This sounds very assuring, and this was the consistent message coming from the Housing Department as well, during the public consultation process. But it is simply not true. In practice Councillor Newman and the rest of Manchester City Council’s (MCC) Executive Committee, are not at all interested in public opinion when it contradicts what they want to do anyway.
At The Executive Committee meeting on 15th Feb 2006 MCC decided to proceed with declaring the Kingsley Avenue Neighbourhood a clearance area for demolition. This is despite strong local stakeholder opposition from home owners and residents.
During a public consultation period in October formal representations were invited. In addition a petition was raised by SKAN, the campaign to Save Kingsley Avenue Neighbourhood. The formal representations showed that only 20% of respondees supported the demolition proposals and 62% opposed them. Of residents (owner occupiers plus tenants) 7 (out of 224 homes) supported the proposal and 7 opposed it.
As this did not give the result the Housing Department wanted they added in what they called ‘informal’ representations, from letters received not on the formal forms. Adding these to the formal representations gave a result of 34% of stakeholders supporting the plans and 53% opposing them. For residents this was 24 supporting and 18 opposing: so borderline support from within only 20% of the homes.
In compiling the proposal the SKAN petition was noted, but the results were not included in analysis. The support papers noted that there were 22 signatories from within the threatened area who had not made other formal and informal representations, so were incremental to the analysis. Adding these to the figures gives 27% of total stakeholders supporting the proposal and 62% opposed to it. SKAN’s estimate for residents who expressed an opinion in this combined analysis is at least 56% opposed to the proposal.
During the meeting when the decision was made the above quoted Councillor Edward Newman, supported strongly by Councillor Paul Murphy, proceeded to dismiss the views of non-resident owners/landlords and claimed to have support from residents. First, it is a shame that non-resident owners’ views are dismissed, and secondly the Council’s own provided numbers, if compiled properly, demonstrate that the Council does not have the resident support for the proposal that they claim. So much for “the views of local people are paramount and will be taken into full account before any decision is made."
The decision has been made along party political lines, with the Labour dominated MCC choosing to support The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott’s national campaign to demolish Britain’s Victorian heritage. This is not just a local Manchester issue, but rather a national one as recently identified by the campaign Save Britian’s Heritage in their Pathfinder Report . The battleground is the North of England and MCC are siding with Prescott.
Save’s report echoes SKAN’s objections that were made to the Council prior to Xmas. These are summarised as:
The proposal represents the destruction of affordable housing. We also see this as a gross waste of public money in subsidising any property developer who acquires the plot. We estimate a figure of £5m, but anywhere in the range from £2-8m.
PSH has two main arguments for the proposal, that of low demand, and lack of habitability. Land Registry data and PSH’s own numbers, when analysed properly, both contradict their low demand argument. PSH’s proposal relies upon the Housing Act 1985 Section 289. Under this they need to prove lack of habitability. We contend that PSH’s habitability assessment is unsafe and should not be taken at face value.
The behaviour of PSH itself has been little short of despicable. Officials have shown blatant lack of objectivity, which one does not expect from one’s public servants, amounting to arguably propaganda. They have approached issues with a prejudicial mind set biasing results and communication.
The full objections report, or its Executive Summary, can be obtained via the SKAN website at www.skan.org.uk. The site also contains more background information.