Chorlton – what now?

So much change has been proposed for Chorlton – and then everything goes quiet – or does it? Linsey Parkinson has a brew with Cllr John Hacking.

We’ve had consultations about what might replace the Precinct, the Baths and Ryebank Fields; we’ve been asked for our views on a new cycleway. A research project by the Institute of Place Management – Vital and Viable Chorlton – is currently taking place. So what happens next?

“All these things offer real opportunities and they’re all connected,” says John (one of three Chorlton councillors, alongside Matt Strong and Eve Holt). “I do appreciate residents’ frustrations, that things seem to be taking a long time, but that’s because we want them done properly. We need to think about what’s best for ‘wider Chorlton’ – our diverse community and our multiple district centres. Consultation findings are informing everything and we intend to make sure local voices are heard – our aim has to be to see every part of Chorlton thrive.”

Chorlton Precinct

“One thing that clearly came out of the consultation was that people were pretty underwhelmed by the proposals. There wasn’t enough parking or retail space, not enough to support local independents and a lack of imagination about the type and tenure of housing. It’s all been delayed now, due to some legal problems, so we’re meeting with the landowners (GM Pension Fund) to discuss what we’d like to see there. No work will begin on the site for at least a couple of years now. It’s frustrating, I know, but we have to see it as an opportunity to engage positively with the process to achieve the best outcome.”

Chorlton Baths

“We’re in the midst of a city-wide housing crisis and local consultation highlighted a desire to retain community use on the site. We can deliver on these requirements with social housing and a new health centre. The council doesn’t have resources to build housing itself, so we’ll work with developers and other agencies to deliver a facility that will benefit Chorlton as a whole. That’s our plan.”

Ryebank Fields

There are no firm proposals for Ryebank Fields, but John acknowledges there is some opposition to any form of development.

“The landowner, Manchester Metropolitan University, has clearly stated its intention to develop the land, so there isn’t much we can do about that. They’re a charity and they say they have a duty to maximise their assets to fund education. Save Ryebank Fields asked us to get MCC and MMU to look into any restrictive covenants. They didn’t find anything when the land changed hands in the early 90s, but MCC is having another look and we await the outcome of that.

“If nothing more is found then, legally speaking, the Council’s only influence comes through the Planning process. Outright opposition doesn’t make much sense to us as councillors. We would probably be over-ruled on appeal, and if that happens, we’ll have no influence whatsoever. Instead, we’ve been talking to MMU – making it clear how we’d like the site to be developed and why. The next step is an agreed ‘Development Framework’, against which any future planning application will be assessed, so if conditions aren’t met, we’ll have constructive grounds for opposing inadequate proposals.

“If the proposals we saw at consultation in December 2017 were to come back as a planning application, it would almost certainly be refused. An ‘executive’ low-density housing development doesn’t fit the bill at all. A mixed use – with older people (‘right-sizing’, rather than downsizing!), co-operative housing and places which our kids could actually afford – would be a better solution for Chorlton. We also want to see greater protection of the site’s biodiversity and solutions to tackle congestion – we’re also pressing for a zero-carbon development.

“We opposed development at Turn Moss and eventually won, but Ryebank Fields is different. Turn Moss was a badly thought-out, expensive and impractical development and, crucially, it was on public land, which gave us much greater powers to object.

“We want to be clear, though, if the scheme which comes forward doesn’t meet the tests we have set for the Development Framework, then we, as local councillors, will oppose it.

The Cycleway

“We’re waiting for the consultation report from Transport for Greater Manchester and we’ll be meeting them very soon. We want to see a revised proposal that takes legitimate concerns into consideration – and one that we’ll get to have another say about. I don’t think that we’ll end up with exactly what was originally tabled.

“About 20% of people I met were totally in favour and would see it built tomorrow, while another 20% were against it at any cost. The vast majority, however, want to see it happen: they want cleaner air and less traffic, but they have concerns or questions about the scheme as it stands. These include traders and shoppers, worried about the loss of on-street parking, and residents living either side of the scheme, worried that diverted traffic will use their streets instead. Both these issues must be addressed in any revised scheme and more work needs to be done.

“Again, we’re considering wider Chorlton on this. Eve’s been into schools and elsewhere, asking people to draw their everyday lives onto maps – outlining routes they use and improvements they’d like to see. The cycleway project isn’t about a ‘Superhighway’ for cyclists to speed through Chorlton on their way into town: there’s an opportunity for project funding to be used off-route, for better crossings, signposting, improving dangerous junctions and so on. The cycleway team have experts – modellers, planners and consultants – but nobody knows better than local people how this will work in Chorlton.

“We really welcome this fantastic level of investment, but we want to make sure it’s done right – and to return to my initial point, nothing happens in isolation.”

“We’ve been working with Chorlton Voice and the City Council to organise co-ordination for what we’re loosely calling Chorlton 2025 – a forum of stakeholder organisations that can share information and maximise opportunity by usefully linking projects. We’ll lobby and influence wherever we can – and always in Chorlton’s interest. I always warn outsiders that they should be very careful not to talk down to, or secondguess Chorlton people – we just won’t stand for it!

“Chorlton doesn’t half keep us councillors busy! Eve, Matt and I could represent a ward where it’s about nothing but potholes and wheelie bins – but where’s the fun in that?