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Planning documents spark concern over future of historic UK West Indian Community Centre

The West Indian Community Centre in Longsight has been a ‘vital’ part of the community for decades

The future of the West Indian Community Centre in Longsight Manchester UK has been put in doubt after members received a letter informing them that a planning proposal had been submitted for the land.

Trustees of the hub on Carmoor Road were informed via a letter in January that planning permission had been sought for a new student accommodation building and community centre.

The letter, sent by Maddox Planning, acting on behalf of Host Student Management (UK) Ltd, suggested the new build could be a ‘more efficient and sustainable use of the site’.

But, the centre’s trustees say they have a lease with Manchester City Council dating back to 1981 which allows the West Indian Organisations Coordinating Committee (WIOCC) to ‘quietly possess’ the land ‘without any lawful interruption’ for 99 years.

The council has confirmed the lease, saying in a statement it had made its position clear to developers and would be ‘unlikely’ to support an application.

Anthony Brown, who was chairman of the WIOCC from 1997 to 2004 and is now director of Windrush Defenders Legal, said he was ‘very alarmed’ when he received the developers’ letter.

“The letter was the first thing we heard about the proposal.

” This has been our home for 50 years, why did they not speak to us before they made the application? It’s very concerning to us.”

 
Anthony Brown (Image: Windrush Defenders Legal)

A representative for Host Student Management said the company had undertaken a pre-application consultation with the local community in January, with over 800 addresses invited to view the proposals and submit their views. The WIOCC centre was included within that distribution, they said.

A response to the pre-application consultation was received on behalf of the WIOCC but Host acknowledged that further attempts to make contact with the centre’s trustees had so far been unsuccessful.

Last week, the African-Caribbean and Friends Community Association (ACFCA) issued an open letter urging local MPs and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, to help try and save the ‘pipeline’ building from any future development.

The letter said the centre has served the African and wider community in Manchester for more than 50 years.

“We don’t know what the developers motives are or why they believe we should exchange what we have for them to accommodate us in another space,” Anthony explains.

 
(Image: Manchester Central Library Archives)

“The centre has been the focus of many activities and various projects have been developed there.

“It’s very important to us that we keep that legacy going.”

Up until the pandemic, Anthony says the centre was regularly used for community education programmes, Saturday schools, legal advice surgeries and social gatherings.

On Friday, a celebration of life ceremony will take place for Elouise Edwards MBE, a key founder of the centre who died in January.

As part of the ceremony, her cortege will pause at the community centre as a mark of her association with the venue.

“The significance of this centre cannot be forgotten about,” Anthony adds.

“Given all the hostility to the Windrush generation, it’s very concerning to me that this type of approach is still going on where communities are being driven out of the areas where they once occupied because someone has realised the value of the land.

“Well, it has value to us as well. It’s a very central part of our community life.”

 
The West Indian Centre in Longsight

In a statement, Host Student Management said it was in the ‘early stages’ of bringing forward proposals for a ‘mixed-use scheme’ that would feature a new community centre and new student accommodation.

John Nesbitt, Managing Director of Host Student Management, said: “In January we wrote to over 800 addresses to seek local views about the proposals and have received over 100 responses, which featured a range of views about our ambitions, both supportive and in objection.

“What has become clear is that the existing WIOCC Community Centre is much loved by those who have used it in the past and we are trying our hardest to understand how we can ensure that the new community centre, which forms a centrepiece of our vision for the site, meets the needs of the community.

“We have offered our full reassurances to the West Indian Organisation Co-ordinating Committee that Host would like to secure the long-term future of a community space at the site and work with them as we refine our proposals.

“To date we have had no acknowledgement or response to our repeated requests to open discussions about how a new community centre can be delivered, with proper surety of tenure.

“Nevertheless, our door remains open so we can work together for the good of the local community.”

Manchester City Council has confirmed it owns the freehold of the land where the West Indian Centre is situated and that a 99-year lease exists with the West Indian Community Group.

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council said: “Manchester City Council has already expressed some concern about developing the site of the West Indian Centre in Longsight and have made our position clear to the developers.

“The Council is unlikely to support an application, neither from a planning perspective or as the freeholder of the land.”