Key issues of transport, green spaces and the refugee response were all on the cards as councillors filled Manchester Town Hall on Wednesday.
The Lord Mayor Coun Yasmine Dar kicked things off with messages of hope as well as an update on the plan to offer Man City manager Pep Guardiola the Freedom of the City honour. The council will call a special meeting to bestow the city’s highest honour for the treble winning coach - if he accepts.
This topic was supposed to kick start the motions for the day, but was pulled due to the fact the wheels are already in motion to get this done - making a request to do it redundant.
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Concessions for carers on public transport across the city
Coun Tracey Rawlins tabled the idea to give carers concession on public transport to ease the financial burden they already suffer. Additionally she wants to urge the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to make sure the £2 maximum does not become a flat fee.
Coun Rawlins explained that people who can’t afford to use public transport face further isolation if they can’t get from A to B cheaply. A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the average person needs to spend £35 a week more than the Universal Credit allowance to stay alive.
The executive member for Environment and Transport explained that if, like her, people needed to come in and out of the city centre for work six times in a week, it would cost £24 in total. That would leave just £11 leftover, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.
Lib Dem leader Coun John Leech and his party backed this motion, he said: “The only real criticism of the £2 fare was when it was introduced that the maximum fare would become the minimum fare. This has become the reality.”
He warned that this maximum can be changed yearly and urged the GMCA to maintain this and provide arrangements so companies could not exploit this in creating a flat £2 fee for travel anywhere. The motion was passed which means the council will contact the GM mayor regarding arrangements.
Manchester, a City of Sanctuary
Manchester has vowed to become an official City of Sanctuary after unanimous agreement from the council. This means that the city will continue to provide welcome and support to refugees and migrant communities who have fled violence and persecution to seek safety.
Manchester has a proud history of welcoming immigration, the town hall heard, and this is nothing new for councillors - but this recognises the warm welcome and volunteering opportunities they offer to asylum seekers and refugees. Manchester Libraries gained Libraries of Sanctuary status in June 2021.
Coun Joanna Midgley, proposer of the motion and deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: "We have a long and rich history in Manchester of welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers that have been displaced. We are proud to be a sanctuary and a home for anyone fleeing persecution and those who are striving for a better life.
"Manchester is a place of wonderful diversity, a city that speaks over 200 languages, and we recognise the contribution that our communities collectively bring to the fabric of our city. We believe it is important that we create a society that builds bridges between our residents regardless of background, language or religion. Becoming a Local Authority of Sanctuary is a commitment that we will always be a place of refuge and a place of compassion.
“We look forward to working in partnership with the City of Sanctuary organisation to ensure our city's arms are open to those that need our help."
This agreement came after the councillors heard first hand experience of how the charity Manchester City of Sanctuary has supported and enriched the lives of residents over their many years.
The Greens were able to successfully amend Labour’s motion to make Manchester a Local Authority of Sanctuary. The amendment called on the government to increase funding for voluntary organisations supporting refugees, and help local authorities adequately prepare for arriving asylum seekers so councils can ensure their needs can be met.
“We’re pleased that Labour accepted our amendment to their motion to make Manchester a Local Authority of Sanctuary,” Coun Johnson added following the meeting.
“Local voluntary and community organisations play a vital role in supporting refugees, and we need more funding to support their work.”
Delivering a park for Ancoats and New Islington
Although two motions had already seen harmonious cooperation across the chamber, the idea of a new park on the old Central Retail Park in Ancoats was a point of contention. The Great Ancoats Street site - which was home to Toys R Us and Argos - was flattened after Manchester council bought it for £37m in 2017.
It is no secret that since the council buyout, it has been at the centre of a bitter dispute over its use which saw the local authority lose a legal battle to temporarily turn it into a car park. Last year, the town hall published plans for a huge new office complex on the land which includes a new green space which would be open to the public.
The Manchester Lib Dems filed a motion calling for the plans on the site to incorporate a much larger park with facilities for local families rather than just proceeding with the current plans which is to put a bit of landscaping in the middle of tall office blocks.
Coun Alan Good, who put forward the motion has claimed that the council’s current plans would see a net loss in green space. He wants a green space people can sit in and experience, not one for people to look at.
“Manchester Lib Dems have supported the campaign for a City Centre Park for over the last four years,” Coun Good said after the meeting. “The Council's plans do not go far enough. We need a place to meet friends, to walk our dogs, for kids to play football.
“We welcome investment in Ancoats and New Islington but as more and more people move in we need a bigger park than just the marina.”
Labour put forward an amendment to the motion which Coun Good described as a ‘watered down version’ of what was put forward, and effectively dismissed the idea of the new 10.6 acre park. This amendment maintained the promise to promote green space in the ward and listen to the residents’ thoughts and ideas.
Coun Gavin White, Manchester City Council's executive member for housing and development, said: "We absolutely believe in the benefits of increasing access to green space for our residents, which is why we are investing heavily in green and high-quality public realm as part of our approach to low carbon development in Manchester. Ancoats and New Islington in particular have welcomed key green projects in recent years, not least the transformation of New Islington Marina and the refurbishment of the adjacent Cotton Field Park, which has proved to be an incredibly popular space in our city centre.
"Nearby, £32m is being spent in Ancoats to develop Ancoats Green as a green heart of the local community - which will start on site later this year - alongside the Ancoats Mobility Hub and wider public realm investment. The Council's executive amended the plans for Central Retail Park earlier this year following public consultation, and the proposals include a significant area of green space that will open out to Cotton Field Park.
"Electric Park nearby is currently under construction as one of the city's first green campuses, featuring more than two acres of high-quality green space - and less than 10 minutes away on foot, the transformational project to deliver the new 6.5acre Mayfield Park is also nearing completion, creating a green oasis at the heart of our city. This is a clear commitment to making sure our residents have easy access to parks and green spaces - adding to the 154 Council-run parks already available across the city."
The Greens saw their emergency motion against the Tory government’s planned closure of manned ticket offices go unheard after Labour refused to vote in favour of suspending standing orders. Coun Ekua Bayunu was planning to propose the council supported RMT in their effort to coordinate action to oppose these measures.
Green Party leader Coun Astrid Johnson experienced a setback of her own after seeing her motion denied by Labour and the Lib Dems. She was calling for the replacement of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) with a new devolved authority which would include a directly elected assembly.