GM Update Second Half Panellist Screenshot

GM Development Update: post-pandemic outlook | Summary

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Covid-19, while a challenge, should be viewed as an opportunity to shape the future of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs and drive meaningful development, public and private sector experts told a Place North West event. 

The event was sponsored by LUC, JMW, Curtins and Morgan Sindall Construction, and hosted by editor Sarah Townsend. The line-up of high-profile speakers included senior officials from Wigan, Trafford, Rochdale and Stockport councils, developers Investar, Muse Developments and Glenbrook, law firm JMW and planning consultancy LUC. 

The event was the second in a new Place North West conference format, using a platform called Remo that enables networking on digital ‘tables’, as well as many other features. 

A video recording of the event is available here.

GM Update Horizontal Logo 2020

Key questions 

  • What can local authorities do to encourage private sector investment?
  • What makes a fruitful public/private partnership and how can these relationships survive the pandemic?
  • How can Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs respond to changing trends in town centre movements and amenities on the back of Covid-19?

Main takeaways 

  • Contracts between public and private sector clients should be signed and then put on the shelf, if you pick up the contract at the first time of trouble, the partnership is not the right one
  • The Green Belt should be made to “work harder” – retained but viewed as a tool for creating better developments, rather than as a means of blocking them
  • Most development plans and deals already in the works have continued, whereas those that had not yet begun may be reviewed and tweaked in response to market changes

Panel discussion 1 – Where next for Greater Manchester?

Melissa Kurihara, associate director of planning, LUC 

Alison McKenzie-Folan, chief executive, Wigan Council 

Chris Lloydinvestment director, Glenbrook 

John Searle, director of economy, Rochdale Council 

GM Update 2020 First Half Panellist Screenshot

John Searle said Rochdale has been trying to play a proactive part in the growth of Greater Manchester rather than waiting for “breadcrumbs” from the combined authority. 

In order to do this, the council has to look to the private sector for support and Searle spoke of the importance of developers being open in discussions in terms of what they want to achieve from their projects – including profit. 

“Some developers think local authorities look at profit as a dirty word,” he said. “It’s not. Be an open book with us. We will help you to get that development delivered.”

Chris Lloyd said that the oversupply of retail space in Greater Manchester creates an opportunity to build more offices, which he said would stand the test of Covid despite current uncertainty as to the future of workspace.

“Covid is a bump in the road but not something that is going to reverse 100 years of urbanisation. Everyone has a vested interest in offices succeeding over the next 50 years,” he said.

Lloyd predicted there could be a forthcoming spike in new office accommodation in GM towns based on current plans in the pipeline, and warned developers and authorities to act quickly to take advantage of opportunities.

Capital & Centric Rochdale

Rochdale has teamed up with Capital & Centric to deliver 200 homes close to the train station

Melissa Kurihara noted that the planning system is often seen as a barrier to development but the “radical reforms” proposed by housing secretary Robert Jenrick last month could change this. 

However, she warned that, while the purpose of the reforms is to speed things up, the changes could bring initial uncertainty that may actually slow down planning processes in the short term. 

Kurihara also predicted that conversations around green infrastructure would “come to the fore” as a result of the pandemic and people’s experiences during lockdown, when they may have had a greater need for green, open spaces. 

Alison McKenzie-Folan said Wigan is very much open for development and its “ambitions remain unchanged” from before the pandemic. 

In particular, Wigan has too much retail space amid a “recognition that consumer trends have completely changed”, she added.  “The diversification of what we can offer and the consolidation of retail in town centres is really important.” 

Presentation – Making the Green Belt work

GM Green Belt LUC

A total of 47% of land in GM is classed as Green Belt. according to LUC

Lucy Wallwork and Melissa Kurihara of environmental planning, design and management consultancy LUC said that, given the scale of growth in Greater Manchester, it is “likely” that some of the area’s designated Green Belt – which makes up 47% of land allocations in Greater Manchester – will be looked at as a way of bringing forward development. 

