Would a council really serious on tackling climate change make this decision?
On Thursday 19 November the Manchester City Council Planning Department approved the demolition of 200 year old cottages along with neighbouring environmental and historical oasis Hasty Lane in order to make way for additional extra airport hangers which will double Manchester Airport’s freight capacity.
All five votes in favour of the demolition of the two cottages came from the Labour councillors despite the wishes of the local residents, environmentalists and even fellow Labour councillors who voted to reject the plans at the Wythenshawe Area Committee only a month earlier.
The decision, which has provoked the anger not only of residents, conservationists and environmental activists, has even been described as “worrying” by the Tories. Marie Raynor, the Wythenshawe Conservatives spokesperson (with no hint of irony) commented:
“To allow the demolition of two cottages, the destruction of a meadow, and the removal of a habitat for local wildlife sets a bad precedent. It sends a message to ratepayers that Manchester’s councillors put the interests of big business before those of the people they were elected to serve.”
The construction of the 18,000 square metre facility is despite air freight volume at the Airport falling consistently for over two years, lending credence to the argument there is simply no current need for increased capacity. Added to this is the fact that Hasty Lane remains one of the last parts of the Green Belt left in Wythenshawe.
Campaigners from the Stop Expansion at Manchester Aiport (SEMA) group attended the Planning Department meeting to show their support for the residents, while other opposition parties in Manchester voiced dismay and disapproval.
“The plan to double air freight capacity at Hasty Lane completely undermines the Council’s credibility. The Planning Committee should have been rejected the plans for expanding the airport because of the overwhelming economic, social and environmental concerns,” said Gayle O’Donovan, Green Party Candidate for Manchester Central.
The Airport plan to demolish the buildings, fell the trees and concrete over a pond in order to build two giant air freight cargo units. In their defence they evoke the familiar argument that the development will be good for the local economy. However, many groups and individuals remain to be convinced, when contrasted with the likely environmental consequences of the project.
A coalition of organisations including English Heritage, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit, the Council for British Archaeology, local councillors, residents and SEMA have all opposed the previous plans for expansion. This followed the victory in June when Manchester Airport had to drop its application to demolish Rose Cottage, a 17th Century Grade II listed building.
Wasting little time the Airport set their sights on a new site to push plans through. This time the target was the Hasty Lane area, with the two detached three-bedroom properties falling within the scope of the plans. The area to be affected includes a pond that is currently home to a colony of great crested newts, an amphibious species which is the most endangered type of newt on the British Isles.
However, on 22 October Wythenshawe Area Committee voted against the plans due to the environmental and economic concerns the project posed.
Wythenshawe Lib Dem councillor Martin Eakins, who spoke before the Area Committee against the plans, explained at the time why the expansion should not be approved:
“As air freight has halved in the last two years, it makes no economic sense to double the capacity when the Airport will never get to use it! Two beautiful family homes and an ecological paradise at the edge of the Airport would be bulldozed if this had gone ahead, and I’m delighted the Wythenshawe Area Committee have seen sense and rejected it.”
So why did the Planning Committee still go ahead? The development could, after all, seriously undermine the Council’s commitment to becoming a low carbon city. The Council’s Climate Change Action Plan, launched on 18 November, makes bold commitments to reduce the city’s climate change impact by 41 per cent by 2020 and also talks about creating more green spaces. Yet the combination of increased carbon emissions from aviation and the demolition of an area rich in biodiversity means that the decision by the Labour-controlled Planning Department flies in the face of such promises.
Overall there is a jarring disparity between the Council’s proudly paraded climate action plans and the reality of its behaviour. Councillors in Wythenshawe voted unanimously against the expansion only to be overruled by a centralised planning board. This brings into question the local democratic process, when the cries of opposition of residents and campaigners alike fell on deaf ears, despite the seemingly overwhelming case against expansion.
Yet the decision seems less surprising when taking into account the fact that Manchester City Council is the majority shareholder of the Airport, with a 55 per cent stake in its operating company. It is easy to see why critics of this latest episode of the Council allowing development on ecologically important spaces point to a conflict of interest in the decision-making procedure.
If Manchester City Council was really serious about tackling climate change would they have made this decision? The campaigning groups and activists believe that this renewed assault by the Airport and Council is even more damaging than the last and promise it will be met with fierce opposition.
Mule Editorial Collective
This article is from the MULE volunteers who write and distribute 10,000 copies free in Manchester. You can help keep MULE publishing by subscribing or giving a one-off donation.
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