Trees Not Cars – who they are, what they do, how to get involved (interview) #Manchester

Climate Emergency Manchester believes that real change is necessary right now (the clue is in our name).  We don’t believe that change will come primarily (or maybe at all) from the top-down. We believe that to make the kind of bottom-up pressures that create and sustain democratic and ecological change, then there has to be an ever-richer ecosystem of resistance (resistance to what? to stupidity, inequality and the ideologies that excuse it, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, “etc/tbc”).  One way we are trying to contribute to the creation and maintenance of that ever-richer ecosystem is by celebrating the work of other groups, whether they are user-led domestic abuse charities, cycle delivery coops, food coops, energy coops, or … campaigning groups like Trees Not Cars.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
What COULD be there
This, or office blocks. Tough choice…

Trees Not Cars is a community group organised by a small team of people who live or work (or both) in Manchester City Centre. On Thursday 17th October 2019, Manchester City Council’s planning committee voted through controversial plans to use the former Central Retail Park in Ancoats as a temporary 440-space car park for up to two years (originally 5 years). The Central Retail Park had been closed for 18 months before this vote took place. They ignored 12,200 people who signed our petition (10,000 of these living in Greater Manchester and 5000 in Manchester City Centre).  After the Planning application was approved by the Planning and Highway Committee we appealed the decision. Following the Court hearing on the 8th of January 2021 Trees Not Cars won a judicial review against Manchester City Council.

The decision found that Manchester Council had

  • Failed to consider the impact of air quality on the local area around Ancoats
  • Failed to consider the impact of building a polluting 440-space car park next to the only primary school in Manchester City Centre.
  • Was unlawful in that the Council recommended planning approval based on the wrong information, the wrong air quality assessment, and traffic analysis

2.      What are the 2021 goals for your organisation?

We believe the 10.5 acre site should be used for community green space and social housing. We ran our own consultation alongside Manchester City Council’s consultation on the future use of the site; the council proposes developing the 10.5 acre site into predominantly luxury office space.
Out of the responses, 90% don’t think the area needs luxury offices now that we know a large proportion of office workers can work from home, as we’ve seen during the pandemic. 96% of respondents who live in the area don’t think we need luxury office space.Instead, of overall responses, over 4 in 5 (84%) want more public spaces in the area, particularly ‘green’ and ‘natural’ spaces where people can socialise. More seating, play areas, cycle routes, canal access, and toilet access are mentioned as ways the area could be improved.

Those who responded to Trees Not Cars consultation describe using the area around Central Retail Park for walking (56%), exercise like running and cycling (30%), relaxing (25%), and socialising (14%).

Our next steps would be to put more public pressure on the Council to change their plans and to bring local residents in to the discussion about the future of the site. 

3.      If people get involved with your group, what sorts of things would they end up doing?

Due to lockdown measures our current activities are limited to online, like statements on Twitter or Facebook, reaching out to local or national newspapers to write articles about our campaign. We have also been working closely with British Lung Foundation.  When we can, we will start organising events again, so more people can join in, become more informed and be heard. We need people to be present at the events we organise such as protests & flash mobs, screenings of relevant documentaries and then to share with others via social platforms or in person. More people need to understand how the council makes decisions about where we live, so we can be included in key decisions and make sure councillors are representing the interests of local residents.

4.      What are the specific skills and knowledge you’re lacking?

Our group is unique as we have people with various backgrounds e.g. journalism, PR, software engineering, events management & legal. However mostly we’d need just enthusiastic people who are ready to devote their personal time for the campaign even if its an interview on radio or at a local newspaper, or creating leaflets and giving them out on the street.

5.      Complete this sentence: “For Manchester to become more sustainable/less unsustainable, in the next six months…. (and you can answer that question either with “the council needs to” or “citizens need to” or both): 

The Council need to take immediate action towards making Manchester a much greener city by keeping and improving the green spaces that already exist (New Islington Green for example), stop building paved outdoor spaces as an alternative that do not help cool the city or reduce surface flooding. Let’s make Manchester City Centre a destination people want to visit, other than for shopping & eating. A central park would attract people who would also spend money locally.

3 thoughts on “Trees Not Cars – who they are, what they do, how to get involved (interview) #Manchester”

  1. Would be keen to get involved in the future (12 months time) . Am a chartered surveyor and town planner and know the site well

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