Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Levenshulme and the LibDems (Warning: May Contain Party Politics)

Once upon a time, on the edge of a conservation area in the West Point area of Levenshulme, there were three Victorian houses which had been sub-divided into 12 apartments. Some of the residents had lived there for many years, and were good neighbours. True, there was an old ambulance in the front garden and it looked a bit run-down but no-one really objected, and most people in the area had either lived there themselves or knew someone who had at some time. It was a community. 

Then, about seven years ago, the three houses were bought by a property developer, and all the residents departed very shortly afterwards. The developer called on us, as neighbours, to explain the wonderful plans he had for the site. Now, we've watched Grand Designs and we don't necessarily disapprove of new developments, so we were interested to see what he proposed.

What he proposed to replace the 3 storey Victorian frontage, was a 5 storey, flat roofed development which towered above the existing 2 storey houses adjacent to it, with windows overlooking neighbouring properties, and containing 23 (yes, you read that right) "luxury apartments" with a basement car park (the fumes from which were evacuated by means of vents over my neighbours' boundary about 2 metres away). All this on a corner plot with existing parking problems and at an accident black spot.

Dismayed by these proposals, the community rallied to object to the planning proposal. We put out flyers (this was in the days before social networking sites) and were amazed that the public meeting we convened filled my neighbours's house, with people standing out in the garden to try and hear what was being said. Two of our elected Liberal Democrat councillors attended this meeting. My abiding memory of their contribution was that they bickered with each other, virtually ignoring the contributions of others present.

When the day of the planning meeting came, a lot of us took time off work to attend, and were heartened to find that the council had received over 50 letters of protest about the proposal. The developer, hoping to wrong-foot us, submitted an amended proposal, with a couple of apartments fewer, on 4 storeys, but with a roof garden! Thankfully, the council saw sense and refused the application as being antagonistic to the local plan for the area and a gross over-development of the site. A group of us went and have a coffee in Starbucks and celebrated at least a temporary victory before heading back to Leve.

Within hours of getting back home, leaflets had come through local doors in Levenshulme, with a photograph of the aforementioned LibDem councillors beaming in front of the derelict site, claiming that they had secured a victory over the developer! Those of us who had campaigned to raise awareness locally and printed and delivered publicity, tried to think what the councillors' contribution had actually been and concluded...... very little. 

As I say, it was only a temporary victory. Thwarted, the developer threw his toys out of the pram and let the site deteriorate to the point where demolition rather than restoration is now the only option for the site (and thus, another part of Victorian Levenshulme disappears). Eventually, he was subject to an Enforced Sale and the site offered to a housing association for development. However, with the advent of the Coalition, funding for social housing ground to a halt and the site is now back up for sale as a development, so the whole cycle will start again.

The interesting thing about this about this story, though, is the attitude of the LibDem councillors who, unaccountably, continue to represent Levenshulme. In the 20+ years I've lived here under their stewardship, I've seen the area fall victim to continual neglect, getting very little benefit from the A6 regeneration  monies which have been available elsewhere in the area. The Lib Dems are keen to blame the majority Labour council for this (and yes, they do have 'previous' on this - the baths and Arcadia have been under threat for years), but it does beg the question - "If you are so powerless against the 'tyranny' of the Labour majority, why on earth should we continue to elect you to represent us?"

I see from my Twitter feed from the council meeting this morning that they are continuing with their usual modus operandi of claiming credit for anything good and being conspicuous by their absence when things look bad for them. In a world of change, I suppose we should at least be grateful that this never changes.

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