Magpie 16- Business Parks

Magpie 16 Business Parks by Arnold Spencer. Magpie 16, pp.7-9

Business Parks

by Councillor Aanold Spencer 

In your last edition Ian Brown provided us with an article on ‘Business Parks’. What the article lacked in factual accuracy it more than made up for in humorous content, e.g. a cutting reference to the ‘Biological Illiteracy’ of Manchester City Council. At the risk of being ‘defensive’ could I give another perspective to the contnovenny. 

The large business parks in which the Council has played a part have not all involved the net loss of public open space. Where sports pitches have been lost, the Council has secured alternative facilities before agreeing the disposal (e.g. Siemens, Shartson Green, YMCA). In addition, although some land that was not in use for sports pitches has also been lost (e.g. Simonsway) the Council has also over the same period acquired land for open space purposes (eg former Duchess of York Hospital lands)  notwithstanding the difficult financial position.

Several of these schemes have recently come to fruition because the market has been such as to make this possible, but the land allocations to this end were made years ago and were public knowledge. Examples here include the Apollo site at Ardwich, the Siemens site and the Simonsway proposal. Thus, it is not accurate to present this as a recent trend, but rather it is the coming to fruition of a long-term policy to promote employment growth in the City which can only be realised when market circumstances are such that people are willing to undertake development. 

At least one of the cases listed (described an ‘Palatine Road Oasis’) is an unsought private sector development, which is not yet determined but is likely to be recommended for refusal. In this case, the Council actually promoted a Tree Preservation Order to retain the existing wooded environment in the face of a development threat. Another case (that of the Shirley Institute) is a response to a long-standing financial problem on the part of a well-known Manchester institution, where the Council has done its best to help but has been very tough over approvals. A third case (described as ‘Tesco’, which I take to be the former Christie Playing Fields) doesn’t fit into this category at all, because the Council has successfully resisted Tesco developing a superstore on this site (and, indeed, granted consents on two other previously developed sites which have meant that Tesco are no longer interested in Christie Playing Fields) but has said it is happy with the idea of a B1 Use on this site, for which a scheme is currently under negotiation which would have far less effect on the natural ecology of the site than would a Tesco superstore.

The wildlife aspects of landscaping proposals are looked at carefully. The Creation of a lake/pond at Sharston Green is a good example of this, as is the care that has been taken in dealing with Simonway to secure the environment of the existing newt colony based on sound ecological advice. The Sharston proposal, in particular, will create the opportunity to improve Hollyhedge Park in ecological terms, so that what is available for local people to enjoy is enhanced and so that wildlife habitats are secured.

Whether any individual scheme adds to the totality of jobs available in Manchester is always going to depend to a degree on the circumstances of the particular case. To take one particular example where the article is wrong, however, the Siemens development is not a transfer of headquarters from Congleton, since the existing Congleton plant is essentially a manufacturing plant with a  limited headquarters operation tacked onto it; because the company now deems it worthwhile to provide a proper northern headquarters. It should be recognised in any event that jobs being moved around (because companies do need to move sometimes) is often better than losing them from the City through decentralisation, which certainly was happening in the past, because this can be the difference between Manchester citizens losing or retaining their jobs.

There is no intention that all open space will be lost, and it is quite clear from the very full public consultation that has taken place on these matters, the people of South Manchester feel very strongly about this issue. It is simply incorrect to describe what has been happening as ‘… will swallow up all of our urban open space, from the YMCA Playing Fields to Heald Green Farm except for public parks and woods’. The aim is to manage the environment through the planning process as best to manage the environment through the planning process as best as we are able, to meet the needs of all the citizens of Manchester and this requires balanced judgements in all the circumstances rather than absolutist stances.

The fact of the matter is that the Council does have a ‘chronic shortage of cash’, and has to use whatever means are available to it (including the re-use of land resources) to alleviate this problem. Rather than blame the Council for this, it would be better to argue at the political level for Councils to be adequately resourced so that the need to dispose of land assets to raise cash is taken away.

Throwing the Parrs Wood Rural Studies Centre into all of this is really mixing up the issues. The Council has not taken a decision about this, nor has it even decided at the time of writing whether it can afford to maintain the Rural Studies Centre as an educational asset (see point 7 above). No one can stop twinkles in developers’ eyes, or even the making of offers but this is not at all the same thing as promoting developments of this kind.

(Councillor Annold Spencer is the Chair of the Highways Committee and the Vice Chair of Planning. Committee.)

Definition: SSSI = Site Selected for Superstores and Industry  

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