For over a year, residents have been fighting to save New Islington Green, a much used green space that has been a lifeline during the pandemic. Today the consultation closes on plans to develop the land into three eight-storey and two five-storey mixed-use office and retail buildings. These plans must not be approved.
The people have spoken
At every opportunity residents have made it clear they do not want New Islington Green to be developed. When plans for development were first announced, a petition against the plans received 1,000 signatures within 24 hours and now has over 5,000.
When the council asked for feedback on the Eastlands Regeneration Framework, Save New Islington Green campaigners tell me they found 99% of respondents with an “M” postcode who mentioned the Green, specifically said they opposed the council selling off the land.
I ran my own independent survey to find out what people want from the site. My survey received 593 responses, 91% said they disagree with the development plans for New Islington Green. 86% replied “Yes” that “New Islington Green should be kept entirely as green space.” Just four responses mentioned offices.
General Projects, the developer hoping to build on New Islington Green, also ran a survey that received 211 responses. 86% of respondents disagree that the development would improve the quality of public space.
New Islington Green is deeply valued
Some have argued that New Islington Green was never meant to be a public park and has been earmarked for development for years. This argument is made by Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese who told a journalist “New Islington Green does not exist” and “that land was never a park.”
But since 2014 the land has remained undeveloped and become a highly used public amenity, the true value of which is especially evident during the pandemic. The nearest green space is the small, privately owned Cotton Field Park that was closed during lockdown. To say New Islington Green does not exist when hundreds have been using it daily is astonishing.
Covid-19 has made it abundantly clear that Manchester needs more green space and potentially fewer offices in the future. Remote working is likely to be a lasting trend, as businesses downscale office space. Nevertheless, Manchester City Council continues to prioritise offices, having recently approved developing nearby 10.5 acre Central Retail Park into an office park without green space.
Will the council gain financially?
The key argument for developing New Islington Green is the council needs the money. While I sympathise with the plight of cash-strapped councils, especially at this time, we also need to make sure the council is getting a good deal. This is by no means certain.
From contacting local councillors, campaigner Francois Nel learned the agreed sale price for the Green from a 2018 valuation was £2.38 million for the 4.59 acre site, representing £518,000 per acre. In contrast, the council purchased nearby Central Retail Park for £3.5 million per acre. This is seven times the price, per acre, than for New Islington Green.
This prompted Nel to investigate properties on the market. He found similar land sold privately could reach up to £12m per acre, or 23 times the price per acre as New Islington Green.
Nel requested that the sale price be taken to the Economic Scrutiny Committee (ESC) and that three separate, independent valuations be carried out, as is standard practice. However, it was not discussed in subsequent ESC meetings, and the sale went through last Christmas – the final sale price remains unknown.
So we simply don’t know how much the council will benefit financially from the Green being developed.
We need sustainable development post-pandemic
We need to build, but this needs to be good development. Public parks are hallmarks of truly great cities and we need more, not fewer, of them. Public parks are essential to mental and physical health, and to quality of life. Mayfield Park is of course welcome, but it is not enough. Not only will it serve new residences near it, it will be privately owned and therefore public access could be restricted, like we saw at Cotton Field Park.
Although there’s clear evidence that residents don’t want New Islington Green to be developed, the plans could pass when they go to the planning committee. We saw this happen with Central Retail Park. But we must persevere. We must fight for our post-Covid future, and public parks – starting with New Islington Green – must be a defining part of our landscape.