Budget: Devo Manc to include land commission

A new Greater Manchester Land Commission with devolved planning powers including CPOs to manage development around publicly owned sites was chief among the latest wave of Devo Manc measures.

George Osborne said the city region would get “more powers over planning subject to the agreement of the Cabinet member representing the district in which the power is used.”

The additional measures will, subject to legislation, enable Greater Manchester to take on a range of additional responsibilities:

  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority will work with government to create a Greater Manchester Land Commission. The Commission will have an overview of all publicly-owned land in the region, including that owned by government and other public sector bodies. Manchester City Council said the new body will look at and co-ordinate how that land can be used to support Greater Manchester’s wider ambitions – including the need for 10,000 new homes a year to support its growing economy and communities – and address any barriers to such land being developed. The Commission will be jointly chaired by the Mayor and housing minister and will include ministers from other key landowning departments.
  • Further powers over planning will help the elected Mayor encourage regeneration and development in Greater Manchester. These include the ability to create Mayoral Development Corporations which can help drive regeneration and advance complex development schemes. Any such development corporations would have to be agreed by the leader of the Greater Manchester local authority in which it would have powers.
  • Compulsory purchase powers for the Mayor, again subject to the agreement of the leader of the local authority in the relevant area.

Tony Lloyd, interim Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Today’s announcements are another welcome sign of progress in Greater Manchester’s journey to becoming a place of opportunity for all.

“The role of individual local authorities in shaping the future of their own areas is as strong as ever. But by working together, we are increasingly seeing Greater Manchester being empowered to make decisions which address the region’s priorities and needs – rather than being dictated to by Whitehall and Westminster.

“There are welcome announcements in today’s budget, the increase in the minimum wage will bring money in to the pockets of Greater Manchester families and businesses. One thing that will hold us back is the decision to withdraw grants from the poorest students going to university and there is a glaring omission, the Government have today failed to keep their promises on the rail projects that are key to the delivery of northern economic growth and I challenge George Osborne to tell us when he will deliver on this promise. We also need to see the full details of proposed cuts as these emerge.”

Cllr Sue Derbyshire, GMCA lead for planning and housing, said: “Devolution is an ongoing, step-by-step process. But it is not the destination. It’s only a vehicle to help us get to where we need to be for our residents and businesses to thrive. We’re determined to deliver those results to make Greater Manchester a success story which everyone living and working here can share in. Greater influence over the use of public land and strengthened planning measures will support our ambitions.”

The planning and land assembly powers follow the November 2014 devolution agreement with government, which gave the city region new powers in return for a new directly mayor ‘metro mayor’. Earlier this year, the government handed Greater Manchester control of its £6bn health and social care budget from 2016/17.

Gary Halman, managing partner, HOW Planning, said: “George Osborne has just announced in the emergency Budget that a new Land Commission will be set up in the North West to help unlock public sector land. Details are sketchy but it seems likely to be another initiative aimed at getting more houses built -and ideally on brownfield land. There is a suggestion that the Commission would have powers over Council owned land as well as other major public sector land owners including the NHS and Network Rail.

“This won’t be the first time that such an initiative has been created of course – successive Governments of all political persuasions have grappled with the problem of large tracts of publically owned land being held and not put to active use. Superficially it seems an attractive proposition; thousands of often despoiled acres standing idle which could be developed for much needed new housing and at the same time generate windfall revenue for the public purse. Who is going to argue against that? But getting the land actually released is altogether a different matter. Whether its arguments by the owning body that they really do need to the land (or might do so at some point in the future) or gritty practical challenges such as decades of contamination, coupled with legal title problems, poor accessibility or doubts over viability it’s a huge challenge to get land sold and developed.

“So in principle this is an initiative well worthy of support; but it’s got lots of hard work ahead to make any real difference. And it needs to be coupled with teeth to make sure that land is prised out of unwilling public owners. And on top of that are their incentives, so will the proceeds of sale disappear into the central Government pot or elsewhere?”

Mark Rawstron, regional senior director of Bilfinger GVA, said: “We await further detail on the land Commission mentioned for Greater Manchester in the Chancellor’s speech but we understand this might be a body set up to co-ordinate information across all the various public sector bodies, blue light, health, police etc in an effort to improve the bringing forward of housing land.  Here in Greater Manchester there is already co-ordination so it is hard to see what this might add if it is outside the control of Greater Manchester, but let’s not pre-judge in the absence of full detail.”

Adam Mirley, director of planning and development at LSH in Manchester, said: “I think it’s a myth that many public sector organisations are hoarding good quality land that they don’t need rather than releasing it for development. The cuts over the previous Parliament mean that most public sector organisations have already cashed in on good quality development assets and those sites left are less likely to be of interest to the house builders.”

Osborne’s summer budget also included putting fire services under the control of the new directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, and inviting discussion of how central government and the city region might collaborate further on children’s services and employment programmes.

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