Manchester adopted the initial SRF in 2020. Credit: via masterplan documents

Manchester to appeal car park judicial review

The city council lost a legal battle over its decision to build a 440-space temporary car park as part of its Central Retail Park masterplan but has said the ruling will not impact the future of its 1m sq ft proposal.

The Trees Not Cars lobby group had challenged Manchester City Council’s 2019 decision to grant itself planning permission to build the car park next to a primary school on part of the 10.5-acre plot on the edge of Ancoats and New Islington, and its founder Gemma Cameron brought a judicial review.

The campaigner successfully argued that the council had failed to consider the impacts of a car park on air quality and pollution levels and volume of traffic in the local area. A total of 12,000 people signed Trees Not Cars’ petition against the plans as the group lobbied for 18 months for the decision to be overturned.

Following its judicial review win, Trees Not Cars have urged a rethink of the Central Retail Park masterplan, which they claim does not contain sufficient green space.

Under a development framework consulted on last year, Manchester plans to redevelop the derelict site of the former Central Retail Park shopping centre, which it bought from TH Real Estate for £38m in 2017, into a 1m sq ft office-led mixed-use scheme.

The proposal for an “exemplary net zero carbon commercial district” would create up to 10,000 jobs, according to the council, but no park or green space is included. The council instead intends to revamp Cotton Field Park between the retail park and New Islington marina as part of the redevelopment.

Julia Kovaliova, lead organiser of Trees Not Cars, said in a statement: “I am delighted by the judge’s decision and will be able to sleep easier at night knowing my son who has asthma won’t be exposed to even greater levels of air pollution.

“Our victory must be a wake-up call for the council, who can’t continue to prioritise car parks and offices over clean air and green space. They must now go back to their plans for Central Retail Park and include significant green space with trees, grass and playgrounds for families.”

Manchester’s Liberal Democrats also fiercely opposed the council’s decision to grant itself approval for the car park. Party spokesperson Cllr Richard Kilpatrick said: “Air quality in Manchester is dangerously high and there is a striking lack of green space in the city centre.

“But Manchester Council has insisted on wasting time, effort and millions of taxpayer’s money on their polluting pet project. Building another car park and inviting thousands of extra cars into the already polluted area is an utterly ignorant move, and rightly frustrated local residents and parents whose children attend the nearby school.”

However, Manchester City Council intends to appeal the decision. A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed at this judgment and have sought leave to appeal.

“The reason we are contesting this judicial review is not about its implications for the former Central Retail Park site but the precedent it would set and the potential impact of this decision on future applications if insufficient weight was given to the previous use of sites – in this case, as the car park for a retail park.”

The judgement does not affect the future of the development site, the council added. “Since temporary planning permission was granted in 2019, it has not been used as a car park and will not be before the planning permission expires in October this year.

“We remain focused on bringing forward the development of this key site as soon as possible. The creation of a net zero carbon business district, with public space at its heart and as little car use as possible, will support thousands of vital new jobs for Manchester people and play a powerful part in the city’s recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. It is a more appropriate use for this site, right next to the inner relief road, than a park.”

The spokesperson added: “We do, however, recognise calls for more green space and the site will integrate with an improved Cotton Field Park to the immediate north of the site. Work is also well underway to create Mayfield Park, a major new city centre park [at the £1.4bn Mayfield regeneration scheme close to Piccadilly Station].”

Trees Not Cars founder Gemma Cameron was represented in the judicial review by planning lawyers John Hunter and Piers Riley-Smith of Kings Chambers in Manchester. Manchester City Council was represented by London-based planning barrister Christopher Katkowski, who has since joined Kings Chambers as a member of its planning and environmental group.

The Central Retail Park framework proposes the construction of 10 blocks, the majority of which are earmarked for offices with floorplates ranging from 15,700 sq ft to 27,000 sq ft. There would also be a hotel, and 145 affordable homes on three plots next to Butler Street, Downley Drive and the former Ancoats Dispensary building.

There is also “potential for a building of significant height [up to 30 storeys] to form a ‘set piece’ with the [planned 32-storey] Oxygen Tower at the junction of Old Mill and Great Ancoats Street”, according to the masterplan.

The framework was drawn up by architect Bennetts Associates, engineer Buro Happold, cost consultant Faithful+Gould and landscape architect Exterior Architecture.


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Manchester does not need this development. Landscape a park and have done with it.

By Elephant

There needs to be more variety in the Labour majority council. Maybe then they will listen to their constituents ? Look at the development of a areat ancoats street and now this.

By Meeseeks

The issue here is not the precedent it would set, but that the people of Manchester who the council are meant to represent clearly didn’t and still don’t want this car park in large numbers and yet the council plans to appeal the decision.

By Tomo

Here’s a novel idea. Instead of a Central Retail Park or a Car Park, let’s just have a Central Park! MCC should consider it’s residents for once and the green future we all hop to have. Less greed more green.

By Steve

The Mayfield park is great, however, who lives near there? Far fewer residents. It’s also bordered by the A57(M) elevated Mancunian Way motorway – this is not a place I would go to relax. The Central Retail Park is an undoubtedly more appropriate location for an urban park. Put your offices over at Mayfield for the commuters and let us city centre occupiers finally have some peaceful green space and access to nature.

