Discussion around the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and whether it should be approved, rewritten or scrapped dominated the discussion in the first hustings between the three main candidates competing to become the city region’s Mayor.
More than 300 people from across the property community heard the views of Sean Anstee, Conservative candidate and leader of Trafford Council; Andy Burnham, Labour candidate and MP for Leigh; and Jane Brophy, Liberal Democrat councillor for Timperley, in a GM Mayoral Debate organised by Place North West, in association with Lovell Partnerships, Iceni Projects and PPS Group.
Plan for growth
The Mayor will oversee the delivery of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, a 20-year blueprint for development currently in draft form, which includes proposals for extensive housing development and green belt release.
While Burnham agreed that a plan was necessary and supported the housing figures proposed, he maintained that the framework in its current form didn’t deliver enough for Greater Manchester.
“Building according to the current framework doesn’t give a variety of homes we need. Transport is not integrated, it puts too many cars on the road, and it’s not ambitious enough for industry, it’s too dependent on warehouses, and we can aim higher.” If left with the plan in its current form, Burnham said it risked creating “decaying town centres surrounded by urban sprawl”.
He said: “It’s got to be the right plan and taking people with it, there’s no point pushing a plan that people are rejecting, and they’re right to have issues with it.”
Brophy went further: “The spatial framework needs to be rewritten, it’s currently a top down approach. Green belt development is not the way forward, it needs to be more discerning and unlock brownfield sites first, that just need a bit more Government incentive. We should build upwards where we have infrastructure already in place. My party is calling for the GMSF to be scrapped, as it isn’t delivering for the people of Greater Manchester.”
No political football
As leader of Trafford Council, Anstee has been instrumental in the creation of the plan so far. He defended the draft, and said: “The spatial framework is critical to the future of Greater Manchester. GMSF is not going to go away, it is with us for 20 years and needs to be flexible enough to work with a changing economy. The framework needs tough decisions, and every day we avoid a decision, or talk about rewriting, we’re letting down the people of the city, and not giving them the transport or the homes they need.”
He criticised Burnham’s plans to rewrite the framework: “The same issues will arise again. At the heart is the leadership of the plan, some people will object no matter what we do. We owe it to the 20,000 people who responded to do something with this plan. Let’s not make it a race to the bottom and use it as a political football.”
No Northern Powerhouse without better rail
When it came to the transport, all the candidates were clear that they wanted to deliver more for the city region.
Burnham said: “Metrolink is good in Manchester but not good enough. It goes back to the North/South divide. For every £1 spent in Manchester on transport there is £6 spent in London. If London had what we have there would be riots in the streets.
“The Government must commit to West-East rail to connect the great cities. There cannot be a Northern Powerhouse without better rail.”
To rebalance the economy, Brophy proposed moving the centre of power to the North: “We should move Westminster to the North while its being redeveloped. We need to think about new investment in the UK, but also within our city region. We need to keep strong links to the EU, and stay in the single market, to ensure proper investment in Greater Manchester.
“With HS2 being built from Birmingham to Manchester, why aren’t both ends happening at the same time, we need to bring it forward.”
Make Manchester better
Anstee was firm that delivering the spatial framework was integral to bridging the North-South divide. “We will make the UK stronger by making Manchester even better. We are not inhibited by some of the things that hold London back, we have our own assets. The ambition needs to be that people will look at us and say ‘how did you do that? We want some of that.’”
In response to a suggestion that taking the role of Greater Manchester Mayor could be seen as simply a strategic career move, Burnham defended himself: “If I was a career politician, I’d have stayed in Westminster. I’ve become disillusioned with how our political system works. There’s a Southern bias, and there’s only so much you can achieve as one voice amongst 650 with a bias within the M25.”
After the election on 4 May, the winner will chair the combined authority, seeking agreement across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester over decisions around transport, planning, spending and driving economic policy.
When asked how he would bring about agreement, Anstee pointed out he had already been doing it: “I’m the only conservative in a group of 10 leaders, our own self-interest is not driving the process but bringing about change for Greater Manchester.”
Brophy stressed that the Mayor would need to do more than unite the 10 council leaders, but a wider breadth of people across health and social care, policing, and planning.
Burnham paid tribute to the work that Anstee had already done in unifying Greater Manchester, alongside the city region’s other long-term leaders: “We need to build on the foundations laid by Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese to move the city forward. But it’s not just about the leaders; devolution has so far been in a closed room, and the challenge now is to make it owned by the people of Greater Manchester, so everyone feels a part of it.”