Over ten years ago, the then Salford Council Leader John Merry announced that the Middlewood Locks development "is critical to the continued growth of Salford". And over ten years later the site is still derelict, bar the barren Manchester, Bolton, Bury Canal tart up and a history of doomed schemes…
Indeed, nobody would deny that the massive 8.5 hectare plot on the border of Manchester city centre is a total embarrassment for Salford, and that something needs doing with it.
Almost two years ago, new owners, the Scarborough Development Group began a consultation on what the local community wanted to see on the site. Having taken their views into consideration - we're sure - the result is up to 32 storey high apartment blocks, a hotel, loads of shops, a park, a car park and no discernable affordable housing…
Earlier this month, Scarborough Developments (Salford) Ltd applied to Salford Council to have its outline planning permission for Middlewood Locks extended and the planning committee had another look at both the application and the finance due to be paid to the Council.
The pre-Scarborough scheme by the now bankrupt Valley and Vale and Beaupere Castle developers to build a £300million `Urban Village' on the site should have paid over £5million into Salford Council coffers in fees for infrastructure, buildings etc – but was charged only £1.95million.
This was, partly because it was to contribute over £1million to British Waterways towards the tarting up of the Canal and a £30,000 annual maintenance payment for the following one hundred years. It was in the developer's interest to do this because waterside apartments fetch a premium of up to 25% on their price.
£1million of the final £1.95million fee was also to pay back Salford Council `for the advance funding of the canal that it undertook on behalf of Valley and Vale'. Which, one can assume, it never got back from the bankrupt company.
Altogether, £4million of public money was sunk into the Canal makeover from a variety of sources (for full details see previous Salford Star article – click here). Yet the site still lies empty and even the reduced fees to the Council never got paid.
Fast forward to 2014 and now it looks like new owners, Scarborough Developments, are set to cash in…
On the planning application this month, Council planning officers agreed that the original fee of £1.95million was acceptable – even though Scarborough Developments, as far as one can make out, haven't given a penny to British Waterways.
On top of this, Scarborough was also due to pay fees for `dwellings' (£3.245million); `commercial floorspace' (£2.232million); and `bed spaces' (£2.885million) – making a total of £8.362million.
However, Salford Council's `planning guidance' states that it should "take a flexible approach in seeking levels of planning obligations and other contributions to ensure that the combined total impact does not make a site unviable".
Planning officers, of course, agreed that the site just wouldn't be economically viable with such payments and - as with virtually every single large planning application made in the city - they were waived. Saving the company over £6million.
There is a `clawback' arrangement in place that, if the scheme does prove to be `viable', then Salford Council can claim all its money back – but no-one is holding their breath for that one!
So Scarborough will get its 32 storey high apartments and hotel and car park and shops, on the edge of Manchester City Centre, for less than a quarter of the money it should be paying financially hard up Salford Council.
£6million would have covered virtually all the Council cuts to Children's Services this year…
* For Scarborough's `vision' of the site - see here