It’s hard not to be excited about the noises coming out of City Hall, writes Danny Crump. Andy Burnham’s seat is barely warm and he is already ripping up the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and Transport for Greater Manchester’s ‘Case for Change’ report is seeking to bring almost 100 rail stations under its control.
These two initiatives are completely entwined and with the right approach, have the potential to massively enhance Manchester’s liveability through a programme of vibrant and exciting transport oriented communities.
The new mayor has vowed to make brownfield sites the focus of Greater Manchester’s desire to deliver more than 250,000 new homes with the emphasis on the densification of the region’s existing town centres and the city core.
This should certainly be part of the solution but Greater Manchester needs to have no limit to its ambitions. Every one of those 94 rail stations is a potential catalyst for new homes, places to work, experiential retail, cultural and civic uses as well as high quality, walkable public realm. In short, a completely reimagined and sustainable urban township.
And this certainly should not be at the exclusion of all potential Green Belt or greenfield sites. Sustainable Green Belt locations with good quality public transport nodes remain an important part of the portfolio of sites that will be needed to address the housing shortage, both in the North West and across the UK.
If a Green Belt site has a station close by then there is undoubtedly a case that it will be more sustainable and importantly, more viable and deliverable than a heavily contaminated brownfield site that is not close to existing or planned infrastructure.
Retaining and creating urban green spaces, as well as protecting valuable areas of Green Belt across the Greater Manchester area, should all be part of the long-term vision but a balanced transport orientated development approach is the way forward for plan-making rather than one based on arbitrary Green Belt policy decisions made almost 80 years ago which remain the hottest of political potatoes.
If approved, the region’s local stations and associated land assets will see investment upwards of £400m from the public sector in the coming years and it is the wealth of available data that should be informing how and where this money is spent.
This data will allow planners and developers to answer a broad range of questions from how much value does being near a station add to a property to which stations will provide the greatest social benefits to a community. This data can be used to analyse complex regional areas and help identify patterns and trends, weaknesses and missed opportunities and should be a fundamental part of identifying the next generation of the region’s development projects.
Greater Manchester’s internal transport links across the region and how they are utilised will ultimately be much more important than HS2 as Manchester rethinks its strategic position beyond the UK and Europe. Now is the opportunity to create a stronghold for the best city living and a super competitive region.
There is much to be cheered by the new mayor’s first few days in office and now is the time to be innovative and brave to ensure that we have a fully integrated Manchester fit for the challenges of the 21st century.
Danny Crump is director of urbanism at Broadway Malyan.