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Campaigners hit out at ‘lack of green space’ in proposed Central Retail Park revamp

Campaigners say local people feel ‘ignored once more’ after fresh plans for the future of former retail park in Manchester city centre are approved.

The former Central Retail Park off Great Ancoats Street is set to be turned into a huge office complex with a green space open to the public in the middle of it.

But some have called for the whole site – which is located next to a primary school – to be turned into a park. It comes after local group Trees Not Cars quashed a council decision to temporarily use it as a car park in the courts.

Since then, under new leadership, the town hall has published new plans for the site where the former Toys R Us and Argos stores have been flattened. Campaigners have praised council leader Bev Craig for her ‘dedication’ to improving green spaces in the city centre proven by new plans to improve Ancoats Green as well as the opening the new Mayfield Park in September.

Representatives form the group said they met face to face with the new leader to share its draft proposal for a park on the Central Retail Park site. However, in an open letter to the leader, Julia Kovaliova said that Trees Not Cars were not invited into discussions before the latest plan was published.

Writing to the Labour leader last week ahead of a decision on the new plan, she said: “We fear the voice of the local people is to be ignored once more.”

The mother of three – one of whom suffers from asthma – has lived in Ancoats with her husband for 12 years. She told the council leader that more trees and greenery is needed in the city centre to improve the local population’s health.

Fellow Trees Not Cars campaigner, Gemma Cameron, was hospitalised after suffering an asthma attack for the first time in her life after moving to the city. Commenting on the decision to approve the revised masterplan for the site this week, she said people feel the council has not listened to their comments.

It comes after the group submitted a plan that they said would replace the 3.5 acres of green space lost nearby at New Islington Green which is also set to be turned into an office campus. She said: “The council and local councillors are celebrating this as a win for green space, when the plans show anything but.”

A public consultation on the revised Strategic Regeneration Framework for the former Central Retail Park received 574 responses. According to a council report, one of the largest groups of comments were about the current use of the site by skateboarders, with some calling for this to be allowed to continue.

Many respondents supported the increase in publicly accessible green space on the site, the report said, but some said it should all be used as a public park. Concerns were also raised about the development planned for the site which neighbours a school, resulting in increased levels of air pollution in the area.

Local Lib Dem campaigner Chris Northwood said: “It is outrageous that despite nearly 600 people responding to the consultation in good faith, the council’s plans remain unchanged. The council has not listened to the hundreds of local residents who have pleaded for more green space in the city centre.

“We strongly believe in putting a proper park on the former Central Retail Park site at the heart of the community in Ancoats and New Islington and will keep campaigning to force the Council to actually listen to what people want.”

Responding to the comments in the report, the council said it recognises that the communities of Ancoats and New Islington want more green space and highlighted ‘significant new public realm investment’ across the city centre. This includes a £34m plan which involves making Ancoats Green ‘the green heart to the neighbourhood’ in the next phase of development for the area.

Following the consultation, the document has also been updated to include a new plan for how the development site will connect to wider walking and cycling routes. These will be well lit and be accessible, the council has said.

Manchester council’s executive committee approved the new masterplan for the Central Retail Park site at a town hall meeting on Wednesday (March 22). Ancoats and Beswick councillor Majid Dar said: “Myself and fellow Labour councillor Irene Robinson have worked hard over the last number of years to ensure the voices of residents of Ancoats and New Islington are heard by the town hall.

“When Bev Craig was elected leader of the council, we led on securing more green space for Ancoats and New Islington. We are seeing over £34m invested in Ancoats, including Ancoats Green and secured in the inclusion of significant green space added to the Central Retail Park to connect it to Cotton Field Park and the Marina.

“The currently derelict Central Retail park will be home to 8,000 new jobs for local residents alongside this green space. We will always put the voices of our residents first and continue to make representations to the town hall ahead of any planning process.”

Trees Not Cars campaigners who asked for a meeting with local councillors and the council leader say they have received a response to their open letter. Manchester council leader Bev Craig said: “Over the course of the drafting a new strategic regeneration framework (SRF) for the Central Retail Park we were receptive to the public’s view on how they would like it to take shape and indeed, the refreshed draft put forward took account of previous residents’ views that they would like to see green space on the site where possible.

“The council received over 600 comments with a variety of views. This emphasised that attractive public realm is important and the council has taken steps to increase the overall amount of land set aside for green space on the future site. This will form part of a wider network which will incorporate the existing Cotton Field Park and Ancoats Green, which we announced earlier this month.

“We have 143 parks and green spaces across the city and are working to increase green space in the city centre. We have proved that it can be delivered most notably through Mayfield Park, as well as the planned City River Park at Victoria North.

“This site has long been earmarked as a strategically important employment site, and the council is committed to a project that will generate an estimated 8,000 jobs for Manchester and will usher in significant social and economic benefits, alongside maximising green space.”

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