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Controversial block of flats approved despite community outrage

A controversial block of flats is set to be built at a south Manchester Tesco car park as the developer behind the plans won an appeal, overturning the town hall’s decision.

The plans for 75 apartments off Parrs Wood Lane in East Didsbury were rejected by Manchester council after hundreds of objections.

Blackbird Yard Development

It comes after residents raised concerns about the impact the development, dubbed Blackbird Yard, would have on traffic and parking on the already congested roads around it. Councillors voted against the scheme last July after town hall planners recommended that planning permission should be refused.

But the council’s planning department performed a U-turn after developer Dandara appealed the decision. In a rare move, the local authority said it would not defend its decision to refuse planning permission, leaving residents and their elected representatives to oppose the development at a public inquiry which was held three weeks ago.

Protesters have been very vocal in the area

Manchester Council planning department

The council said it would not contest the appeal after receiving ‘additional information’ which addressed the reasons why the application was refused. Their reasons for refusal included parking, traffic and suitability for the area.

Planning inspector Claire Searson repeatedly remarked on how strange the situation was as no one from the town hall turned up to the hearings which took place just metres away at Friends Meeting House. The government-appointed inspector has now decided to allow the development to go ahead.

In a report explaining her decision, the inspector recognised that allowing the appeal would disappoint those who ‘spoke passionately’ against the plans and said that local residents’ voices were ‘fully heard’ and ‘carefully considered’. However, she concluded that the proposal complied with planning policies.

In her report, the inspector responded to claims that a document provided by the developer to address parking concerns was ‘erroneous’. She said the on-street parking survey ‘does not appear to be particularly robust’, noting that the number of spaces available on Parrs Wood Avenue was ‘overestimated’.

Just 36 parking spaces would be provided within the development, leading to fears that those living in the new flats would park on the already busy roads nearby. But the inspector concluded that this would not be a ‘particularly attractive option’ because it is separated from the development site and therefore future residents of the flats would find it ‘unappealing’ to park there.

Parking problems

The inspector also said that she visited the site where the scheme is planned during the peak morning rush hour. She agreed that the road network around the site is ‘heavily trafficked’, but she said the developer’s evidence that the new apartments would not worsen the situation significantly was ‘compelling’.

This is partly because bus stops, trams and railway stations are located within walking distance of the development which reduces the need for residents of the new flats to drive. The developer has also said that typical occupants of build-to-rent schemes such as this are younger and less likely to have a car.

Nevertheless, the developer has agreed to give the council £10,000 to put new parking restrictions in place around the area should this be needed. The agreement also includes making a fifth of the new apartments ‘affordable’.

The inspector also said that the development would ‘fit comfortably in its surroundings’, concluding that its impact on the clock tower which was part of the bus depot once located on this site would be ‘neutral’. It comes after opponents of the plan said the tower would be ‘dwarfed’ by the development.

However, the inspector said the clock tower and the new building would sit ‘side by side’ in the area and the clock tower would ‘still be appreciated’. She concluded: “Overall, I have found no harm in terms of highways effects and a number of other matters. I appreciate that this would be a disappointment to those people who spoke passionately in opposition to the proposals.

“In coming to my decision, the evidence of local residents and others was fully heard and carefully considered. However, the development would accord with the development plan and in decision taking, this means approval of such proposals.

“Accordingly, for the reasons given above, and having regard to all matters raised, I conclude that the appeal should be allowed.”

East Didsbury Community Group

Responding to the decision, a spokesperson for the East Didsbury Community Group said: “This is the wrong build in the wrong place. Throughout the planning process local residents, supported by our ward councillors, have expressed their concerns including the unacceptable impact this will have on traffic.

“We are very disappointed with the outcome and the worrying precedent this sets for a fat cat developer like Dandara to come in and ride roughshod over local democracy and what’s best for the community. We’ll take time to review this decision, as well as the conditions, and consider our options, including a potential appeal.”

Speaking on behalf of local councillors in East Didsbury, Labour’s Andrew Simcock said: “We are disappointed that this application has been approved by the Inspector particularly as she agreed with us that some of the evidence that Dandara were relying on was ‘not particularly robust’. As the local councillors we have opposed the application from the outset and were present throughout the appeal proceedings supporting our residents.

“We also met Dandara and their representatives on numerous occasions before the planning application was submitted but in the main our suggestions were ignored. The one thing that Dandara did do at our request was to run extensive consultations but then ignored the outcome when 85 pc of respondents opposed their plans.

“Dandara have still not signed up to the government’s scheme to deal with post-Grenfell cladding issues. The government is currently taking legislation through parliament banning such companies from being granted planning permission for new schemes.

“Had that already been in place the outcome of this appeal might have been very different. We still remain of the view that a better scheme could be implemented on this site which addresses the valid concerns that residents have about traffic congestion and parking.

“Tesco could still have a change of heart, decline Dandara’s money, and agree to meet us to discuss the suggestions we have made for affordable housing and congestion.”

Dandara Living

A spokesperson for Dandara Living said the company notes the comments about the government scheme which the inspector addressed ‘in detail.’ In the decision, the inspector said that this is not strictly a planning matter and that planning permission is granted for the land, not to this specific developer.

The developer also provided a letter at the public inquiry to address these concerns, citing delays in signing up to this scheme to ‘provide comfort’.

Responding to the decision, a spokesperson for the developer said: “Dandara Living are delighted with the decision of the Planning Inspectorate to allow the appeal at our Blackbird Yard site, and the subsequent agreement of the council that our planning application was compliant with national and local planning policy and should be approved. These decisions mean that much-needed new homes can now be delivered on this sustainable brownfield site.”

A Manchester council spokesperson said: “We have noted the decision of the national Planning Inspectorate that overturns the council’s original officer recommendation and committee decision to refuse the Blackbird Yard application. Council planning officers engaged with the appeal process throughout and we understand the decision to allow the appeal for this development by the planning inspector was based on further information provided by the applicant, which in their view, responded to concerns raised by council officers and the committee about the original planning application.”

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