"I'm not here to furnish the profits of developers, that's not my role" says local Labour councillor, Steve Coen "My role is to represent the community. The NDC clearly need challenging and monitoring at all times."
The £53million Charlestown and Lower Kersal New Deal for Communities is supposed to be a community led regeneration project. Yet local councillors, the community and even Hazel Blears have united in opposing its latest plans to build houses on a small piece of precious green land at the far end of Gerald Road, opposite the former Poets Streets in Charlestown.
Inspired Developments (ID), in partnership with Miller Homes, is proposing to build 13 houses on the Poets Streets site behind the University's IQ student residence building, and eight houses across the road on Albion Green.
The leafy Albion Green stands with one side to the River Irwell, and is overlooked by houses, providing a secure play area for kids and a beautiful breathing space for residents, otherwise faced by the big ugly concrete University block.
Over the years the Green has been created by the community, in partnership with all sorts of environment agencies, and there's been thousands of pounds spent on the area. It's now the focal point of that community, so much so that a few years ago, during a prolonged spell of dry weather, residents joined up their hosepipes to water the parched land and trees.
Albion Green really is the new epitome of `England's green and pleasant land' and is right in line with the Council's top priority of making Salford a `greener, cleaner, safer city'. Or, to quote the City's Community Plan "To capitalise on Salford's natural assets, and to ensure that regeneration and new development activities complement these in a holistic way that takes into account the needs of strong and cohesive communities'…
"When we learned of their decision to kick us in the teeth they tried to dangle carrots in front of us by saying `We'll do this and that' but we want our Green'" says Tony McCormack, Vice Chair of Albion Residents and Tenants Association "And we will go all the way to stop this development."
Brian Enright, NDC's Programme Manager, argues that "without the inclusion of the Green within the Poets development, the whole scheme would not be financially viable". But, while the 13 houses on the Poets site are to be handed to Contour for social housing, the eight built on the Green will be for open sale by ID/Miller Homes…
"This isn't about not wanting houses, there's enough space on the derelict land for that and to keep the Green" explains Carole Woodward, Chair of the Residents Association "It's just that the developers want more money to make profits for themselves. I don't see why you've got to put profits before people.
"I was on the New Deal Board but stepped down because I didn't like the way it was run" she adds "You're supposed to be given your say but it's all mapped out for you. You're there to tick boxes for them, to show that you've actually took part. But they don't care what you want. They're all for this `community empowerment' if you want the same things as them but as soon as you speak up for something different they don't want to know. I told them that I'd fight tooth and nail over this piece of ground but they just blanked me. I think they're working for the developers, obviously. I've not met anyone who actually wants these buildings."
Both the residents and the councillors are questioning the community consultation that the NDC apparently carried out prior to publishing the plans.
"I don't think there was a consultation" says Betty Hayward, Treasurer of the Residents Association "The first time we met the NDC was at their office but we were told that we weren't there to discuss any developments, just the improvements by the river. The second time they knocked on a few doors, including mine, and went through the same thing. When I asked about the development they just said `We're not sure yet'. The third consultation was over at the St Boniface club – and we got a leaflet about it with no time or date on it!
"We found out and made them print another leaflet" Betty adds "but again at that meeting they wouldn't talk about it – there was just a map of the river with a grey area saying `proposed development site'. I lost my temper that night – I said `You've got it down as a grey development area? It's not, this is what it is' and showed them all the photos of what a lovely place it is…The Green is looked after, there's very little litter, children play on it, we have our events there…it would be a crying shame to rip it up. It just seems as if they don't care."
The NDC's Brian Enright argues that there's a `pocket park' nearby on the junction of Seaford Road and Gerald Road… "an attractive, informal recreation area within easy walking distance" and that "the area is served by other greens along the river".
But Betty just laughs…"They said they'd take out all the shrubs we've planted and re-plant them along the river where the children can play. Anyone who has seen that river at full flood just knows it's not the place for children. I thought the days of children drowning in the Irwell were long gone but it seems as if they're going to bring them back again…"
Betty is just one of many residents who have spent years making Albion Green the focal point of the community. The residents association has handed in petitions and letters, and are now taking to the streets.
"I think questions need to be asked how the consultation was done with these residents…I think questions need to be asked how satisfied residents are with those plans, and then the Council needs to take directions from those residents" argues Councillor Matt Mold "I will back the residents 100% of the way, whether that be a formal planning objection or whether we all turn up on the Town Hall steps with placards and megaphones. We feel very strongly about what's going on here."
It's an act of "environmental vandalism", says Bernard Hayward, who has lived in his house next to Albion Green since it was built in 1979.
"The prospect of the Green being covered over in concrete is too horrible to mention" he says "If it is built on it will change the very nature of this estate, it will change the dynamic which encourages people to come out and get involved in community events.
"We have no objection to 13 of the houses being built" he adds "We recognise the rightful aspirations of our fellow citizens to live in decent homes. The NDC is saying that they are building all these houses to cater for people from the demolition area near Whit Lane but this a nonsense – only eight of the proposed 21 dwellings would be offered to people from the clearance area. But even if they were offered to those people and they did get built there would be no green for them, no benefits. They will be living in filing cabinets, like they were many years ago when planners blight overtook this city in the 60s. It led to all sorts of environmental and social problems which would just reoccur in this area. It's only a tiny space but it's most important to our community. And, I would suggest, to our city."
It's so important to the city that Labour councillors and local MP, Hazel Blears, are breaking ranks with the ruling Labour Party on the council.
"You've got a green there that's had thousands of hours of residents' time invested in it and thousands of pounds of council money invested in it, I think it's shocking that it can all be ripped out" says Steven Ord, Chair of the Irwell Riverside Labour Party "What's even more shocking is that the land's being given away for free. I don't believe for one minute that you couldn't sell the land opposite the Green. To me it's ridiculous."
The NDC and Salford Council are not only giving away the land on both sites for free (£1) but are also handing the developers £53,000 in `gap funding'. In addition, the NDC is paying two thirds of the costs to upgrade the road leading to the site (£90,000), with the developers contributing the other third. More public money is being used to subsidise the 13 houses being managed by Contour, with a proposed bid to the Homes and Communities Agency. According to the formal Development Agreement, Salford Council will retain 85.65% of any profits above the rate agreed with ID/Miller Homes.
"The issue that I found objectionable was that the NDC said it wouldn't be commercially viable to develop just behind the IQ building, and that they would have to have the Green as well to make it commercially viable" says Steve Coen, local Labour councillor "But I'm not interested in developers, they've made a mess of this country already, we don't need to think about what they are going to make out of our city.
"We can have the social housing which is great and the people will be welcomed into the community but I'm not interested in them making extra profits by building more houses on the Green" he adds "This is the community working together with their local councillors to fight an inappropriate development."
Ironically, on the Cromwell roundabout near Gerard Road, there's some signs trumpeting `Welcome to Charlestown & Lower Kersal, supporters of Britain In Bloom'. The signs are sponsored by the NDC, Contour and Miller Homes.