The New Chorlton?

Posted on Posted in business, Chorlton, environment, politics

It’s early days, but if all goes to plan, Chorlton will undergo the biggest changes seen in decades. Proposals will soon go out for consultation and we should all have our say. Linsey Parkinson talks to Chorlton councillor, Matt Strong about some of the issues we should consider.

Proposals in brief

Chorlton Precinct
(including the Precinct, Car park and Graeme House)

Landowner: Greater Manchester Pension Fund

Initial proposal: Retail, parking and c.190 new homes on the site, including a new residential street.

Chorlton Leisure Centre
(Manchester Road, closed 2015)
Landowner: Manchester City CouncilInitial proposal: 40 affordable rent-to-buy apartments, plus ground-floor retail. The site’s designation as a community asset means two interested parties have four months to submit rival proposals before any sale takes place.

Ryebank Fields
(at the Eastern edge of Longford Park)

Landowner: Manchester Metropolitan University

Initial proposal: Circa 70 new, high-quality ‘executive’ homes.

Improved access to Longford Park from Chorlton.

 

“This is an exciting time, with three major developments on the table,” says Matt. “We need to make sure we approach them with an open mind: this is a great opportunity to consider the wider development framework for Chorlton. We need solutions that suit local residents and businesses and respect the area’s unique character.

“Plans are at their earliest stages and there’ll be widespread consultation in the autumn. Everyone will have a chance to speak and it’s vital that we engage in meaningful, constructive conversations. Chorlton and Whalley Range have nine councillors and we’ll all be listening to residents and acting as a conduit for their views.

“I particularly welcome the fact that the schemes involve three landowners with a sense of social responsibility. Greater Manchester Pension Fund (which manages local government pensions), MMU and the City Council all understand the importance of listening to local communities and developing sites in line with ethical and environmental principles. As local councillors, we’ll hold them to those principles – any claims that the proposals will pass without scrutiny are absolute nonsense.”

Affordable and ‘executive’ housing

“Affordable housing is a huge priority for the council and too many local people are being priced out of Chorlton. Rather than adopting the government’s definition of affordability (80% of market value), which is still too expensive, we’ve decided that affordability relates to the money in people’s pockets. Housing costs should represent around a third of gross household income. There’s a national housing crisis: Manchester has a rapidly growing population and our Residential Growth Strategy sets a minimum target for 25,000 new homes by 2025. Chorlton has to play its part.

“I do have mixed feelings about the type of housing proposed for Ryebank Fields. That said, we need to improve the overall value and quality of the city’s housing stock and raise more Council Tax. Local government funding models are changing; moving away from central government grants, towards a greater reliance on local income. This has a disproportionate impact on northern cities: we have a very low council tax base, but our social care costs are very high. Manchester currently has 1,000 children in care, so it’s imperative we raise income wherever we can.

“As part of the planning approval process, a developer pays for measures that will reduce the development’s impact: it’s called a Section 106 agreement. The plans for Ryebank might mean we can negotiate a deal which assists the provision of affordable housing, or improves the built environment elsewhere in Chorlton.”

Local services

“The initial plans estimate a total of 300 new homes across the three sites, which will put additional pressure on schools and other services. We already have to wait two weeks to see a GP at Chorlton Health Centre and that’s a concern. We’ll be looking carefully at the possible impact on local services, and this may be an area where Section 106 funding could help. We’ll also be examining issues relating to traffic congestion and local access.”

Parking

“Parking in Chorlton is a nightmare and that’s definitely having a detrimental effect on local trade. In other district centres, car parks are council-owned, and offer a period of free parking: Chorlton’s at a disadvantage in that respect. Excel (the private company which currently runs the car park) has been aggressively (and often wrongly) pursuing and prosecuting motorists. As a council, we’re looking at alternatives to how that car park might be run more fairly.

“Initial development plans for the precinct didn’t allow for any additional parking spaces despite a proposed 190 new homes. This is clearly unacceptable and will be rethought.”

Local business and job creation

“We understand the importance of a thriving local economy, with a diverse range of quality shops. We know trading is challenging at the moment, given the high rent and rates and a lack of parking. We’d like to see more retail units (not fewer, as is currently proposed) on the precinct site. It’s important to us that no business currently operating in Chorlton finds itself unable to trade in the future because of these plans.

“When the Job Centre moves out of Graeme House, we’ll lose a lot of office space, local jobs and daytime spend. We need to think hard about local employment creation: office, studio and workshop space. If we can’t maintain daytime footfall, more people will travel elsewhere to work and Chorlton will become a commuter town with a chiefly night-time economy. None of us want that: as councillors, we’ve a good track record of campaigning against inappropriate late licence applications, too many takeaways and developments that spoil the family-friendly nature of Chorlton.”

The Leisure Centre

“The former leisure centre has been designated an Asset of Community Value, which means no decision will be made about its future for at least four months. This gives the two interested community organisations an opportunity to put forward their proposals. The Friends of Chorlton Baths want to re-open the leisure centre, but we’re not sure how viable that can be. We know people loved the old baths, but the new centre at Hough End is hugely popular: it has many more M21 members than the old centre ever had. A second community group has a very interesting idea to use the site for something completely different – but that’s under wraps right now!

“The City must be satisfied that any plan is viable and we must achieve market value for the site. If the community bids don’t come through, the site will be sold. There’s a joint proposal for a socially responsible development by Southway Housing and Unicorn, with affordable, rent-to-buy housing and retail, which we think would be a good fit for Chorlton.”

Keeping Chorlton interesting

“We councillors are Chorlton residents ourselves and what happens here matters to us: we understand what makes the area such a great place to live. We’ll be taking every opportunity to hear the views of as many people as we can, in addition to the formal consultation process. Chorlton’s always been such a creative and innovative community, so we’re also looking forward to some fresh debate and new ideas. There are challenges ahead, but we might just have the opportunity to do something special.”

Consultation takes place in the autumn. Detailed plans will be made available and there’ll be meetings, drop-ins and online surveys. More information in our next issue, or follow @MCCChorlton and @OpenUpMags for updates. 

If you care about Chorlton, have your say!

Pictures: top, Manchester Road. below: new residential street, from Wilbraham Road.  GMPF /GVA/5plus Architects