Did Manchester City Council rig the vote on a controversial car park development? Was the Leese administration “rehearsed in private and performed in public”? Twelve guerrillas snapshots from the municipal front line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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She clicks Play.

Paul Andrews of Baguley ward is speaking. One of the two new members drafted on to the committee in the days before the meeting, he has the shoulder length locks of a progressive rock band veteran and appears to be casting around for reasons to back the development.

“I know we can’t put conditions on any potential application that comes for this site in the future,” he says, “but I think it’s important to actually lay our stall out with planning officers with regard to a reason for supporting this application.

One of the things with the site itself is there is an impression that at some point we may be able to have affordable homes on the site if we get a Labour government. If we can get that down on record that that’s what we’ll do in two years’ time then I’m happy to support this application.”

“An impression?” says Claire, interrupting. We cast our minds back to 2019 and Britain on the brink of a Corbyn premiership. “There was an article in Place North West six years ago saying this might be a good place for affordable housing. When the development framework was eventually published there was no mention of affordable housing. It’s going to be office space.”

Crabbily, she clicks Play.

Flanagan of Miles Platting & Newton Heath is speaking – the man who Claire says worked on the council’s acquisition of the land and was one of two new members added to the committee a few days before the meeting we’re watching; a whips’ office veteran more of the Hardcore than the Mumblecore Tendency within the Labour group.

“We are on a journey to change this city and one of the biggest silent killers of our residents is emissions from vehicles,” he says. “So we feel we are tied to approve this but at the same time we have to bear in mind the dangers.

On that basis I think this is a key site not just for affordable housing but social housing in future – if we get a Labour government. But this also could be an opportunity to bring green industries into the city, and I hope those in power actually listen to that.

I would like to propose that the approach to the school is mitigated [with trees]. We have to work towards reducing these omissions.”

“Well, we all know what happened to the trees that were supposed to be appearing along Great Ancoats Street,” says Claire. “They never materialised. All this is just a performance for our benefit. They’re just saying these things because they know we’re there.”

My head is starting to spin as the footage continues and I look harder to try and see the conspiracy.

I’m not entirely convinced the committee are colluding in a performance.

On the other hand, there was Sir Richard’s email. And the line-up switch. And the dodgy advice from the planning officer.

What to think?

 

 

I call Leech, the Lib Dem leader.

“I walked in on a pre-meeting once,” he tells me. “It was several years ago in David Ellison’s time. I’d be amazed if it doesn’t still happen.

I just happened to open a door and see them all in the meeting room just before the planning meeting – about eight or nine of them with the chairman. I said something along the lines of ‘Oh I hope this isn’t a pre-planning meeting…’ They all sat there stony-faced so I walked out again.”

His former deputy Richard Kilpatrick tells me a similar story about the scrutiny committee: “It was like they forgot I was in the room. They were saying ‘you ask this and I’ll ask that.’ ‘No, don’t ask that it’ll make us look bad.’ I said: ‘well, I’ll ask it then.’”

Rigging scrutiny committees is anti-democratic and an insult to residents, the Liberal Democrats argue. But it doesn’t contravene any statutes.

Planning is another matter. With contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds on the line, you could only imagine the lawsuits that would follow if Manchester’s planning committee was shown to be bent.

How would you do that, though?

Is the Lib Dem leader offering me a thread to pull?

“Pre-meetings,” he tells me. “Are a criminal offence.”

 

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