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Manchester Reverts To Its Boisterous Pre-Pandemic Planning Norm

The Viadux scheme, Deansgate, at street level

Developers who do not like political rows, beware. Manchester City Council’s normal planning system is back in action after a coronavirus pandemic pause.

For the last three months council officials, in conjunction with a handful of senior councillors, made all planning decisions, but the full city planning committee will now meet again. Its first sitting after the coronavirus pandemic will be 30 July.

Following government guidance to ensure the planning process continues — and in line with regulations to maintain social distancing — a small number of planning applications have been determined by emergency delegation.

Although a council statement said that “all decisions agreed by this group have been made in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and local planning policy — in the same way as all planning applications,” the decision statement uses an unusually passive turn of phrase.

In the final two delegated emergency decisions, the reason given for approval is “there were no planning grounds on which to refuse the application”.  

In contrast, the full committee has often taken a more active, political and contentious view of what a "planning ground" might be. 

Some members of the planning committee have been vocal in their doubts about the value of several of the larger residential schemes in the city centre. There could be some fights ahead, now the committee is back in charge.

“I think in the wake of the pandemic we’re going to see a shift away from city centre residential," Councillor Sam Wheeler, a member of the planning committee, told Bisnow. "We’ve already seen developers like Salboy rethink sites, and the luxury end of the market has been saturated. That doesn’t mean an end to city living, people will still want to live and work in central Manchester, but rents will probably stay closer to local wages.” 

The comments come as existing large-scale residential consents are now heading towardsw fruition. Ask/Salboy Viadux project, a £300M development of a 40-storey residential tower and a 14-storey block of offices on the former Bauer Millet site next to Manchester Central Convention Complex, have taken a step forward.

A new £1M public realm scheme, with a glass lift and staircase to provide access from Great Bridgewater Street to the Deansgate-Castlefield train and tram stop, is part of the proposal. Designs have now been revealed (pictured).

The final delegated decision was to approve Ask Real Estate’s plans for a 22-storey aparthotel tower at Deansgate, despite objections to its impact on the Castlefield Conservation area.

Also approved before the committee resumed control was Salboy’s proposal for a site at Back Turner Street, Shudehill, which was previously listed for residential and hotel development, and is now approved as 39K SF of office floorspace.