As plans for The Christie’s 10-storey, 270,000 sq ft cancer research centre on Wilmslow Road continue to progress, a campaign group has claimed the planning process has “completely ignored” public views, and “will look very like a box-ticking exercise with a pre-determined outcome”.
Following a public consultation earlier this year, plans were submitted in early June to create what The Christie said would be “one of the world’s top centres for cancer research” on the site of the former Paterson building, which was ravaged by a fire in 2017.
The mixed 10 and seven-storey building, designed by BDP, is set to include more than 113,300 sq ft of laboratory and research space over four floors, along with 92,000 sq ft of consultant workspace. There will be a 28,000 sq ft reception, café, facilities management, and research space on the ground floor, along with public realm fronting the building.
However, before the application was submitted, the Rethink the Paterson” campaign, made up of residents and supported by Didsbury West Cllr Greg Stanton put forward a letter arguing against the redevelopment of the site, which said the proposed building would be “inappropriate for a residential area”.
The group has maintained its objection to the scheme ahead of a meeting of Manchester City Council’s executive on Wednesday, where changes to The Christie’s strategic regeneration framework for its campus are set to be endorsed; these will support the delivery of the Paterson redevelopment.
In a strongly-worded letter, the campaign group has pointed the finger at The Christie for its conduct, arguing it had made efforts to “whip up support” for the Paterson project outside the local area.
The residents’ group claimed: “The Christie Charitable Fund – the hospital’s fundraising arm – used its appeals mailing list to ask people to register their support on a dedicated website. Local residents were then shocked to discover that The Christie had asked its NHS volunteers and staff to go out to Oldham, Salford and Stockport to encourage passers-by to sign postcards of support.
“These were submitted to the Council and are cited in the chief executive’s report but with no reference to how they were obtained.” In response, The Christie argued it “serves the whole region” and it was “vital” that it gauged “the views of the wider community on this project as it has a direct impact on patient care and the future delivery of services”.
The Christie had previously responded saying the size of the building was “essential if the vision for Manchester to become a global powerhouse of cancer research and treatment is to be achieved, ensuring patients have access to the very latest treatments.
“Some of the floors will be stepped back from Wilmslow Road to minimise the impact, and our award-winning Green Travel Plan will continue to encourage staff to travel to work using alternatives to private cars,” added The Christie.
Manchester City Council’s conduct is also called into question by the campaign group, which argued the council had done little to consult with local residents on the proposals, compared with other upcoming masterplans and regeneration frameworks.
The group cited the proposed Eastlands regeneration framework, which it said had the support of “a council-led consultation event and were given the opportunity to submit comments online”.
“In contrast Withington residents were sent a single letter with minimal detail, and as a result many would have remained unaware of the proposal without the efforts of a local campaign”.
A spokesperson for the Rethink Paterson campaign group said: “The Council executive now knows the profound problems that a building of this size in a residential area will bring and is now aware that there is enormous local opposition. Residents do not oppose the rebuilding of the Paterson – they are asking for a rethink of the current proposals.
“If the executive gives formal approval on Wednesday it will legitimise the planning application that completely ignored this consultation. They will be cutting the local community adrift and will open the door to further high-rise developments here.
“The contrast with the Eastlands consultation says a lot about the way this community is treated, as does The Christie’s pursuit of a marketing campaign designed to drown out the voices of local residents. 500 objections, critical issues raised, but no changes: what does this say about how local democracy works in this city, particularly where The Christie is concerned? It will look very like a box-ticking exercise with a pre-determined outcome.
“We believe aspects of this process may be unlawful and that the proposal contravenes local and national planning policy. We urge the executive to reject it and ask The Christie and The University to think again. That is what they would tell any other developer to do”.
In response to the campaign group, a spokesperson for The Christie said: “The redevelopment of the Paterson building is an exciting and unique opportunity to build a world class research building in the heart of Greater Manchester that allows scientists, researchers and clinicians to all work side by side with access to patients. This is something that can only happen by building the centre at The Christie.
“Along with our partners, The University of Manchester and Cancer Research UK – together making up the Manchester Cancer Research Centre – we have undertaken wide-reaching consultation on plans for the Paterson Redevelopment Project.
In January 2019, The Christie ran its own informal public consultation on the draft Strategic Planning Framework Addendum and produced a Consultation Report setting out feedback received. A further stage of consultation on the detailed planning application took place in March 2019 to listen to views of the local community. A Statement of Community Engagement presenting the consultation undertaken was submitted with the planning application.
“The support campaign that followed in May 2019 was intentionally a positive, promotional campaign and not a further stage of public consultation on the plans. The campaign which was conducted over a one week period in May demonstrated 2,000 expressions of support from across Greater Manchester and beyond, with 191 supporters identified across the four local ward areas [Withington, East Didsbury, West Didsbury and Old Moat] and 154 within the M20 postcode area [Withington and Didsbury] which represents positive support within the closest wards to the site.
“We have carried out consultations in which local residents have been able to share their views on the redevelopment project and have also sought the views of the wider community across Greater Manchester. The Christie serves the whole region and therefore it is vital that we seek the views of the wider community on this project as it has a direct impact on patient care and the future delivery of services.
“The detailed planning application is currently under consideration by Manchester City Council and will be judged on its own merit. The Christie’s Strategic Planning Framework adopted in 2014 also remains in place.
“As part of the design process for the building, a longer, lower building was considered, but the process concluded that a longer building would only be one storey lower at the cost of increased proximity to residential properties on Oak Road.
“It was also identified that a building of this configuration would not achieve the same strategic internal adjacencies and would be less effective in facilitating the Team Science environment which is critical to the success of the project.”
The Christie has proposed tackling issues raised by the local community including traffic; measures to be taken include the construction of a new multi-storey car park, as well as providing funding to extend the residents’ parking zone around the campus.
Manchester City Council’s executive is set to endorse the SRF addendum on Wednesday; in a report ahead of committee, the council said of the Paterson Project: “The development aspirations of the Christie would be accommodated in a manner that respects local character and amenity and key issues that have caused ongoing problems in the area regarding parking are being addressed.
“Whilst residents in the area do value the work undertaken at the Christie they have very considerable concerns about how it impacts on their community and neighbourhood and this has been expressed over many years in relation specifically to parking issues. In response to this specific addendum, the height of the building has been a major cause for concern.
“The draft addendum does not set out a policy position but recognises that there is an opportunity to develop a facility of national and international significance at the site.”