Universities’ views on planning under scrutiny as bid for student block fails

The proposed main accommodation block

A controversial plan to build a 425-bed student accommodation block in Fallowfield has been refused after councillors raised concerns about the proposal, and the stance of Manchester’s universities on such matters.

The proposed scheme involved the creation of a 13-storey building and a part four- and five-storey building, as well as the refurbishment of 188 Wilmslow Road and the demolition of existing extensions at the site, currently occupied by retail union Usdaw.

Around 250 objections had been raised from a number of local civic societies, residents’ groups and local councillors.

A report by council officers to today’s (September 2) planning committee recommended they refuse permission due to a range of concerns, including that the proposals would result in a high density development next to domestic scale developments within Fallowfield, and the height, scale and massing of the proposed 13-storey building would form an “over-obtrusive feature” within the street scene and the wider area.

One objector, Kathy, who spoke to the committee, also highlighted the impact even more students would have on the neighbourhood. She said: “We live in a highly unbalanced neighbourhood. This will do nothing to help.”

She said 64% of the area is made up of a transient student population: “This is not a recipe for a happy neighbourhood. This will create even more of a student buzz.”

She added that it was the view of local residents that the plot has tremendous potential as a quality residential development, saying: “It is definitely not some ordinary piece of wasteland.”

In response, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis addressed the committee, explaining the union was backing the proposals because the site no longer met its changing needs.

He said: “We are keen to leave behind a positive legacy. We believe the plans will help attract students out of poor quality HMOs (house of multiple occupation).”

And he added: “This proposal has the full support of the University of Manchester.”

However, this brought a response from Cllr Suzanne Richards, Labour councillor for Longsight, who said: “It was said that the University of Manchester was supportive of this application.

“I just wonder, this is the second time we have had an application come to us where there has been a glaring inconsistency in the views of the universities and an approach that has been agreed by the universities with the city council.

“That is something that makes it quite difficult for us when taking planning decisions that the universities are not being consistent and actually supporting the city and the communities within which they are established.”

She told the committee: “If you could just pick up on that inconsistency between the University of Manchester’s view and our planning view in terms of purpose-built student accommodation would be helpful.”

Planning officer, Des Jones, said it was his understanding there was no contract in place with the university to take the student beds.

However, in the following vote, the recommendation to refuse permission was backed by seven votes, with two abstentions, and the application failed.