The “dysfunctionality” of Westminister is impacting Greater Manchester’s delivery of its spatial framework, according to Mayor Andy Burnham – however the Home Builders Federation has said the Mayor is “reluctant to prioritise” the 20-year development document.
Debate around the future of devolution, and the delivery of Greater Manchester’s planning powers in the form of the delayed Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, came up repeatedly at fringe events at the Conservative Party Conference this week.
Placing the blame squarely on the Government’s shoulders, Burnham told Place North West: “The dysfunctionality of Westminster has impacted us; we’ve been waiting for regulations and still are.
“When we made a change to Green Belt, because we didn’t hit [the Government’s] arbitrary target on housing figures, they removed the housing deal so we can’t develop the brownfield land we wanted to unlock. It’s a frustration that we’ve been the victim of that.”
Burnham defended his approach to the GMSF, and said: “Devolved powers doesn’t mean exercising them in a Westminster way. It’s not about top down, pulling the lever on people. In the last two years I’ve learned a lot about how bottom up change works better, as you involve more people and gain consensus, which is important particularly when it comes to planning.”
Last month saw confirmation of a further delay to the GMSF, ruling out any final form coming forward before the May 2020 mayoral elections. The evolution of the document over the past five years has seen the numbers of homes drop from 230,000 to 201,000, and a reduction in the proposed use of Green Belt land. Some Green Belt release is still required, and the latest delay hinges on the Combined Authority’s decision to pursue the GMSF as a Spatial Development Strategy, a type of legislation which does not allow for Green Belt release. The GMCA had been attempting to convince Whitehall to allow them to still be able to release Green Belt, but this has met with resistance. Under a different form of document, the GMCA will be required to submit further evidence, which it does not have.
Speaking at a Housing the Powerhouse fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference, James Stevens, director of cities for the Home Builders Federation, said the mayor was “reluctant to prioritise the GMSF” and that he backed the Government’s decision to take back the £68m housing fund after the GMSF targets were scaled down.
“I actually think the Government made the right decision in pulling the housing deal. Authorities shouldn’t be rewarded with public funding in order to just deliver the minimum number of 201,000 homes.”
According to Stevens there is an “unwillingness from leaders across the North to bite the difficult bullet of housing”, largely due to having to face the tricky issue of Green Belt release in order to deliver homes.
Also on the panel, Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, suggested “the GMSF experiment hasn’t yet worked, because money hasn’t been put against it to make it work.”
“The original money in that housing deal was nowhere near enough to enable Greater Manchester to deliver the type of urban regeneration we need.
“If you’re not given the resources to build on brownfield land, and so can only build on greenfield, of course you’re going to push back on housing numbers.”