This Thursday, Salford Council's Planning Panel will probably decide to approve an application from the English Cities Fund (ECf) for ninety Private Rented Sector (PRS) apartments in an eleven storey block on prime land next to Manchester City Centre.
The block - made up of forty one-bedroom flats, forty two-bedroom flats and ten three-bedroom flats – is next to the Premier Inn on the banks of the River Irwell in the so-called `New Bailey' district currently being distinguished by a new car park.
Normally, such a scheme would be subject to 20% affordable housing (18 units) and `Section 106' payments (for things like open space, construction training, climate change and public realm) which would amount to well over £300,000.
The Salford Star has documented over and over again how developers are evading paying these fees and avoiding providing affordable housing by using a `viability' clause - ie that their profits won't be huge enough to make the scheme `viable' (see here). However in this case, and in all applications submitted by the English Cities Fund, affordable housing and any payments to the public purse are not mentioned at all.
There is total secrecy surrounding the deals that are done behind closed doors between the ECf and its partner, Salford City Council, and what happens to any money that is collected – if any is collected at all.
The English Cities Fund is a joint venture between private profit making companies, Muse Developments and the Legal and General, and the Government's Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), in partnership with Salford City Council.
The lack of transparency stems from a huge `outline' planning application, submitted by ECf and passed by Salford Council a few years ago, for some 17.75 hectares of land spreading from the Fusiliers War Memorial on Chapel Street to the border of Manchester near the old Granada Studios, now known as New Bailey.
Within that planning application there's detail of Development Trust Account, controlled by Salford Council and the English Cities fund (ECf), which would be used for any money collected, instead of through the normal Section 106 channels.
So has there been any money paid into the Trust Account from any of the New Bailey or Chapel Street developments and, if so, where has it gone? The Salford Star put in a Freedom of Information request asking for details of all payments made into the Account, with the source of those payments, and details of which schemes have benefitted from the Account. Given that the Account should be full of public money, and is apparently operated through a steering group comprising the Salford City Council and the ECf, we also asked to see all correspondence about the Account.
Of course, this request was refused in the "public interest"..."the Council acknowledges there is a general public interest in transparency...However, we believe that in this case the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information..."
So no-one in Salford, apart from the Council and ECf, knows how much money, if any, is in the Development Trust Account or where any of that public money has been spent.
What is known, is that affordable housing is well down the agenda of priorities. The Chapel Street/New Bailey `outline' planning application makes this clear when weighing up the balance between spending Trust Account funds on affordable housing or spending them on `transformational regeneration'. It concludes that the balance "should be, for economic and viability reasons, in favour of regeneration, which would suggest that the affordable housing target will be difficult to meet".
Neither ECf nor Salford Council will answer Salford Star questions on anything related to Chapel Street and New Bailey. Given the secrecy, the Star can only speculate that any money paid into the Trust Account will only be going towards other ECf projects – to make more profits for its private sector partners.
The whole regeneration merry-go-round, fuelled by £millions of public money, is controlled by the unaccountable ECf, with Salford Council cheerleading from the sidelines.
When Salford City Council Planning Panel meets on Thursday, it will have before it an application for ninety PRS flats on prime land, which is sure to bring huge profits for the likes of Legal and General and Muse Developments.
Will the Panel question anything? Will Salford people see any benefits from the eleven storey block? Or will the public scandal continue unchallenged?
To read the full story of Chapel Street Secrecy and the English Cities Fund see the print issue of Salford Star pages 25-26 – click here
See also Salford Community Anger at Vimto Gardens `Social Cleansing' – click here and click here and click here