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CCLT’s Recent Engagement With MMU and Our Commitment To Community Involvement in the Ryebank Fields process

Chorlton Community Land Trust’s position re Ryebank Field has always been that should development go ahead, the CLT wishes to engage proactively with MMU and their selected development partner to ensure an exemplar development, with the best possible features reflecting the aspirations of local residents. 

This should not be taken that the CLT’s position is pro-development. The CCLT is however preparing for the possibility that the development goes ahead and is aiming to ensure any proposed development is extensively consulted upon with meaningful local community involvement. The CCLT recognises that there is a strong anti-development opinion in the local community in relation to Ryebank Fields and in no way does the CCLT wish to detract from the efforts of campaigners to stop development on the site.  

Background

MMU initiated a process for selling Ryebank Fields in 2017 and drafted a Development Framework, a revised version of which was  adopted by Manchester City Council in 2019. The Development Framework states “To deliver the outcomes envisaged within this Framework, the University will require a development partner to work with a local community housing group to develop part, or all of the site. This local community housing group must be appropriately and legally constituted”. 

MMU has identified the Chorlton Community Land Trust as the only existing group which meets this requirement and have asked us to take on this role. 

In preparation, the CCLT has been engaged in two strands of activity: 

1. Consulting members and wider community to assemble views on the site, should the development proceed. This has included: 

  • Public Meeting at The Longford Suite on 18 June 2019 
  • A CLT Members meeting at St Clements on 24 February 2020
  • Members Survey in October 2020 which led to the adoption of our Aspirations & Expectations Document 
  • This was revised and updated by our Development Sub Committee in April 21 together with a report of a Working Group on the environment reflecting the importance of protecting and enhancing the natural environment set out here Environmental Protection 

The survey of our members in October 2020 secured 100 member responses (1/3 of our members). Over 7 out of 10 respondents stated they want the CCLT to work with MMU and its preferred developer “to influence a development that meets or exceeds the Development Framework Guidance”.   

2. Discussions with MMU on how the CCLT might be involved in the development process should the development proceed. The CCLT Board has hosted Michael Taylor, MMU’s representative leading the Ryebank process, at two Board Meetings:  

Session 1: 13 October 2020: During this session MMU set out their initial thoughts about the process of appointing a developer. During the meeting Michael affirmed MMU’s commitment to the Development Framework and their interest in the CCLT being the recognised local community housing group that it requires. The Board affirmed its commitment to the Expectations and Aspirations document and the steer from members for us to be involved in the process. We also highlighted the particular importance of addressing contamination, health and safety concerns and traffic access challenges to the community.

Session 2: 12 January 2021: This second session was arranged to explore options for how the Chorlton CLT might engage with the process. At this meeting, Michael Taylor was also able to set out MMU’s current thoughts about the three stages of the sale process:  

  • Stage 1:  a long list of 10+ developers would be given to the end of February to submit bids which demonstrate their experience of similar sites with comparable challenges re access and contamination; complying with the requirements set out in the Development Framework; working towards net zero objectives; experience of community engagement and working with social housing organisations. We understand that outline designs and headline financial offers were also included in these submissions.   
  • Stage 2: a short list of 2 – 5 developers would be selected to work up their plans in more detail from which MMU would select their preferred development partner. During this stage MMU expect the short-listed developers to engage with the CLT to ensure they understand our Expectations and Aspirations and to enable the CLT to provide a commentary on their bids. MMU would choose the preferred developer. 
  • Stage 3: the preferred development partner will develop a planning application for the site during which time they would be expected to engage extensively with the local community and the CLT to ensure the widest range of opinions are reflected in their plans.   

The Board made a number of points in response: 

  • The importance of an effective engagement/consultation process and reassurance that local community influence on the plans would be meaningful  
  • Ensuring our Expectations and Aspirations document would be shared with all developers and encouraging them to engage with us as early as possible  
  • Further clarity on how the CLT and the wider community would be involved.  

Michael provided reassurance on the first two points but MMU’s thinking on the actual mechanics of engagement process was still being formulated at that stage. It was also noted that the community engagement required during Stage 3 would be designed by the preferred developer and so the details could not be confirmed until further into the process.  

Following this second meeting the CLT set out some proposals and ideas for consultation. Subsequent to this, a number of informal phone conversations took place to clarify MMU’s position regarding CLT involvement and to receive updates on the changing timetable. 