The objective, therefore, should be about making the Green Belt “work harder” to create better developments so that it can enhance development and it does not represent a loss of green space and green infrastructure, they said.

“The Green Belt and the controversy around it, has been at heart of the [Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’s] journey since its inception. But the need for housing and employment development is not going away and the Green Belt should be looked as an opportunity rather than as a barrier to development,” Kurihara said. 

The key, LUC believes, is green infrastructure planning and enhancing the Green Belt’s “beneficial uses”. 

“The Green Belt is going to be the playground for people living in regenerated areas where development is focussed. A lot of what is driving people to those places in having access to green space on their doorsteps,” Wallwork said. 

GM Green Belt LUC 2

The Green Belt has caused controversy since preparation of the GMSF first began. c.LUC

Panel discussion 2 – Public/private strategies for town centre regeneration

Michael Dong, chief executiveInvestar Property Group  

Richard Roe, corporate director of place, Trafford Council 

Thomas Pearson, partner, JMW Solicitors 

Paul Richards, director of development and regeneration, Stockport Council, and chief executive of Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation 

Maggie Grogan, senior development surveyor, Muse Developments 

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Maggie Grogan said contracts between public and private sector clients should be signed and then “put on the shelf” and any problems that arise, for instance because of project delays due to Covid, should be dealt with without the need for litigation. 

“If you are having to reach for your contract off the shelf, the partnership is probably failing. [If the partnership is strong], you don’t go back to that contract very often. It is signed and put on the shelf and you crack on,” she said. 

Grogan added that parties have to be aligned in their views and ambitions for a project to be successful. 

Richard Roe agreed with Grogan on the issue of public/private partnerships. “If you are immediately going to fall back on a contractual position and say we are going to enforce [a clause] now, then you should question if that is the right partnership anyway,” he said. The conversation was in response to a question about whether so-called ‘Covid clauses’ in development contracts would become increasingly common in future as parties seek to protect their interests should timeframes slip and other unforeseen scheme changes take place because of a pandemic or other extenuating circumstances.  

Roe added that Covid has forced Trafford Council to rethink its planned regeneration of the Grafton Centre in Altrincham town centre, perhaps shelving it for now. At the same time, however, the council has approved more residential schemes in the last six months than in the six months before the pandemic. 

Often, the private sector is looking for the public sector to take the lead in terms of development by buying up assets that could be converted or refurbished through a partnership between a developer and the local authority. These types of joint venture will remain crucial for bringing forward quality development in the coming months and years. 

Thomas Pearson said the virtual and other planning processes that local authorities have adopted throughout lockdown are a case of “needs must” but that many of JMW’s clients have welcomed the streamlined approach in terms of maintaining momentum. 

“I am all for having more clarity in the planning system to allow development, where it is appropriate, and getting things on site quicker,” he said. 

He added that the rapid and healthy development momentum seen in Greater Manchester prior to the pandemic was “on pause” rather than stopped altogether, and that the industry should use Covid as a “springboard” to move forward.

Paul Richards said the regeneration of Stockport town centre, led by the council’s Mayoral Development Corporation, is continuing apace. 

The MDC’s development strategy, drawn up ahead of its launch 12 months ago, was based on green credentials, sustainability and localism, and that these factors are more important now than ever before. 

Stockport has a total of 1,100 homes in the pipeline, of the 3,500 it plans to build over the next 15 years and Richards said there is “massive investor appetite” for schemes across the borough’s available residential sites.

Michael Dong, whose firm is working alongside Stockport Council to deliver a £65m mixed-use redevelopment of the former Stockport Collegedescribed the best public/private development partnership as a healthy “marriage”. 

“You have to start with the right mindset and values. Developers look for councils with clear direction and strategies,” he said.  

“Private companies going into a partnership shouldn’t focus on profit. The focus has to be on getting the job done. If you do the right things, the profit will come anyway as a bonus,” he said.

