A cross-borough plan for allocating land for homes and jobs in Greater Manchester is still the right way forward for development, but the setbacks and delays it has faced have caused market uncertainty and deterred investors over the years.
Panellists at a dedicated Place North West event on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and progress to date on the nine boroughs’ alternative plan, named Places for Everyone, agreed that adoption of a joint framework is long overdue following Stockport Council’s departure from the framework last year.
Split across two panels, this event was chaired by Place North West editor Sarah Townsend and publisher Paul Unger and sponsored by Savills, Cowgills, Cratus and VU.CITY.
Given the nature of this event, we have decided to make access to the video recording free. View the video in full below.
Panel one – The window of opportunity Cllr Angeliki Stogia, executive member for environment, planning & transport, Manchester City Council
Rachael Ainscough, group managing director, Ainscough Group
Steve Quartermain, ex-chief planner at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
Jeremy Hinds, director, Savills
Julian Seymour, managing director – planning communication, Cratus
Speakers were keen to emphasise the importance of having a joint plan to facilitate growth across the region.
“It is important to have something to underpin Manchester’s recovery from the pandemic and give confidence to developers,” Stogia said.
Meanwhile, Hinds said that ambitions of levelling up within Greater Manchester “can only be achieved through the creation and implementation of a joint plan”.
Quartermain said the GMSF was about getting “the right development in the right place at the right time”, but conceded that formulating the plan had been more difficult than originally anticipated.
Indeed, the delays to the plan have acted as a deterrent to some developers, warned Ainscough.
“Unfortunately, since the GMSF came about, we haven’t done any business in the area and that has been an active decision,” she said. “Because of the state of flux [as numerous drafts of the document were produced and rejected], there hasn’t been enough confidence for us; there is too much unknown and we need clarity.”
Stogia said “the door is still open” to Stockport if it opts to return to the joint plan it backed out of at the end of 2020 – a decision she described as “slightly terrifying”.
“If Stockport wants to come on board that is great but the window is very narrow and narrowing”, added Hinds.
However, even if the authority didn’t return, it is encouraging that the other nine councils have found a way to keep the plan alive, he said.
As a delegate at the event, David Meller, cabinet member for economy & regeneration at Stockport Council, was invited to the stage to answer two questions posed by the chair. He admitted that the “colourful” political make-up of the council had made GMSF negotiations difficult. A u-turn on its decision to withdraw might not be the best option, he added.
“The ‘plan of nine’ authorities is absolutely the right thing for Greater Manchester and I am glad that is still happening.
“If we come back in, it might hold things up and the last thing we would want to do is hold back the plan.”
Responding to Meller’s reference to political wrangling in Stockport, Quartermain said that elected councillors should remember that their role is one of a “conduit”.
“Of course, they have a role in representing their communities but they also have a role in carrying the message to the community about why we are doing things a certain way,” he said.
“Too often, I see elected members thinking their role is only to represent the community and sometimes you have to go the other way and explain to people the thinking behind certain strategies.”
Ainscough backed the Government’s proposed planning reforms but raised concerns about how the changes would be implemented and questioned whether local authorities would be able to cope with an increased workload.
“The principal is fantastic but I worry about the mechanics,” she said.
Seymour, too, said he was not convinced by the Government’s proposed reforms, laid out in its planning reform white paper last year, but said a focus on creating more beautiful developments, while subjective, could go some way towards getting people on board.
However, he also laid out concerns about the Government’s proposed shift towards so-called ‘permissions in principle’ and the effect those changes could have on the democracy of the planning process.
“One of the things local people worry about is not having a say. How do you factor in consultation when you are going from zero to what is effectively an outline planning permission?”
Presentation – Going digital
VU.CITY is an interactive 3D ‘smart city’ mapping platform, capable of mapping towns and cities to assist the public and private sectors formulate placemaking proposals.
Alex Tosetti, chief commercial officer at VU.CITY, told delegates the programme could help speed up the planning process, de-risk projects from the outset, and add another layer of detail to public consultations.
“Citizen engagement is important in terms of getting people on board. Digital [tools] will speed things up and make the process easier…there are signs of take-up and adoption in the public and private sector,” he said.
As well as providing detailed “digital twins” of towns and cities, information on sunlight, massing and the socioeconomic make-up of the area can be overlayed to give additional detail to users about a particular area .
In Rochdale, which Tosetti said has been an early adopter of his company’s technology, VU.CITY is working with the council’s development agency to support its town centre regeneration ambitions.
Tosetti added that the 20-year North East Corridor project, part of the wider Rochdale plan, could be delivered more quickly using digital planning at various stages of the project from consultation to marketing completed properties.
Panel two – Fresh delivery: towards a stronger plan
Steve Rumbelow, chief executive, Rochdale Council
Russell Drummond, land director, Lovell
Alex Tosetti, chief commercial officer, VU.CITY
David Rainford, head of property finance, Cowgills
Caroline Hanratty, partner, Mills & Reeve
Like Ainscough previously, speakers on the second panel said some developers had been put off investing in Greater Manchester due to the uncertainty caused by the protracted GMSF process.
While he admitted he was in favour of the joint plan, Drummond said that Lovell had shifted its focus away from Greater Manchester to some degree, preferring instead to look for opportunities elsewhere.
“For a lot of developers, the focus has been on looking at areas where there is more certainty. [The GMSF] has caused a bit of a development hiatus.
“We are all in favour of a plan-led system but there is a degree of scepticism now about how and when this plan might actually deliver on its aims,” he said.
However, Rumbelow said Drummond’s comments did not ring true based on data he had seen, adding that the “unprecedented scale” of the plan had made it difficult to create in practice.
“This is a big plan that will stir people’s hearts and get the development industry interested,” he said.
Rainford agreed with Drummond, however, claiming that developers are getting increasingly frustrated about ongoing delays, while Hanratty said delays were prompting clients seeking long-term strategic projects to “avoid” Greater Manchester, which in turn was stifling growth.
“People are frustrated, as am I, but we will get there and there will be a massive demand off the back of it,” Rumbelow responded.
“[The joint-plan] is very much about ensuring Greater Manchester is one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old. If anything, we need this plan more now than ever because we are facing a recovery from a year-long global pandemic,” he added.
Referring to the controversy surrounding Stockport’s decision to withdraw from the plan, Rainford expressed his hope that the latest iteration of the framework, comprising the remaining nine boroughs, would advance unscathed.
“The whole point of the GMSF is that it is for the greater good of all the boroughs and if councillors go into the discussions with that spirit, hopefully we can avoid the politics that caused Stockport to leave,” he said.
“It’s all about confidence and delivering now. I hope that the parties driving it get on board with that and put party politics aside.”
Much of the contention over the plan in Stockport was over the potential loss of Green Belt land, but Rumbelow said only 3.1% of the borough’s Green Belt would be released under current proposals for the new Places for Everyone.
Indeed, Rumbelow said the plan would look largely the same as it had before Stockport’s withdrawal but that housing allocations would have to be rethought to allow for a 35% uplift in Greater Manchester’s requirement, imposed by the Government more recently.
Meanwhile, Hanratty said the “incredibly emotive” issue of Green Belt was sometimes blown out of proportion and more attention should be given to making sure communities have the amenities required to support increasing numbers of residents.
“If all of the pressure caused by housing numbers is taken by Salford and Manchester, will the need for amenity be able to keep up? There are no plans to build schools in central Manchester yet we are expecting that more people will live there.”
Tosetti agreed, adding that the basis of any good plan is infrastructure and social amenity. “The volume of development in Manchester is tremendous, but is there sufficient amenity and infrastructure to go with it?” he said.
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