Controversial residential scheme approved, following fiery planning committee meeting

The proposed scheme

A controversial residential scheme was approved by Manchester City Council planning committee today (January 19) following a feisty session in which one member accused others of failing to declare an interest in the proposal and calling the planning officers’ report into question.

His accusation drew howls of protests from fellow members and an apology for his behaviour from committee chair, Cllr Basil Curley.

The application before the committee was for a 76-apartment scheme in Didsbury on a vacant site on Clearwater Drive, bound by The Boulevard, The Avenue, Didsbury High School and existing properties, proposed by the applicant Southway Housing Trust.

The scheme had attracted 185 comments, 182 of which were objections to the proposals.

Alexandra Singer spoke against the proposed development – which she described as “Soviet-style” – on behalf of the residents of nearby Didsbury Point. She said: “We are opposed to the scale of the development and impact on traffic.”

She said the last review by the council’s highways department was during lockdown and added: “Highways need to complete a significant review. We suggest the council visit the site and see for themselves.”

Didsbury West councillor, John Leech, leader of the Lib Dem group, then spoke against the proposal, saying: “I don’t feel the report accurately reflects the situation on the ground. Pretty much everything in the highways report is either wrong or inaccurate.”

He called for a site visit or rejection of the application.

He then raised the stakes, saying: “I recognised that I had to declare an interest in this application because I had made comments right from the beginning that meant that I had fettered my discretion in relation to this application because I had commented it was unacceptable in highways and parking terms and it would have been inappropriate for me to vote on this application.

“So I am actually quite surprised that there are other councillors on this committee that have not declared an interest in this application.

“There are members of this committee who have been out campaigning in Didsbury West, being photographed with leaflets saying that they support this application for housing on this site and I do question whether some members of this committee should also be declaring an interest in not voting on this application.”

Cllr John Flanagan, Labour member for Miles Platting and Newton Heath, responded: “A serious allegation has been made about members of this committee. That would be a serious issue.”

Committee chair, Cllr Curley told Cllr Leech: “I want you to withdraw that remark.”

He declined, saying: “I have evidence that others have fettered their discretion.”

After Cllr Leech left the chamber, Cllr Curley said: “I am so shocked by the councillor’s comments. It has really upset me. What I heard was just a rant about the officers and the integrity of the report. I want to apologise to everyone in the room for the behaviour of one of our 96 councillors.”

Cllr Flanagan added. “I have never heard anything so disgraceful, attacking officers and the integrity of councillors.”

Returning to the debate, Deansgate Labour councillor Joan Davies offered a different take, saying: “Here is an opportunity to have apartments built that are affordable in a part of the city known for high prices. The issue of affordability hasn’t been considered compared with parking and traffic issues.”

The notes to the committee said the form and design of the development is considered acceptable for the site, given its specific context and character.

And they added that careful consideration has been given to the siting, scale and appearance of the development to ensure it is high quality, sustainable and minimises any impacts on existing residents, concluding: “With above in mind, the proposal accords with all national and local planning policies and guidance.”

Cllr Flanagan moved to recommend acceptance of the application, with the caveat of looking at parking in the area, which was carried by five votes in favour and four abstentions.

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