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Feeling the heat on Green Belt release

Another week, another successful appeal. As reported by Place North West, Sajid Javid approved the development of almost 400 homes across Cheshire East in contravention of adopted Neighbourhood Plans, because Cheshire East as a whole has not identified a five-year housing land supply.

Following so soon after the Public Accounts Committee lambasted the Government for failing to release enough land for housing to meet its own target, it underlines the difficulty of finding the space to build new houses – or rather, in convincing people that suitable space should be used to provide the houses that we need.

Not just Cheshire pressure

Here in Manchester, it calls to mind the reaction to the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). The reaction to the GMSF has focused heavily on the proposed release of 3% of the city-region’s Green Belt for new housing. Local councils have endorsed the plans: Cllr Alex Ganotis, the leader of Stockport Council, stressed that the emphasis is on “maximising the use of brownfield sites, minimising the impact on the Green Belt and continuing to protect our green spaces”.

Differences of opinion

Councils, of course, had to sign up, or the draft was going nowhere. The reaction from MPs, who often have a higher profile but no direct responsibility for the plans, has often been much more negative. Hazel Grove’s William Wragg, a Conservative, has gone so far as to set up a petition demanding that “the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework should avoid large-scale residential development on the Green Belt”. Andrew Gwynne, who represents Denton & Reddish, complained about land-banking, adding that “I really do feel many of the sites identified in my constituency amount to little more than a ‘Green Belt grabbing’ exercise.” Both called for the whole plan to be redrawn.

Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South, expressed “serious concerns about any potential development on local Green Belt and green open spaces,” lamenting that they could be “carved up to meet Greater Manchester-wide development targets.”

As the favourite to be elected mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s views are particularly relevant, since the mayor will have to sign off the plan along with the ten council leaders. His statement reflected the ambivalence of a cautious frontrunner, balancing the need for development and a deliverable plan with “concerns about the amount [of Green Belt] released” and praise that “the Combined Authority has resisted calls from developers to allow even higher levels of house-building.”Given that the current planned levels are based on only a 0.7% growth rate, that may be seen as lacking the ambition the Mayor of Greater Manchester will need.

Finding the balance

Those looking for constructive engagement will be impressed by Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge & Hyde. He has recognised that while brownfield development is vital, it cannot be sufficient for a growing conurbation. He advocates a specific development site in his constituency, Godley Green, where a new village in the Green Belt can provide housing, with supporting infrastructure, rather than a piecemeal approach. By planning for necessary development in a clear and rational way, everyone wins. That’s the planning process at its best.

“We need new housing, so let’s do it on our own terms. It’s not realistic otherwise and there’s no point telling people it is,” says Mr Reynolds. It’s hard to disagree.

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Local residents may not think that Jonathan Reynolds has done enough to justify his promotion of the Godley Green project. None of the proposed developments in his constituency are on brownfield sites, so how can that be consistent with national guidelines? The area has roads that are among the most congested in Greater Manchester, and over 2300 new homes can only exacerbate the problems. The proposed Mottram Bypass can only shift the congestion spots, as all the feeder roads are the same. What do we know about any “supporting infrastructure”. The Hadfield train passing just north of the proposed development is typically very full of commuters before it even gets to Hattersley and Godley. If development is to be done “on our own terms”, what will be the response to community objections?

By David Tyler

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