Dong added that the quickest way to get the economy back on its feet is through construction and development. “We saw it after world wars and we’ll see it post-Covid. We need these big schemes to start kicking off.”

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If this Covid has proved anything, it is the sheer pointlessness of Metro mayors and Devolution in England’s conurbations. The decisions are still being made by Westminster and Rotherham and Burnham are conspicuous by their absence. In contrast to Wales and Scotland where decisions have been made locally and their leaders have kept their constituents well-informed, we in the North West with a population equal to Wales and Scotland are ignored. How does GM’S devolved NHS work then? If at a time of a pandemic those in charge of it say nothing and are led by the hopeless Matt Hancock. Sturgeon does daily briefings on the BBC, Burnham and Rotherham occasionally appear on Granada reports.Is this Devolution or Toytown government?

By Elephant

Burnham has been all over national TV right throughout the crisis. If anything he’s proving the value of devolution, standing up to central diktat and pointing out – to great effect – the often perverse effects and damage it’s causing. For example, the manifest failings of the centrally led test and trace system and the ridiculous, politically motivated decision to lift lockdown restrictions in Trafford and Bolton.

If anything the failings of the centralised state have become even more obvious and Burnham in particular has proven himself to be a heavyweight and effective presence in highlighting them. Hopefully this should help make the case for MORE devolution to address the areas where central ministries still cling, desperately into their levers of power.

By Devo-MAX

Elephant – if you’ve not seen any of Andy Burnham’s input on covid-19 over the past 6 months (indeed, several government u-turns seemingly in direct response to his interventions) then I’m not sure what you’ve been looking at.

By and by

He has not done a daily press conference like Nicola Sturgeon. That is my point.

By Elephant

Andy Burnham has been on tv news channels everyday sometimes 3times a day. He is very vocal and he is always voicing his opinion. He is also on various local radio stations every week. He is a good person and very down to earth guy and when you ask him a question he doesn’t dodge the question…

By Darren born bred Salford

Give Elephant a break, he puts over a valid point. English people are watching Sturgeon wishing that she lead the Northwest. Thats not to knock Rotherham or Burnham, but it does show the difference of real devolution. We dont have that in the NW.

By Billy

Andy Burnham works for Greater Manchester. Greater Manchester has a strong metro mayor and overall leadership.

By The Dale

It’s not a valid point at all. Saying devolution is ‘pointless’ by comparing two very different roles (a national leader and a city leader) makes no sense at all. If anything it strengthens the case for more devolution to our cities not less.

By Devo-MAX

Dear Mr Elephant,
Yes, we need less democracy not more. Let London civil servants and a handful of policians (never had a proper job) and their favorite advisors (never done owt, but know it all), run an industrialized country of 65 million. Who needs local knowledge, local experience, knows local needs and, worst of all, local people running their own communities and lives. Rule by a few CEOs and a handful of politicians who somehow magically know all answers to all problems is all we need: Why almost all successful countries are federations or con-federations is pure coincidence, right?

By James Yates

I guess we need to join the dots here – if we feel we could do a better job, if we feel we have the better ideas and good local leadership then we need to argue for a different constitutional settlement in England. Without being overly party political that’s not how the Tories think about the problem, at least now Osbourne has moved on, and the Labour Party at the national level has yet to grasp this – Starmer might be different. Might also want to reflect on some of the Liverpool-Manchester trash-talk on this forum, they will never give us our due for as long as we carry on like that.

By Rich X

Most people recognise that Sturgeon is knocking spots off Johnson in her handling of the Covid crisis but to compare her status as the First Minister of Scotland with that of a regional mayor is ridiculous. Burnham is handling things well given his limited powers the real issue is that he and his fellow regional mayors need more power not less.

By Monty

I think thats part of the point Elephant was making……they may be good and all….but they dont have much real power….and so cannot get many things done that they may wish too. London always has the final say; its all a bit daft when the population of the NW exceeds that of Scotland.

By Billy