Council chief accused of using crisis powers to bypass planning scrutiny on £350m concert arena

This is a warning of what could happen with prolonged suspension of full and effective democratic scrutiny of local Government. Parliament has found a way of opening up under lockdown. Some of the select committees have also been very active and effective.

At the moment EDDC has cancelled all meetings, including the Development Management Committee. 

Owl has previously posted lists of planning applications in one week to show that these have not been stopped by lockdown.  Planning applications are being dealt with by planning officers under delegated authority (signed off by Cllr. Mike Howe, Chairman DMC).

Owl has reviewed determined applications by EDDC for April, hopefully other applications are pending the resumption of the DMC. Out of 207 applications, six were withdrawn and only about ten were refused. Perhaps the majority of the nearly 200 applications granted, under delegated authority by planning officers, were for minor alterations such as to dormer windows or small extensions. The larger developments which affect many people should surely be subject to debate by councillors. The 30 houses at Beer, previously reported by Owl, are included in the applications granted permission for April.

EDDC needs to sort out a mechanism of holding a “virtual” DMC very soon.

David Collins, Northern Correspondent 

Concern is growing that emergency powers given to Manchester city council during the Covid-19 crisis will be used to pass controversial decisions, including plans for the UK’s largest indoor arena, “behind closed doors”.

A £350m concert arena with a capacity of 23,000 is being planned next to Manchester City football club’s stadium. Two other projects — a block of flats and student accommodation — were previously rejected but now look likely to be passed.

The council has suspended its planning committee to ensure social distancing. Campaigners say the emergency arrangements, under which some decisions are taken by the chief executive, Joanne Roney, are not democratic.

Planning applications will now be considered by Roney, the committee chairman, Basil Curley, and his deputy, Nasrin Ali.

The proposed concert venue has been opposed by the operators of the Manchester Arena. Critics say the council has a “conflict of interest” as it has a 20% stake in the land where the arena is to be built. Manchester City’s owner, the Abu Dhabi United Group, controls the rest of the land. It is a partner with the council in city-centre blocks of flats.

John Sharkey of ASM Global, operator of the Manchester Arena, said: “A planning application of this scale and size is a matter for the whole of Manchester.”

The council said it was following national guidance, and that the ability of the public to engage in the planning process had not changed. It said it hoped to move to a “virtual planning committee”.