Campaign against Eastlands arena ‘misleading’

Manchester City Council has called a campaign against the Eastlands regeneration framework by Manchester Arena operator SMG “very misleading”, while facing resistance from a mass of city centre businesses including The Printworks, Arndale, Corn Exchange and Harvey Nichols.

A public consultation on a revised plan for Eastlands, which revealed the council had received interest from investors looking to build a 20,000-capacity arena at the Etihad Campus, took place last month.

The council said “international investors and operators see Manchester as one of the few cities in Europe with the ability to successfully host more than one large arena”. However, the operator of the city centre Manchester Arena spoke out against the proposals, with executive vice-president of SMG John Sharkey telling Place North West “it is just not possible” for the city to support two arenas, “and if it’s not ours then the city will lose 1.2 million people coming through it, and could turn to tumbleweed.”

Now the consultation has completed, the high level of responses and objections have been revealed. More than 1,400 comments were received during the consultation, largely regarding either the arena proposal, or the plans to build MXM on green space around the New Islington tram stop, a 220,000 sq ft creative workspace scheme which is set for a planning application in the autumn.

There is also an online petition against MXM, which has topped more than 2,600 signatures.

Manchester ArenaSMG conducted its own campaign to raise awareness of the framework consultation, including distributing leaflets with information the council called “very misleading”.

“Many residents believe that it is proposed that the council intends to invest in a second arena at the Etihad Campus. This is not the case.

“If a second large indoor arena was to be brought forward then it would need to be funded in its entirety by the private sector.”

In the report to Manchester City Council’s economic scrutiny committee, which recommends the revised Eastlands strategic regeneration framework for approval, details of the objections from several large city centre stakeholders were also included.

The group includes Aviva Investors, owner of the Corn Exchange, hotel operators Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, and Innside by Melia, Hard Rock Café, Harvey Nichols, Manchester Theatres, and Vapiano. They all oppose the project, because the second arena would directly compete with Manchester arena, and reduce the footfall and trading performance in the city centre.

The objections continued; alongside SMG, detailed objections were put in from MJV, the long leaseholder of Manchester Arndale made up of Intu and M&G Real Estate, and DTZ Investors, owner of The Printworks. According to MJV, the arena proposals are “premature” and there has been “no proper market testing”, while The Printworks said there could be “significant adverse impact” on its own development plans should an arena go ahead.

In recommending the framework to be progressed for executive approval, the council responded to the objections, insisting that “if such development were to be pursued, each planning application would be subject to consideration in the usual way.

“This would include a full assessment of the proposals in accordance with both national and local planning policy and any material considerations”.

The creation of a second arena is not a done deal, the report suggested, as “the revised draft framework does not seek to allocate land for an arena” and “the crucial issue of market assessment which will be important factors in determining the robustness or otherwise of planning proposals”.

In response to the objections against MXM, which largely focused on the loss of green space and resident amenity, the council said the site had been earmarked for employment use for some time, and within the upcoming planning application, a 35,000 sq ft “linear park”, and a 15,000 sq ft square would be included.

Ultimately, the council said the interest from investors “is to be welcomed” as “it reflects the council’s long held ambition to develop a globally competitive sport, leisure and recreation offer in this part of the city.

“The new employment opportunities that would flow from this next generation of investment across the Framework area could make significant impacts on the lives of East Manchester residents and contribute to the delivery of the long term regeneration of the East Manchester area.”

Responding to the report, Sharkey said SMG has delivered its own campaign “after speaking to local residents and city centre businesses who were unaware of the Council’s proposals to include a 20,000+ capacity arena in the Eastlands Regeneration Framework.

“Even if the arena build costs were privately funded, in our experience, a development of this scale at Eastlands would require additional funding from the public purse to cope with the increased strain on the area’s already stretched public services – not least the road and tram networks and policing.”

He continued: “Ahead of discussions with a private investor, the Council cannot say with absolute certainty that public funds will not be required. As it stands, the framework does not provide any information about how any associated infrastructure would be funded, and how this might impact on existing priorities with already limited resources.

“There is nothing in the Framework to suggest the Council has carried out any independent market, environmental or traffic impact assessments before seeking to include this proposal in a document which will be a material consideration in planning applications – which if correct, is extraordinary.”

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