By Royal Mills

MCC massively overpaid for the site and paid more than developers knew it was worth. The Council should concentrate on providing public services rather than pretending to be a developer. The retail park was on its knees anyway so the council have done exactly what they tell developers not to, overpay for sites, so they’re now unable to bring forward a really good scheme.

By Derek

Great to see MCC wasting money on a desperate attempt to rescue an unpopular, polluting project at a time when they’re looking to trim £50m from their budget.

By Active Travel Trev

The people of Manchester do not need this development. The businesses of Manchester do not need this development. Manchester City Council does not need this development. So, why are the Council so adamant that it needs it so much, that it is going to appeal the decision, when the centre of Manchester is in such desperate need of green spaces?
If a new car park is to be built somewhere in the city, then surely we are in a position that such car park would/should be an electric vehicle only car park?

By Anon

I hope they lose.

By Observer

It’s all well and good saying we need more green space in the City Centre (and I agree we do), but who is realistically going to sacrifice a return on land they own to provide it. I’m sure most Manchester residents would argue that their council tax is high enough already and the Council will say that they already struggle to find enough money to deliver their statutory services (basic social care, bin collections etc…)

By Anonymous

I agree a park here would be great but if the numbers don’t stack up what do you expect the council to do? No one wants their council tax going up and they have to find the money from somewhere. Hopefully a compromise can be reached between office and public realm.

By Bob

I understand that for £38m the site has to make them some money and a park will not do that but the council wants residents in the city but does not want to concede the city is, in part at least, residential. Residents need to be listened to, and we need outdoor space and to be cared about.

By Becky in Ancoats

I think everyone agrees a public park would be a good idea for any city – but people who blindly assume a park would be a viable proposal in this location of the city are clearly unaware of how an economy works. Sustained investment and development are key to a growing economy, and in such a prominent location the council would be foolish not to recoup investment on valuable land – not planting a few trees. Just look at mayfield – yes there is a new park but also hundreds of thousands of sqft of valuable lettable office space. The park is just a USP for a high rental yield disguised as the council doing it for the good of the city.

By Anonymous

Who lives in the middle of the City Centre expecting to see a public park developed on the site of a former retail park/car park? It’s crazy that the judicial review was successful in the first place. Hopefully a few Nimbys won’t hold up the redevelopment of this key site any further.

If you want super clean air and open green spaces, perhaps the Centre of a major city isn’t the best place to look.

By Nimby

The mistake Manchester City Council are making here (in my opinion) is that they’re looking at this from a purely profit driven perspective. Yes, they have a responsibility to make the most efficient use of land on behalf of the residents of Manchester. However, most efficient does not equal greatest economic return. What about the responsibility to look after the health and wellbeing of residents through reducing air pollution and creating sustainable places? This is the same Council who recently declared a climate emergency – so put your money where your mouth is!

Also, there are a lot of comments that boil down to economic vs environmental considerations. Creating good, sustainable, inclusive, and safe places leads to higher long term economic activity. The 3 elements of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental) are supposed to work together, not compete with each other.

By Anonymous

Surprise, surprise as the city becomes a residential community people naturally have a point of view on the built environment, MCC are going need to get better at meeting the needs of competing interests. My pet post-COVID theory is that there won’t be a mass flight to the suburbs, but it will require cities to focus on quality of life concerns.

By Rich X

Viability of a park is a real issue, yes. However what Manchester City Council don’t seem to understand is that the building boom needs to be complemented with local amenities and placemaking improvements. Instead of listening to people, centralised MCC diktats mess up ancoats, take over and mess up Levenshulme’s community project and (before TfGM stepped in) proposed awful designs for Princess Road. Manchester need to learn how to consult before they decide. Like a democratic institution should.


This would be a fantastic park neighbouring a canal side and a marina.

There aren’t many opportunities like this in Manchester City Centre for a large park any more either. Mayfield is just the start of what needs to be done.

Manchester can have high density development AND open space. Whoever is involved in making this happen, please don’t stop.

By Anonymous

The council are going to appeal as the cost of the litigation vs the money that could come in from a couple of years of this site being paid for parking means it makes financial sense. There is no way this city centre, major road adjacent, brownfield site is going to be handed over 100% as a park. Could it be 50% green space? Possibly. We have to also bear in mind that the plans/massings indicated are preliminary and will go through several rounds of public consultation before anything even makes its way into a planning application.

By Bradford

Parks in city centres are ‘realistic’. Sheffield has Devonshire Green which is a lovely break in otherwise dense development.
Central London has lots of small parks and some big ones (Hyde Park, Regent’s Park etc). Remember that thousands of people now live in Manchester city centre and its fringes, nearly all in flats. Those people need green space too.

By Folix

Manchester does not need this development. Landscape a park and have done with it.

By John

All they way up great work Manchester council the project must go ahead I’m sure it will , Manchester it’s needs the boom of economy it will benefit many businesses and create so many new opportunities, can’t wait to see the final results

By Daz

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