Friday, 15 January 2010

A Famous Victory in the Fight for Hardy Farm!

Yesterday was a great day for the Mersey Valley, and the local community in Chorlton and South Manchester, when Manchester City Council Planning and Highways Committee rejected plans to build a huge sporting complex on Hardy Farm.

The day started with a visit, by the Committee, to the site. The ‘Save Chorlton Meadows’ group were well prepared for this visit: the proposed astro-turf and all-weather pitches had been marked out with tape and members of the group were stationed at the corners with large red balloons. Other, helium filled, balloons on 49 ft long strings, indicated the positions and heights of the proposed floodlights. Several members of the group addressed the committee but the key speakers were local residents Nigel Lewis, Karen Pertoldi and me. I restricted my remarks to the subject of local biodiversity but the other speakers covered other topics including noise and light pollution, access and visual amenity. Other people, of the 100 or so people who attended, had an opportunity to express their own concerns – for example one lady raised the very important subject of possible contamination from the underlying tip if the overlying soil cap were to be disturbed. I thought that all of the speakers expressed very eloquently to the Committee the importance of this much loved open, green space to the local community. Although passions were running high on the day, and there was a lot at stake, the event was generally peaceful and restrained with only a couple of raised voices.

In the afternoon we all went to Manchester Town Hall to hear the debate in the council chamber. Jonathan Green spoke for the action group and, in a heroic effort, managed to convey most of our concerns in the scant four minutes allowed. Local politicians, Cllr. Sheila Newman, Cllr. Val Stevens, Cllr. Paul Ankers, Cllr. Norman Lewis and John Leech MP all then spoke out against the development. It’s been a feature of this campaign that all of the local politicians have supported it. The agent for the West Didsbury and Chorlton Football Club then spoke in support of the development (he was also allowed four minutes).

The Committee then debated the issue. The Chair of the Committee, Cllr. Tony Burns, indicated that the formal debate was not a public event and that members of the public could not participate. To be honest I was expecting the worst – after all the Council’s own officers, in their report, had been “minded to approve” the development; so when Cllr. Andrew Fender, who opened the debate, ended his remarks by stating that he could not support it my jaw dropped! Several other members of the Committee also spoke out against the plans and the vote, when it came, was unanimous – the Committee moved to reject the development.

What followed was a bit of an anti-climax. Cllr. Burns instructed the Council Officers to prepare a case justifying the Committee’s decision and to submit this by the end of that day’s meeting. I think that the members of the Action Group were somewhat puzzled by this procedural nicety and sort of drifted off in a bit of a daze. I’d certainly had more excitement than I could cope with by that point so went to the pub with a couple of friends.

I think that Karen Pertoldi nicely summed up the day, and the campaign generally, in a subsequent email:

“... what a wonderful example of community spirit, team work, brilliant organisation, never ending positivity and enthusiasm, and determination not to give up. People power at its best.”

Although we’ve got every right to celebrate we must bear in mind that it’s not over yet. The Football Club still owns the land and they can appeal against the Committee’s decision or submit scaled down plans at a later date. We should not disband the Action Group just yet.

So that’s twice now, in 20 years, that I’ve been involved in battles over attempts to develop Hardy Farm. The first time was over UMIST’s plans to stabilise the water-logged pitches, by dumping builders’ rubble on to them, in 1990 (see ‘The Great Mersey Valley Revolt of 1990, FoCM blog 08.05.2009). It just goes to show that the Mersey Valley, whoever may own bits of it, is very much seen as a vital, and much loved, community resource and that, when it’s threatened, local people will fight to conserve it. Developers and spoilers beware! We’ve got teeth!

Dave Bishop, 15.01.2010


Anonymous said...

We all owe you a lot Dave. Well done!

Dave Bishop said...

Thank you, 'Anon.' for your kind words. I hope that I was able to add a bit of perspective on biodiversity issues - but what I find really inspiring is that it was a true team effort with the whole community pulling together.
There were some terrific contributions from both Redland Crescent and Chorltonville residents, the backing of all local politicians, good coverage in the South Manchester Reporter, lots and lots of letter writing from all over South Manchester (and further afield) etc., etc.
Viva la Revolution!

Polly said...

Just wanted to add, it may have been cold, dark and rainy, but my post-work dog walks round Chorlton meadows last week have never felt better. Watching the heron flap overhead and listening to the grasses rustling in the wind, the peace and tranquillity of Hardy Farm is a rare and precious thing in a city, and very much appreciated. Thankyou so much for all your hard work in looking after it Dave, and all the other friends of Chorlton meadows!