Sunday, 15 November 2015

Comment: Where are Manchester Council’s emergency homeless shelters?

Post Ark 1
There has been much criticism of Manchester City Council and its approach to homelessness over the past few months.

This has especially been the case with its suppfor evicting the homeless from various buildings and shelters from around the city centre. The most notorious example of this was supporting Manchester Metropolitan University’s double eviction of the Ark [1].

A pivotal action in altering the council’s position came when homelessness activists briefly occupied an empty office block on Charlotte Street in city centre. They aimed to make it a community hub for the homeless from which they could get shelter food and advice [2]. Although swiftly evicted, almost immediately afterwards, Manchester United football legends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs generously offered shelter in their empty ‘Stock Exchange’ building [3].

In an about face, the Council then declared it too would make buildings available [4].

That was two weeks ago.

The site of the Ark on Oxford Road is currently empty and fenced off by MMU. There is no sign of the activity MMU evicted the Ark for.

Its been a week of cold, wet, windy weather. Under the fly-over on Oxford Road on both sides, there are homeless again.

When asked why they were there, why didn’t they go to the ‘Stock Exchange’, they said that they did but it was full.

When they were asked about the Council’s empty buildings for the homeless, they knew nothing about them. At all.
Post Ark 2When it explained what was offered in the press the response was [to paraphrase and replace words] – ‘Goodness me, they should hurry up, this is no flowery joke being out here’.

Since then, as reported by the local press, the camp near Piccadilly train station has grown to about 30 people [5].

Its been a very bad week weather-wise. When are these buildings going to open?

What are the Council waiting for?



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Pomona Island Planning Hearing Report Back

Trafford Council Planning Committee gave planning permission for 2 blocks of flats on Pomona Island on Thursday evening (12th November). 

The site has not been in use for decades. In that time it has evolved into a rare and mostly undisturbed rich habitat for wildlife, including rare species.

Opponents of the plan want more imaginative use of the space than another spate of the same overpriced blocks of flats that have sprung up in the Manchester area. They are also deeply concerned by the ecological impact of development. 

The land is owned by Peel holdings and is probably most well-known to Mancunians who pass it on the tram route, alongside the Manchester ship canal on the border of 3 boroughs, Manchester, Trafford and Salford. 

Although there has been a campaign group against building, the likelihood of lots of locals organising to protect the site is hampered by there not being many locals around in the first place. Across the water in Salford Quays there are some abodes of a similar demographic to those planned, often fairly transitory inhabitants not too likely to get involved with local activism. Also, being on the border of boroughs (or wards for that matter) can often make the geographical politics and identity of a location somewhat opaque

Pomona Island was very attractive, even to non-ecologists. But plans to build will have been bubbling under for a long time and a few years ago a large amount of vegetation was cleared, making it look less attractive. Funny that. 

The plan for the towers had been knocked back once for being below standard, but the development firm, Rowlinsons, had returned with some improvements, though they still look completely bland and identikit.

The development has been awarded £10,000,000 or our money via the dodgy democracy Devomanc scam, sorry...scheme.

The spooning out of money is detailed here, along with other background info.

A key theme at the hearing was that of councillors clearly being not very happy or impressed with the plans (though many were flat ignorant of the ecological importance of what is officially designated as a brownfield site). Still, most of those who spoke were minded to approve the plans, not least through fear of being taken to court if they weren't. The option to kickback the plan for improvements and consideration for environment didn't seem to be an option for them.

The council had asked Peel Holdings for a masterplan of their overall vision for the whole area. Peel didn't bother, but disrespecting the council turned out to be no great problem. A further disappointment that turned out not to matter was the total lack of affordable or social housing in the plan, despite the £10m bung from public funds.

The underlying message from the committee was one of "We don't like it, but we'll bend over anyhow, what can we really do?" (they are only elected representatives after all)

Trafford Council have sent a signal that banality, disregard for environment, lack of co-operation or clear strategy are all fine really.  One might wonder if they have the imagination to sense this.

It's an object lesson in how corporations trump people and planet time again via stultified and cowardly politics, and why so many have lost faith in that political system.

It is to be hoped that if/when future plans are submitted, the council won’t allow themselves to be a case study in "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".

Notable exceptions in opposition to the plans were Labour members Delores O'Sullivan and David Acton (who is not on the committee).

It's not too late for future development to be more eco-friendly and for Trafford Council to find some spine. It would be great for the area to be utilised as much needed urban park space, possibly in concert with an 
"Eden of The North" vision in contrast to Osborne's dubious Northern Poorhouse, er... Powerhouse.

For those who deem such ideas unrealistic, a realistic compromise would be housing that is in harmony with habitat and wildlife as well as social goals of affordable housing and employment. But so far it's just another instance of death by a thousand cuts for the ecology, including evictions of rare schedule 1 bird species, the Little Ringed Plover and Kingfisher not to mention, Sand Martin, Jacksnipe, Pipistrelle Bat, Daubenton’s Bat, Water Vole, Cormorant and many other species, all found to have been happily inhabiting the site. Rowlinsons could easily have earned brownie points and added green roofs to their designs but alas no and so another eco opportunity lost.

Urban green space is vital, yet almost every individual development can be legally / politically excused on it's own merits, especially in the light of housing and employment difficulties. However, the collective effect is calamitous. There is more to ecology than rainforests, Polar Bears and the contents of a David Attenborough documentary. It is the very life that surrounds us wherever we are, and it is being systemically destroyed for profit with scant regard for consequence.

Such awareness, and the necessary vision for 21st Century sustainability, elude too many politicians, stuck in the last generation, and too many of the current generation of capitalists. 

Steve Durrant

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