Affordability, sustainability of £4 billion ‘Victoria North’ development plans questioned

Councillors at the July Economy Scrutiny Committee reviewed a progress report of the multi-billion pound Victoria North (re-brand of the Northern Gateway) redevelopment plans in North Manchester. Committee members raised questions about local residents’ views, affordability of homes, and their compatibility with the zero carbon agenda, as well as their resilience to future climate impacts like enhanced flood-risk and heat waves.  This is not the first time that the public-private partnership has faced scrutiny

The proposed location of the 155 hectare ‘Victoria North’ re-development, north of Manchester city centre.

Local support claimed

Attending by invitation, Councillor Pat Karney (Harpurhey & Associate Executive Member) claimed that Collyhurst residents are ‘delighted with the proposals’ (there has been a glossy consultation process). Cllr Karney maintained that people leafleting ‘our area’ about the amount of affordable housing on offer were ‘some purist, middle class individuals’. Councillor John Flanagan (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) was also invited in to praise the scheme. This set the tone, suggesting that councillors would have to be constructive with their comments, lest they be viewed as purist or middle class or neglectful of north Manchester concerns.

Sustainability concerns

Councillor Flanagan then noted concerns for the rights of local residents who could be moved from their homes in re-development processes, expressed support for more council houses to be built, and noted the need for more health and dentistry provision in the area, as well as sufficient local shops, and infrastructure for rainwater harvesting and electric car charging in the new housing sites.

Councillor Mandie Shilton-Godwin (Chorlton Park) was keen to see more use of Passivhaus principles in building designs to have low energy approaches to heating and cooling, especially given enhanced risks of heatwaves. She also asked about how climate change enhanced flood risks would be managed for the River Irk basin, and pressed officers on this point.

The response from Ian Slater, Head of Residential Growth, was that flooding is being looked into, in dialogue with the Environment Agency, and in consideration of the whole water catchment area. Regarding heat islands, he said that the plan was to use efficient cooling and make land available for green space.

Affordability negotiations

Councillor Hannah Priest (Charlestown & Committee Chair) expressed concern about the amount of affordable housing in the current plans, which are currently subject to negotiation. The Council aims to make 20% of housing in new developments ‘affordable’, and Cllr Priest said ‘if this can’t deliver 20% affordable housing, it feels a little bit like nothing can, so how are those negotiations going?’

Ian Slater, as Head of Residential Growth, said he couldn’t comment further because the negotiations are commercially sensitive, and noted that developers are facing increased costs for labour and materials right now. But Councillor Gavin White (Old Moat – Executive Member for Housing) much more confidently stated that ‘this scheme will deliver that [20% affordable housing] and we’ll make sure, politically’.

Scrutiny challenges  

Victoria North is a major long-term development plan in partnership with private capital. The extent to which local residents’ concerns are included in the design, the amount and proportion of affordable homes, and the resilience of the infrastructure to climate impacts of the future, plus their ability to promote the zero carbon 2038 agenda, are really important questions, and they are far from just questions for the middle classes or purists. It was encouraging to see councillors probe the scheme, but given its scale and its multiple moving parts, it will be hard to pin the developers down to creating affordable, zero carbon homes that won’t get flooded or flood others, and that will have lots of green space and local facilities. Delivering that will take more than the occasional meeting of scrutiny committees. 

The Committee Chair, Councillor Priest, suggested that reports needed to move out of sales pitch mode: 

“Perhaps future reports don’t need to sell it to us quite as much. What we want to see is those updates on the risk and threat and challenge. Given that this has the support of local members, what we would want to see is how those sorts of challenges are being overcome.”

Cllr Priest said the reports should be much clearer about how flood risks were being managed, noting, for example, that there was no mention of the river valleys coordination and management plan ‘which actually answers some of those questions and has been looking at the issues around the [river] Irk’. 

It is unclear whether future discussions of Victoria North will be held in this committee in the scrutiny process, or if a different coordinating forum will be used to have ‘productive conversations’ about risks, threats and challenges. Councillor Priest indicated her intention to speak with the Leader (Cllr Richard Leese) and the Director of Inclusive Economy (Angela Harrington) before reporting back to the committee about where future discussions will take place.   

Do you have views on the Victoria North development? Let us know in the comments, or you can contact us on Twitter @ClimateEmergMcr or email us via contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

We’re looking for volunteers to be part of Team Scrutiny. Reach out to us if you’re interested in contributing as a researcher / writer. 

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