Civil Servants bias at Planning Committee for Northern Quarter Scheme
On Thursday 14th December the planning committee meeting in Manchester City Council left more questions about how decisions are made on behalf of our city. The particular case of interest is the Fred Done “Salboy” and 5 Plus scheme at Shudehill for Live Zoku in what was a chaotic meeting.
Several people are now considering making a complaint against the planning duo Julie Roscoe, Head of Planning, and Dave Roscoe who is in the City Centre Planning Team. The scheme was ultimately deferred for the second time after Councillors had requested a site visit due to public outcry on social media. Residents and objectors are considering a complaint after what they see as an unfair and biased dominance of proceedings by the planners in a heavily flawed planning meeting.
In this meeting, Loz Kaye an active campaigner was refused to ask a question about the low number of Councillors who had actually attended the Planning Meeting. During this decision, only five were present out of the ten committee members. For attempting to raise his concern Loz Kaye was threatened to be removed by Security. On the video clip, it is seen Julie Roscoe first forbids Mr Kaye a question on the legitimacy and concern about low turnout of the Labour Councillors.
When the committee member Councillor Curley said he was minded to refuse and reject the proposals, alongside other Councillors, they were told they had to give specific reasons. However, it was very clear from their discussion that they had highlighted several concerns about the height and dominance of the building which would be built over on demolished heritage alongside objectors.
Dave Roscoe went into an extraordinary defence of the scheme suggesting that the scrutiny has been unusually high and that the heights and the character were well thought through and considerate of the surroundings. His defence of the scheme and attempts to justify it showed personal involvement in its design.
Objectors to the scheme included residents and followed a bitter campaign on social media from various groups. The question about more serviced apartments and increased density of such schemes worry residents living in the area as well as setting a precedent to destroy, not only the social fabric for residents, and congested streets, but the image of the historic area, used in movie sets, by setting a banal tower precedent high above the historic streetscape. The objecting councillor Joan Davies was interrupted and told her time was up for objection though she disagreed that her four minutes had expired and she demanded to continue speaking.
Despite the 2007 Statement of Community Involvement, it is arguable that 5 Plus Architects did not consult effectively or properly or encouraged to do so in a policy. Though a decade old, it is clear this policy is not adhered to, with a commitment to “continuous involvement”, to “research”, “inform”, “consult” and “involving” people from preplanning to a final design. Local Fred Done Salboy and 5 Plus Architects, residents suggest, cynically undercut this process, long enabled by the Council’s inadequate insistence on engagement.
It was commented upon by residents present, that there was a sudden and cynical intervention by the renowned City Centre Spokesperson, Pat Karney was so sudden, when hitherto he had not been visibly involved in the supporting critics of scheme in the many months leading up to the Planning meeting.
The inability to receive a rejection of the scheme in its entirety will likely mean that minor changes in height will be made and all the problems about the dominance and inappropriateness of the bland and destructive precedent will continue to anger residents commentators and critics of the scheme, in the beloved and historic Northern Quarter streetscape.
In many instances of Planning, the absence of effective or a sincere application of the Statement of Community Involvement policies have again and again led to another unsatisfactory outcome for the city and ostracising the citizens. It has long been of residents concerns, that effective communication and advocacy about civic involvement, accessibility and awareness in planning has been inadequate, resulting in exclusionary and difficult processes for citizens to have a voice in the neighborhoods.
What was clear from the chaotic, biased and attempts to stage this meeting was that a noted dominance of the Planning husband and wife team, in this very rare display of discord with the elected officials, who were in the driving seat of this deferral and not rejection, after defending the scheme.
Observers were left questioning, the long-term relationship between the elected leaders and the Planners represents the concern about partisan bias and technocratic interests that feel intuitively apparent in such meetings. The low turnout of paid Councillor’s also shows the indolence and permissible apathy of our decision makers in anything resembling adequate representation under our one dominant party.