The council finally voted against the Greater Manchester spatial framework following a rebellion by Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors over Green Belt development in the borough.
The other nine Greater Manchester Councils will now have to decide whether or not to go ahead with the plan, while Stockport’s attention turns to producing an updated local plan to guide development in the borough.
Stockport failed to reach a consensus on the GMSF despite support from leader Elise Wilson and other Labour councillors. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which allocates land for employment and housing development across 10 local authority areas, was defeated by 35 votes to 26 at a council meeting last night.
Speaking to Place North West, Stockport Council leader Elise Wilson said: ” Make no mistake, the challenges we face haven’t gone away with the GMSF, they have simply moved over to the local plan. We now have more problems and less tolls to solve them.”
Leader of Stockport’s Conservatives Mike Hurleston told Place North West that his party was in favour of joint planning but the GMSF was not the right plan.
“There are good points within it but our point of view is that the Green Belt is really important and losing it forever was a risk that we weren’t prepared to take.
“The leader of the council accepts that this is democracy. We are representing what our residents are telling us and we are entitled to do that.”
The decision to refuse the proposals came despite calls from other regional leaders, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Salford Mayor Paul Dennett, who said that by choosing to reject the GMSF, Stockport would be getting a worse deal than if it opted in.
In a letter to Stockport councillors last week, Burnham said: “The GMSF allows the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs to share out the numbers of homes that each individual borough needs to build. As a result, the GMSF allows Stockport to cut the number of planned homes by over 5,000 – 25% less than its Government target.
“Conversely, if Stockport was to opt out of the GMSF, it would have to find land for all these 5,000 homes.”
However, Hurleston picked holes in that argument saying the idea that building more homes in Manchester and Salford would reduce the number of homes Stockport would have to deliver was incorrect.
“The idea that taking housing numbers from Stockport was doing us a favour [is wrong]. Those homes [in Salford and Manchester] were going to be built anyway,” he said.
He added that his party would lobby the Government to change the system used to calculate housing need, describing it as “flawed”.
Stockport’s divided council must now somehow put its differences aside and start work to prepare a local plan for the borough by the end of 2023.
“It is going to be difficult to work out that happens next but just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Hurleston said.
Following Stockport’s rejection of the plans, a spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said: “While we regret the position that has been taken by Stockport councillors and the implications this will have for the borough, Greater Manchester will continue to work to build a sustainable future with good homes, jobs, and growth.
“Greater Manchester leaders will meet to consider the next steps in the coming days”.
Matthew Dawber, associate in the planning team at Savills in Manchester, said Stockport’s decision had “wide-ranging implications” for the future of the GMSF and development within the region.
He added that, even if the other nine boroughs proceeded with the plan, without Stockport “it would no longer be a Greater Manchester plan and some of the gloss would be lost”.
“Other alternatives are that the GMSF is withdrawn altogether and individual authorities begin work on their own plans or the Mayor withdraws the plan for now and waits until after the elections in May 2021 to try and get the plan through each council then. Either way, the only certainty is that of further delays,” Dawber said.
Dan Mitchell, partner at Barton Willmore, said Stockport’s refusal was “disappointing”.
“The politics in the borough have made decisions on strategic plans very tricky. It is a big blow for the framework as a whole.”
He suggested that those responsible for putting the plan together may have bitten off more than they could chew and should not have tried to “address all the Green Belt matters in one go”.
“If Greater Manchester had created a strategic growth plan and a housing distribution model it probably would have gone through. Where it has gone wrong is that it has tried to micro-manage green belt release across the whole conurbation.”
Mitchell said a better approach would have been to tell each borough how many homes and how much employment space it needed to create and leave each borough to decide how and where to deliver it.