South Heywood Russell Homes New Link Road
The mixed-use South Heywood scheme by Russell Homes is the first to come forward in the Northern Gateway, the GMSF's largest employment site

Mixed messages over GMSF future

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

As Greater Manchester looks beyond Covid-19, debate over the long-running creation of its Spatial Framework, the plan to guide development for the next 20 years, has once again reared its head with seemingly contradicting messages from the Mayor’s office and others close to the process.

A report heard at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s latest meeting on 29 May, the first held virtually since the coronavirus outbreak, included minutes from a meeting in February. This stated the GMSF was due to go out for public consultation between June and July to September 2020, with submission of all responses expected by late 2020 or the beginning of 2021 for examination by Government.

Due to lockdown restrictions on meeting, a delay on these timescales was to be expected. Speaking to a senior council officer on Friday, plans are being worked up for sign-off by the 10 Greater Manchester council leaders, which would see the draft go out to consultation between October and January 2021.

Ever since Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham announced his plans to rewrite the draft GMSF when he took the post in 2017, messages from the Mayor’s office have sometimes gone against conversations with staff across the 10 authorities.

In particular, his election promise that the rewritten plan would see no net loss of Green Belt was met with resistance, largely from the northern boroughs who saw strategic green belt release as necessary to fulfil their plans for employment-led development.

Across Rochdale, Oldham and Bury, the Northern Gateway is the largest employment site in the GMSF, with the potential to build 12m sq ft of employment space, and create 10,000 jobs. Despite the Green Belt release needed, councils such as Rochdale have argued this would still only see its Green Belt reduce by 2%.

After sustained arguments between the mayor’s office and various council leaders, the latest draft of the GMSF saw a reduction in Green Belt loss, a downscaling of development plans in some areas, but the retention of major employment sites, such as Northern Gateway.

Burnham had initially pushed back the next wave of consultation into the GMSF until after the mayoral election, which had been due to be held in May 2020. Following coronavirus, this was delayed until 2021, leading to speculation the consultation would be delayed also.

Sources close to the process within the local councils have continued to be insistent the 2020 timescales were broadly being adhered to.

A Covid-related review of the GMSF was reported by the BBC on Friday, however those close to the GMSF have said a review was already scheduled anyway, in order to prepare the document for the subsequent consultation.

However, Burnham told the BBC on Friday the review would reflect the challenges to the economy “with implications to the spatial framework and the five-year delivery plan which sits within it”.

Burnham pointed to the need to use high streets in particular. He said the plan “had to take account of the new reality we are going into”. He confirmed the leaders were committed to progressing with the framework.

A spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority said: “The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is a strategic plan for the whole city-region, and is part of a shared commitment to ensuring that growth benefits all of our people and places.

“The coronavirus pandemic has already had a significant impact on the local economy, and its effects on employment and housing are likely to be felt for some time. For this reason, it is essential that any plan recognises and responds to these new circumstances. Acknowledging these circumstances will be vital to ensuring that Greater Manchester is prepared for the challenges that lay ahead, and that we seize the opportunity to build back in a way that’s better and fairer for all.

“Our focus is on getting the right plan in place, and a revised timescale for consultation will be published as soon as possible.”

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The GMCA and the Mayors office are unfit for purpose … they are using the GMSF as a brake on the economy … time for the shackles to come off !

By round and round

I don’t think this is a surprise if I’m honest.

As soon as the Mayoral and some local elections were moved back because of the pandemic disruption, the smart money was always on the GMSF moving back along with it – since very few politicians are prepared to run on a very pro-growth agenda / plan against the mass ranks of the NIMBY opposition intent on limiting development to hugely difficult and expensive brownfield sites. A shame, but I understand the reasons for it.

If you’re an optimist, you might see this delay as some politicians wanting to get the evidence and courage to run with a pro-growth / pro-jobs agenda in response to the pandemic and the economic issues that will surely follow it.

However, the more cynical might say they are still putting all their eggs in the high density, town centre apartments basket – ignoring all the evidence that there is no market for these town centre apartments outside MCR / Salford; strong town centres health directly correlate with strong office / employment areas (so these should be encouraged); and that recent living with the virus experiences and surveys all show that a decent house with a garden remains the accommodation the majority would prefer given a choice – but of course this means building on some vacant green fields and running directly at the anti-development forces which GM politicians are so scared of.

We all know that the GMSF decisions are difficult for politicians – but I hope they follow the planning and economic evidence and add a bit of social and environmental guardianship, rather than just being led by the politics and votes.

By Depressed Latic

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans

By Mr JW Lennon

We need more roads, but not more buildings

By Dan

@Depressed Latic.

The assumption that there is ‘no demand’ for town centre or edge of town centre housing depends in turn on the assumption that housing developers can’t or won’t innovate. Town centre housing doesn’t just have to mean small 1/2 bed flats. It can mean high density terraced and town houses. It can mean urban apartments with terraces appealing to families. And yes I can also mean the standard apartment typology. Just because there isn’t an established market for town centre housing, doesn’t mean that the market demand cannot be created particularly if it’s done in tandem to improving the town centre offer.

What it needs is a greater role for the public sector to help de-risk development or even developing housing and infrastructure themselves until the market is proven. With the majority of jobs likely to remain in Manchester City Centre, it makes sense to plan for housing growth around major transport nodes.

By Optimistic Man U fan

There is simply no legitimate case for building all of these houses. Why does Britain need 300,000 new houses every year? Women are having fewer children than ever before and Brexit should bring down immigration levels so who exactly is going to live in all of these new houses?

We all know that building houses on the Greenbelt will not bring down prices. The whole point of building on the Greenbelt is to keep house prices high. We all know that these builds will put increasing pressure on our public services, increase traffic and pollution. What’s in it for us? The people driving these developments try to smear communities who want to protect much valued green spaces as NIMBYs but we are not fools! If these houses would benefit our communities then they wouldn’t have to be forced on to us.

For “development” read “destroying”, for “progress” read “profiteering”. The GMSF should just be binned.

By Miranda

The effects of Covid 19 has seen a vast increase in home working this will continue. This will reduce the amount of employment space required, unless of course all the new space is for warehousing of which there is already a vast amount already unoccupied.

By Andy Scanlon

Keep it up. These frameworks enforced on areas as their only real means of exerting control on development (as long as it meets the government’s approval) are keeping people in work, albeit non productive. Especially in the case of greater Manchester.

By Mike

@ By Optimistic Man U fan

Thanks for the interesting comments. Totally agree with your point re: the public sectors role. However, the expected lack of resources they have coming out of the pandemic worries me a tad in relation to their ability to do as you suggest.

Moreover, at a time when there is likely to be a prolonged economic downturn / stagnation, developers (quire understandably) are unlikely to be taking risky punts on outer GM town centre’s. Politicians jusr can’t keep ignoring that there is little / no market for high density dwellings (of all types) in your Wigan, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham and Ashton’s etc currently – and there is not likely to be in the short to medium terms. Survey after survey confirms the public’s preference for the ‘traditional’ house and garden and this appears to have strengthened as we consider the pandemic experience / impact on our lives. As such, this has to be reflected in the GMSF surely if the 10 GM Council’s are serious about meeting their housing needs?

By Depressed Latic

Burnham is just simply incapable. He has bottled it throughout his time in office in respect of the GMSF. COVID is just another of a long list of excuses why he hasn’t managed to get this mess sorted

By Anon

It will never happen! Every council has its own agenda. How many years have we been consulting on this pipedream? Scrap it and go with the local plans. Gmsf just shows one size will never fit all

By George