View of Manchester from Werneth Low p.PNW

Places for Everyone will map out where homes and jobs are created across nine GM boroughs. Credit: via PNW

Political pressure could cause ‘disintegration’ of GM joint plan 

The government’s proposed changes to the way local councils calculate housing need could spell trouble for Places for Everyone, according to the region’s consultants. 

While the examination of the draft document continues, Michael Gove’s decision to cave to backbench pressure and dilute local authority housing targets has galvanised opponents to the joint plan. 

Read more about what the proposed reforms could mean for the planning process at large

Bury MP James Daly last week wrote to council leader Eamonn O’Brien demanding that the authority pull out of Places for Everyone, which, if adopted, will map out where homes and jobs are created across nine Greater Manchester boroughs. 

A pair of Rochdale councillors have also waded in, calling for all proposed Green Belt release within the plan to be scrapped. 

Fearing the worst

“Unfortunately, I fear that politics will continue to drive the planning process down the wrong route,” said Nick Lee, managing director of NJL Planning. 

“The pressure on both Bury and Rochdale may be too much and lead to the disintegration of Places for Everyone.” 

After Stockport Council pulled out of the plan in 2020 following a revolt by Conservative and Lib Dem members, the other boroughs decided to forge ahead as a group of nine. 

The plan survived Stockport’s withdrawal but Michael Gove’s proposed planning reforms, which will be consulted on before being enacted, have cast yet more doubt on Places for Everyone. 

The worry among the region’s planning consultants is that if another council decides to pull out, it could spark a domino effect and leave the long-awaited strategy in tatters. 

“The progress that has been made with the GMSF, now PfE, glacial though it has been, has relied upon a very fragile political consensus,” said Sam Stafford, planning director at the Housebuilders Federation. 

“The government’s intervention would appear to make maintaining that consensus even harder to achieve.” 

If the plan does fall through, NJL’s Lee believes it will signify “an abject failure of political responsibility to take planning seriously enough”.  

“The future growth of the North West depends directly upon a forward-thinking, investment-conscious approach to planning, and politicians need to get a grip upon reality.” 

Holding firm

For now, the examination of the Places for Everyone draft plan will continue. The GMCA is eager to point out that the proposed changes to national planning policy are yet to be adopted. 

In a statement, the GMCA said: “The nine districts note that the Written Ministerial Statement [issued by Michael Gove] sets out proposals for consultation rather than immediate changes to government policy. 

“Consequently, the inspectors have been clear that the examination of Places for Everyone will continue under extant policy unless and until such time as this policy changes.” 

However, Stafford points out that the damage may have already been done. 

“Whilst [the proposed reform] remains for consultation, the government has made it quite clear that LPAs will be able to plan for a lower [housing] figure regardless of how it is calculated and…that housing need does not justify Green Belt release.”  

He added: “This would be significant enough for LPAs at the start of the local plan process, but the government makes clear that LPAs at an advanced stage of plan-making can take a step back and take these new factors into account.” 

Green Belt gripes

The most contentious element of the joint plan is the amount of Green Belt earmarked for release. 

Indeed, it was concerns about development on protected land that prompted Stockport to pull out of the plan two years ago. 

The draft that is currently under examination by planning inspectors proposes a 3.3% reduction in Greater Manchester’s Green Belt during the plan period. 

Anna Relph, director at Turley, is optimistic the nine boroughs will hold firm on this. 

“The Green Belt is constraining economic growth, deepening the housing crisis and increasing inequality,” she said. 

“The extensive evidence base prepared by the PfE authorities demonstrates this, and also demonstrates that the sites selected for allocation are sustainable and capable of being developed. 

“It would be incredibly difficult for LPAs to do a U-turn on this.” 

It’s all political

The politicisation of the planning system is nothing new. As Savills associate director Jonathan Ainley points out: 2021 saw the adoption of the fewest new plans nationally for 10 years. 

Ainley admits that Gove’s proposed planning reforms “certainly won’t add to a sense of optimism in the industry around plan-making”. 

However, Ainley is hopeful that Places for Everyone makes it to the finish line after all. 

“Significant political capital, time, and no little public money have been invested into Places for Everyone, and the two GMSF iterations before it, making it a commitment unlikely to be discarded lightly.” 

The current uncertainty has shades of late-2020 when Stockport withdrew from the joint plan, Ainley added. 

“Then, as now, there was a potential political ‘out’ for the remaining nine authorities – none chose to take it on that occasion.” 

Your Comments

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Just thoughtful on the political calculation here. How well will the Tories and Lib Dem’s perform in the 2023 elections, and will Labour strengthen its position in both councils. My guess is yes, and so will they make the call to tough this out. Rochdale, in particular needs the housing and the employment land as part of its regeneration strategy.

By Rich X

5 years to late. The GMSF should have been up and running 5 years ago. The region has been disadvantaged by political positioning, delaying much needed homes and employment spaces. Very disappointing.


Incredible ham-fisted stuff from central government. NIMBY-ism as government policy.

By Sceptic

We’ve got to stop dilly dallying and get on with it. We need investment, employment space and more houses. We can’t keep delaying! It’s so frustrating.


If only GMSF had sought to identify land that was actually needed for housing, rather than pursue a developer led green belt grab, it could have been implemented years ago. Bolton refused to allow green belt allocations, Stockport pulled out over green belt allocations and now Bury and Rochdale have issues related to the green belt…

By Anonymous

Had the GMCA, and thus the original ten councils have chosen not to include Green Belt for development, the GMSF, as was, would have sailed through.
Green Belt has been THE issue all along.

By Anonymous

Developers have brought this upon themselves through their absolute inability to produce attractive, well-designed homes.

By Matthew Jones

Rochdale still backing P4E as per committee meeting last week so can’t see what all the fuss is about. Atom valley needs to be delivered

By anonymous

Political interference right from the start has wrecked the whole original concept of the GMSF process. Local politicians do not want to do anything that risks their re-election prospects, the prosperity divide between the Northern (and particularly North-Eastern) and Southern districts of Greater Manchester is going to grow wider and people’s ambitions to move to the Southern areas will grow stronger. The whole matter would have been better considered and delivered by an Independent Development Commission similar to the bodies that the country had in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

By K. W.

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