Either you retire a hero, or you live long enough to become Nevillan, say squatters as they launch broadside against luxury apartments ousting working class families from Manchester.
The crew, has taken over 19 and 21 St John Street in Castlefield, on the edge of the Northern Quarter.The million-pound Grade II listed property, formerly business offices, was bought by former Man Utd star Neville last year for redevelopment into luxury apartments.
Neville drew praise a few years ago for opening the doors of one of his properties to homeless people over the winter, but much of that goodwill has faded since, as the footballer-tycoon expanded his operations and became a core part of the city’s hated gentrification drive.
In a statement titled “Gary Neville — A Viability Test”, the Persons Unknown crew said:
As the skyline of Manchester’s city centre fills daily with the the sight of new high rise luxury apartments and cranes, some sections of the Manchester community are beginning to ask — what does this mean for the working class people of Manchester?
One such group is a collective of socially active squatters currently occupying a property in Castlefield. The building owner? One Gary Alexander Neville, formally Manchester United Captain, schoolboy hero to many, and now controversial property developer.
The collective’s mission whilst occupying the building? To highlight the lack of socially-affordable housing being built by Mr Neville and other developers like him, under section 106 of the Town and County planning act of 1990. Specifically the group demand that Mr Neville disclose and make public his viability test under section 106, for the council to explain any decision to waive this procedure in this case, for the new St Michaels development in the city centre.
In addition they are demanding that as a “working class boy” from Greater Manchester he should agree publicly to work with the Mayor, Andy Burnham, to open up any of the properties currently in his portfolio that are empty or unused so they can be used to temporarily house rough sleepers in the Greater Manchester area: a request echoed by the Mayor in the Autumn of 2017 to all developers and landlords in the city.
Finally they wish persuade Mr Neville to postpone his plans for a “Private Higher Education System” that starts with The University of Lancaster and could ultimately ends with the corporatisation of the University system in the UK. This is a risk to our rich heritage of publicly funded, socially and politically active, and left thinking schools of thought potentially lost to the highest bidder: namely Google, Microsoft and the British football league.
The collective are joining forces with many respected organisations in the housing sector to help achieve this goal, and with the likes of GMHA, Acorn Renters Union, The Manchester Shield, The Meteor and the Salford Star they are in solid company. For over the last two years these groups have put sustained pressure on the council and the new Mayor to address the problem of the lack of transparency regarding social housing being built in Manchester: none of the 15,000 dwellings built in the last two years so far qualify as affordable.
The groups believe this has to be addressed, namely the collusion between the Council, the planning department, the developers and the accountants profiting from advising the developers how to avoid their duty under section 106 by effectively massaging the figures. In addition it appears that the council have given Mr Neville special dispensation, and have not applied 106 in the traditional way and a public explanation needs to be given to understand why Mr Neville does not have a duty to social housing on this development.
It has been stated that as the land was purchased from the Council some of the money made by the local authority will be used to offset the impact of the development on the Manchester community and will not be redirected to other initiatives, if so how much and will the wider Manchester community have assurances that all of the fund is used to this end.
The collective are now issuing a call to arms for the local and wider community to support their action in occupying the buildings in Castlefield, which are currently unused, empty, and available and put pressure on Mr Neville and his various companies to disclose their viability tests, agree to work with the mayor, and halt his Higher Education reform plans. A wider campaign will also be built with local housing groups to exert pressure across the housing movement ecology.
This issue has been a hot topic in recent months with The Guardian, The Salford Star, The Manchester Meteor and Lousy Badger Media all releasing articles questioning the sustainability and effect this situation has on the rich cultural history of the areas working class.
Finally the collective are asking people to show their support by coming down with provisions to sustain the occupation, to talk and receive information on this pressing issue, and to show solidarity with the next generation of working class Mancunians.
A city united, stronger together.
“Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, Manchester has always and will always be yours”
Call 07925 406 648 for info. Lousy Badger Media will be updating regularly on events.
Pic: Gary Neville, by Salford University