Andy Burnham’s rail station failure is bad news for GMSF
Slipped into the middle of Andy Burnham’s transport speech last week was a surprising announcement. The Mayor of Greater Manchester revealed that the city’s bid to take control of its rail stations had failed.
The original bid, Burnham said, had been rejected in the summer. A follow-up bid for a trial of taking over 12 stations was also unsuccessful.
This announcement puts a brake on Burnham’s plans to both improve and better exploit the station buildings. Some of this exploitation would be commercial (having more retail units in our smaller stations, for example). Others might be non-commercial. A station might have a drop-in centre to see a nurse, or community facilities.
Problems for GMSF
But it will also cause problems for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), currently some two years behind its original schedule.
When Burnham came in as Mayor, he took the same view on the GMSF as many other commentators and campaigners. That first draft of the plan, he said, had too much building on the Green Belt. Too much green space would be lost, too much urban sprawl created, generating too much pollution from all those commuting by car.
The answer, Burnham and others have argued, is to focus on higher-density building around transport hubs. This is a sensible approach. Clearly not all the new housing need can be met in this way, but more can be than was proposed in the original GMSF draft.
If you live near a transport hub, you will have shops, cafes and other services within easy walking distance. When you do need to travel further, there’s a better chance it will be by public transport or cycling. You are more likely to choose not to own a car, or at least to own one car instead of two or three.
But these sorts of urban sites tend to be complex to develop. Stations may have under-used land or derelict buildings around them, but they are unlikely to have green fields. Chances are the land will not all be in the same ownership. Putting together a coherent masterplan to develop the area around a station is a hard slog. And Network Rail are notoriously poor at working effectively with local councils in the way that’s needed.
That means fewer homes will be built around stations, leaving more that have to be built elsewhere, including on the Green Belt. We may get a clue about just how much of difference it will make when the second GMSF draft comes out next summer.
The Government’s rejection of Burnham’s plan will have repurcussions well beyond the stations themselves.
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