Town and city planning in the UK is a very 'top-down' affair. Developers make proposals to councils, and local communities are told what they are going to get, rather than being asked what they think is needed. If the community doesn't like it, they have a hard battle ahead, trying to stop the developers' project - after all - the aim of the exercise is usually for the developer to make profit, and lots of it.
Many of the older, long standing residents have seen amenities in the area disappear and not replaced over the years.
When London developers Curlew Opportunities lodged plans with the city council in 2020 they hadn't reckoned on local residents mounting a campaign to prevent them building a 13-storey student accommodation block on the site of the now derelict Gamecock pub on the corner of Boundary Lane and Booth Street. Hopton Court, an 8 storey social housing block is already surrounded on 2 sides by student accommodation blocks that have sprung up in recent years. The proposed block would effectively hem them in, plunging their only green space into permanent shadow.
The Hopton Court tenants had already been speaking to the council for some time saying they wanted something for their community, to replace the derelict Gamecock pub. Many of the older, long standing residents have seen amenities in the area disappear and not replaced over the years. There used to be 3 care homes, lots of local pubs and community facilities but the area has rapidly become geared towards the student population and they felt they had been forgotten.
And so the 'Block the Block' campaign was born.
With the support of GM Tenants Union, weekly protests were held on the site, followed by many letters to the council where tenants explained that although they were happy students were coming to Hulme, the extra block would be detrimental to their quality of life and ruin their enjoyment of their garden - the only green space that many older residents were able to access. They argued that there were already plenty of student blocks and that some of them were only partially filled.
…local councillors listened to them and realised the impact it would have on their quality of life.
The community turned up outside the council planning meetings to reinforce their opposition to the proposed development, after crowdfunding for taxi fares to ensure as many residents could attend as possible. Their tenacity was rewarded when local councillors listened to them and realised the impact it would have on their quality of life. In May last year the council voted to reject the proposals from Curlew. When the developers tried to come back last October with a similar proposal, the planning committee rejected again - this time unanimously.
But getting the block “blocked' was just half the story. It's not enough to simply say no to a development. Sooner or later another developer will propose an equally unsuitable plan that will line their pockets but offer nothing to the local community, so the tenants started putting together a proposal of their own.
We put the residents in touch with Unit 38 - an architects firm who specialise in creating designs for social projects and community wealth building strategies. They work closely with communities, bringing the technical skills, and translating ideas into tangible proposals that can be presented to councils.
Two weeks ago at the Darul Aman Mosque, 13 of the Hopton Court residents came to look at plans and illustrations in what was the third of a series of workshops run by Jamie and Ben from Unit 38. They presented their plans and illustrations of what could be built on the site based on their previous discussions with the residents.
…residents have worked together, not only in opposing the huge block that was planned but in pushing the process further
The plans depicted a low rise block incorporating housing for 24 'vulnerable residents' in the upper floors, with community space, treatment rooms, some shops and a bar on the ground floor. Consideration was made to leave existing trees standing and still allow sunlight through to the garden area of Hopton Court.
There was still much discussion at this meeting. Some had reservations about including a bar, wondering if it might attract late night disturbance and mess. Others discussed whether the housing should be for elderly residents, younger disabled or vulnerable adults, or a combination of both. These are decisions that will need to be made, but as Ben pointed out, these initial plans and illustrations are essential for continuing a conversation with the council about the development of the Gamecock site.
What is really striking about this process is that residents have worked together, not only in opposing the huge block that was planned but in pushing the process further, discussing what they really want for their community and taking the initiative to make an alternative proposal. It's a stunning example of what can be achieved when a community unites to challenge power and money.