Where next for the GMSF?

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During last year’s Mayoral election, Andy Burnham called for “no net loss of the Green Belt” over the next twenty years. He wanted the GMSF (Greater Manchester Spatial Framework) to build in town centres and called the first draft of the framework “unfair and disproportionate.”

As the development community awaits the publication of the next version of the framework in the summer, it is hard to find anyone (be it politician, planner or housebuilder) who believes that this will be achieved.  So how might the GMSF evolve?

GMSF back to the drawing board

Andy Burnham’s election as Mayor of Greater Manchester saw the GMSF sent back to the drawing board. The original hope was that the GMSF would be signed off by the ten councils in 2017.  That date is now a distant memory, and the plan now looks likely to drag on to 2019 or even 2020.

The new draft will be revealed after this year’s local elections are safely out of the way. But most insiders think the direction of travel is clear.

Brownfield first

Councils have spent the last few months pursuing the Government’s “Brownfield first” policy. This means having another attempt to find viable brownfield sites across Greater Manchester. Success has been limited. Some new sites have emerged, but no-where near enough to see no net loss of Green Belt.

The failure to secure control of Greater Manchester’s 97 rail stations, which becg reported last month, also makes the job tougher. There are many benefits to building new homes around transport hubs. But the complexities of land ownership make it hard, and winning that deal would have meant one less hurdle to jump.

What will be in the next GMSF draft?

So what will we see in this second GMSF draft? My prediction is for significant Green Belt release. The most politically sensitive sites may disappear from the plan. Others may have their numbers reduced. That would allow politicians to show that they’ve fought for their residents and gained some ground. But most of the Green Belt release proposed last time round will still be there.

There may also be some tougher planning rules proposed, at least for Green Belt building. Affordable housing numbers may be upped and applied more strictly.

More efforts will be made to ensure developers contribute properly to infrastructure costs. Councils complain that, too often, developers try to dodge paying up because their development is too small. One developer might be building 300 homes, and argue that their impact on the highway network is negligible. But if 6,000 new homes are being proposed in total, then the overall effect will be significant. Councils want to ensure that they aren’t left with the bill for expensive new road schemes while landowners walk away with all the profits.

Finally, some sort of phasing might be proposed. That would see Green Belt release in the plan, but sites only released after maybe five or ten years. It’s unclear whether phasing would be signed off by an Inspector.

At the end of the process, the GMSF will still have to be approved by all ten local authorities, plus the Mayor, to go through. With local elections three years out of four, there’s no politically safe time to do that – though July 2020 would give a nearly-two-year window.

becg is the UK’s only sector-specialist multi-disciplinary communications consultancy for the Built Environment.  You can find out more about our work at

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