NW 2015: Clarity tops wish list

With Christmas fast approaching, it seems a perfect time to take stock of this year's strategic planning issues affecting our sector in and around the North West and look ahead to my ideal 2015, writes Dan Mitchell.

Never mind aftershave and socks, all I want for Christmas is:

1. Clear benefits of HS2 and HS3 for the region

Almost two years ago the Government signalled its intention to press ahead in earnest with HS2. The rationale behind the announcement was that there was a pressing need to equalise the disparity between economic growth in the north and the south. To be frank, in the intervening two years, not a lot has happened, apart from the chairman's report in October which effectively gave the thumbs up to the project.

What the report set out, was the need for east-west connections across the north to maximise the impact of HS2. Hey presto! HS3 was conceived, a high speed link between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and York. HS3 is of equal significance for the north, with some critics simply saying HS2 will draw the best talent to the south rather than vice versa. Therefore, I'm keenly awaiting the announcement of HS3 early next year. What I'd really like to see is more details and effort being put into showcasing what the benefits of this will bring and an effective, sustainable delivery timetable, because as with HS2, it is a long way off a spade being put in the ground, let alone tunnels under the Pennines.

2. Cheshire East to accept that it needs a new proper Local Plan

Literally, like waiting for Christmas. Four years in the planning and £3.7m of taxpayers' money spent, yet the long wait for the Cheshire East Local Plan goes on. For the council, 2014 offered something of a reality check; for the development industry it brought further frustration. 2015 offers a new opportunity – the council now needs to listen, engage, and positively prepare a Local Plan informed by robust evidence which reflects its growth rhetoric. That is the hope! The reality is that the tests of soundness and value for money will be under even greater scrutiny than ever before. Needless to say all eyes will remain firmly fixed on Cheshire East as we enter the New Year.

3. The GMSF programme and the need for a review of the Green Belt across Greater Manchester

Not expected until 2018, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will form a statutory part of the development plan for the ten individual local authorities in Greater Manchester when adopted. Even though this is optimistic, its influence is already being felt across Greater Manchester with a number of local authorities having abandoned their local plans and site allocations development plan documents due to uncertainty over the impact of the GMSF. Greater Manchester is tightly constrained by Green Belt, particularly in the south, where land values are higher. In order to meet the aspirations of the GMSF in terms of employment growth and the need to house the additional workers, a strategic Green Belt review seems inevitable. The fun will really start when it comes to distributing the growth down the individual local authorities and when local politics kicks in.

4. Greater clarity on the devolution plans

'Devo Manc' as it is termed, was escalated to political prominence following events north of the border in 2014, but a similar pace of clarity must follow in the New Year in terms of how it will deliver. Devolved powers will give greater control over transport and infrastructure, planning and housing growth, potentially paving the way for a more coordinated and efficient approach to three strands of governance that have the greatest potential to impact on economic performance. It is difficult to understand at this stage, however, whether this has come at a good or bad time for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

The GM Mayor will be elected 2017 with the GMSF proposed to be adopted early 2018. The Mayor will almost certainly want to put his or her stamp on spatial planning, but it could well be too late, especially when the Major will need unanimous support from the GMCA to press through any spatial planning proposals. Will the Greater Manchester Combined Authority be happy to ditch, delay or at least significantly amend the outcome of over three years' of hard work in favour of the aspirations of the new Mayor?

Dan Mitchell is partner and head of planning consultancy Barton Willmore's Manchester team.

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