As MMU were concluding Stage 1 of the process, on 27th April a number of board members had a call with MMU & Cushman Wakefield to discuss how the CLT could engage with shortlisted developers during Stage 2. The proposal is for two sessions: 

  • Session 1: An initial informal Q&A session with CCLT Board members who sit on the Development Sub-Committee at the outset of this next phase for the shortlisted developers to get a better understanding of the CCLT Expectations and Aspirations. Expected mid-June 2021. 
  • Session 2: The CLT Board to receive a presentation from each of the short-listed developers and for the Board to formulate an opinion on the bids that would be shared with MMU for consideration as they make their choice on the preferred developer. Expected August 2021. 

During Stage 2 of the process, MMU and Cushman Wakefield are limiting engagement to constituted organisations. This is to ensure the process is manageable for bidders.  

In order for the CCLT to participate in this stage, we have been asked to agree to a Confidentiality Agreement. This is a standard requirement used during any competitive bidding process to ensure the intellectual property of any bidder is not shared to rival bidders. Any breach of confidentiality would risk invalidating the process. We sought further clarification from MMU on the matter who provided this text:

“The disposal of the Ryebank Fields site is competitive sale process and every external party the University is engaging and sharing detail with has been asked to sign an NDA.  All the external partners involved in the process, including those who carried out site surveys and all of the bidders have signed an NDA.  Your organisation and the other two [co-housing] groups are in exactly the same position so the University is only asking you to do the same as everyone one else in the process.”

The CLT Board discussed the matter at its Board Meeting (4th May 2021) and wrote to MMU on the 7th May (see CCLT Letter to MMU following 27 April meeting) to confirm our decision to participate in the process. We then took legal advice on the detailed terms of the Agreement before signing and secured some amendments. The Confidentiality Agreement can be viewed here.

Our Thinking 

The Board is clear that this is a vital opportunity for early engagement with the shortlisted developers to drive home the priorities set out in the Expectations and Aspirations document and also to underline the vitally important message that the preferred developer must establish and implement an extensive programme of community engagement that provides ample opportunity for all members of the local community to have their say and influence on the plans during Stage 3 of the process.

We did not take this decision lightly and recognise that this does not sit easy with all our members. After discussion and deliberation, we took a balanced decision to participate in this opportunity as we believe we can help steer the shortlisted developers towards an outcome that is more closely aligned to the CCLT’s expectations and to ensure a strong focus on community engagement during Stage 3. We concluded that the alternative i.e. leaving Stage 2 of the process entirely up to MMU, would risk a less favourable outcome and would not be aligned with the mandate to get involved in the process that members gave to the CLT in the October 2020 survey. In short, on balance, we came to the view that the Confidentiality Agreement was a necessary but unwelcome requirement of meeting our commitment to members and the mandate we secured to be involved in the process.

In order to meet our commitment to openness and accountability to our members, we will produce and share an update report on our involvement in Stage 2 of the process once it has concluded. 

We have also made it clear to MMU that our engagement in these two sessions does not constitute the “extensive engagement with the local community” required by the Development Framework which will be required at Stage 3 of the process ie once a preferred development partner has been identified.  

The Confidentiality Agreement does not limit our or anybody else’s ability to meaningfully engage in the next phase of the process once the preferred developer is selected. It will only relate to confidential information shared during Stage 2 of the process and is solely there to protect the integrity of the bidding process and assure bidders that their confidential or proprietary information is not shared with competing bidders. 

CCLT will not be privy to any financial information in relation to the bids. We will not be endorsing any of the developers and instead will provide a commentary on how the draft plans align with the Development Framework and the Expectations & Aspirations, but we will indicate where we believe a developer is likely to fall short.  

The CLT Board will present its reflections on the shortlisted developer plans back to MMU and have been reassured these will be taken into account in their selection process.  

MMU will select the final developer for Stage 3 who will be required to undertake extensive engagement with the local community (not just the CLT) leading to the submission of a single site wide masterplan and planning application. During this phase, the CLT will continue to press for involvement and influence over the final proposed development alongside other local community voices. 

The CLT Board will not support a development at any cost and reserves the option of walking away from the process if substantial elements of the Expectations and Aspirations are not met.  

The CLT has not entered into any prior contractual relationship with MMU and will not be acting as an agent for any developer. 

Simon Hooton
Chair CLT
May 2021 

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