Salford Council discussed the plans for Ralli Quays at a planning panel meeting (on Thursday 20 January) and granted permission for the plans, despite 123 letters of objection being received regarding the proposals.
Council officers recommended the application for approval before discussion began.
The sticking point of the application proved to be that the proposals also threaten a 300-year-old right of way alongside the River Irwell, which would in effect be erased by the new development.
As part of the plans, a new route through the hotel site would be opened to the public for walking and cycling, but this would be shut between the dawn and dusk.
Dr Morag Rose, a researcher and lecturer who works to protect Greater Manchester’s walking routes, said she did not object to the plans, but requested a ‘vital’ condition for the plans – removing a stopping up order that shuts off the 300-year-old right of way.
She said that closing the path would amount to ‘gentrification, social cleansing and the theft of public land for private profit’.
Dr Rose added: “The River Irwell, our Irwell, should be for everyone – please do not allow it to be annexed. Salford deserves better. Let’s be frank, the security issues largely relate to homeless people. Enclosure is not a compassionate or appropriate response to homelessness. Salford is better than this.”
The hotel and office development, complete with roof terraces, is proposed by property and investment giants Legal & General Investment Management.
As well as owning a 50% interest in Media City, L&G have provided major long term investment in the New Bailey District of Salford, where the New Bailey prison once stood.
The site proposed for the development, on Stanley Street, comprises two office blocks purpose built for H.M. Customs and Excise almost thirty years ago, which would be demolished.
Gloria Gaffney, of the Greater Manchester Pedestrians Association, said: “We certainly don’t want [the path] closed off and gated for private use and commercial gain. I believe it’s a disgrace to even consider closing a riverside route, especially along the Irwell.
“The Pedestrians’ Association is not against the development in principle, all we are asking for is that the public right of way is maintained along the old tow path.”
Don Lee, local resident and keen walker, echoed the concerns and called for the footpath to be protected.
Coun Tanya Burch agreed with the objectors points regarding the path and said: “I can’t help but agree with the idea that the river belongs to the city. It was there before all of us were here and will be there hopefully for hundreds of years and any kind of restriction to the river is unacceptable.
“Social cleansing, gentrification, privatisation of public land – I can’t help but agree that’s what it looks like. I welcome the development in principle, but any restriction to the river access is against what our council stands for. It is divisive, despite the job creation from construction and improved aesthetics of the area.”
Coun Mike McCusker said: “[The path] is impassable at the moment. And I don’t understand some of the comments made about this being gentrification. Basically we’re replacing a rather scruffy HMRC building with a hotel and office block which will greatly improve the area and I can’t see who it’s displacing.
“I welcome this, I note that the Ramblers’ Association don’t have any objection to the alternative route and don’t object to the closure of the lower riverside section of path, and that reflects my views.”
Coun Philip Cusack said he was ‘conflicted’ about the river access, but in principle he really welcomed the application.
Coun Bob Clarke added: “Just because something has allowed to become impassable doesn’t mean it can’t be passable – it’s a lost opportunity and I really don’t understand it. Yet again we add a grim building to a grim part of Salford – it’s just wrong.”
Despite concerns raised, the application was approved by a majority of the planning panel – on the condition that the closure of part of the site from public access between dawn and dusk would be taken away to be looked at and reconsidered if necessary.