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.