Councillors last night voted to postpone a decision on whether to approve the Greater Manchester spatial strategy, asking for a further “two to three weeks” to build consensus among opposition groups.
Earlier this month, the leaders of all 10 Greater Manchester councils supported in principal the latest draft of the delayed framework, intended to map areas for future development and support post-Covid economic recovery in the period to 2037.
However, the draft document then required final sign-off from each of the authorities once they had debated its contents in detail. An eight-week public consultation is scheduled to take place once after that.
At the time the latest draft was published, in October, the consultation was due to take place between 1 December 2020 and 26 January 2021. This looks set to be delayed now that Stockport Council has asked for several more weeks to decide on its position following an inconclusive meeting of councillors last night.
The council is facing opposition to proposals contained within the GMSF to release some allocated Green Belt sites across the borough for development. Controversial proposals for Stockport in the strategy include 1,700 homes in Heald Green, 500 in High Lane and 750 homes at Woodford Aerodrome.
Cllr Elise Wilson, leader of Stockport Council, told last night’s virtual extraordinary council meeting that she wanted to “work constructively” with councillors who opposed certain elements of the GMSF.
“It is absolutely right that the people elected to represent their wards speak up and fight for what they believe is the right outcome for their residents,” she said.
“And if I’m approached to engage in constructive and appropriate engagement and conversation to make sure we do that, then this is exactly what we should be doing.
“As leader of the council, it’s incumbent on me to listen and do what I can about that.”
Councillors voted 37 to 26 in favour of Cllr Wilson’s proposal to defer the decision for another two to three weeks to build consensus among various local groups including Stockport Conservatives and Independent parties.
A joint statement from Cllr Wilson and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “This is a welcome decision and we would like to thank the Conservative and Independent groups for taking this constructive approach.
“This extra time will enable us to make further changes to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework that address the concerns raised by Stockport residents and councillors. While this will not be a long delay, it is important that we make the plan as good as it can possibly be.”
The most recent draft of the GMSF was the third iteration of the much-delayed document. Although it shrinks proposed Green Belt release across Greater Manchester by 60% compared to proposals in the first edition of the document in 2016, Stockport Conservative Group claims the plan still identifies seven sites in Stockport’s Green Belt, earmarked for the construction of around 3,000 homes.
The group says Green Belt release “is not right for Stockport” and is calling for a blanket brownfield-first approach to development.
Cllr Mike Hurleston, leader of Stockport Conservatives, said: “We have always been clear that as Conservatives we want to protect the Green Belt in Stockport, have a brownfield-first policy and secure the best deal possible for Stockport.
“We have a long record of working constructively, have engaged at all points and made our own recommendations. We are not against a joint plan providing it is the right plan. This isn’t just about numbers – this is a quality of life issue for our residents.”
“It is a shame this has come so late in the day because our position has been the same since the start. However, we have secured this reprieve for the Green Belt and we will now work hard to get a plan that works and delivers on Green Belt commitments and infrastructure.
“If the GMSF falls it won’t be down to us because we will have explored every possible avenue and engaged for our residents. All options remain on the table, and we will only vote for GMSF if we believe it represents a good deal for Stockport.”