure
2021 01 20 Hulme Street Tower
The proposed tower in the centre looks no taller than the existing towers here

Mike Halley of Macintosh Village Management Company says:

“Local activists told us three years ago not to bother, this is already decided. Sadly, we have experienced just what they warned us about. The planning committee did not make an informed decision. In fact four of them today did not even listen yet voted for it. It looked staged managed, a tied vote and then returning to 7-3 without their questions answered. Critical elements of environment, rights of the child and property rights ignored. Policies reframed and incorrectly quoted. 

"So, the community commits to fighting this legally and gaining the facts under disclosure of how and who was so predetermined to ignore the people and harm versus embarrassingly absent benefits.

“Clearly the council and legal team were procedurally on weak grounds hence the delays and pre-meeting with the committee. We will discover on this next journey over the next six weeks and then Judicial Review the facts. How this council can treat its people in this way over offshore investors is astonishing. That’s what it feels like. This says sod the people who actually live here.”

1 July Site Of The Tombstone Tower
While being built the 55 storey tower will obliterate this car park and then partially rebuild it which affects home-owners rights

You can understand Halley's anger. It is genuine along with that of the more than 400 people who registered objections. Nobody in Macintosh Village was ever told, ultimately, their homes would become a tiny enclave in a forest of purpose-built student accommodation. Those residents pay council tax, purpose built student towers contribute nothing to the city, the buildings pay no business rates and their occupants no council tax. 

It feels this was a done deal from the beginning as Halley says, just a matter of time until it was accepted. It's a grim moment in Manchester planning, a complete negation of a campaign that has worked so hard, not to deny the right of building tall buildings, but to temper the scale of the building and the manner in which it might be built in a particular area of the city centre for a particular set of well-reasoned arguments. It feels unjust. This is not about NIMBYism, it’s about a lesson in frustration. Yet, as Halley also says, the fight goes on. We haven't heard the last in "The Tombstone" war yet. 

We have an interview with Manchester City Council leader, Sir Richard Leese, coming very soon on Manchester Confidential which asks questions about planning and city centre policy. It is frank, forthright and revealing. Watch this space.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @jonathschofield

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