GMSF: Are you an Outer or an Upper?
Are you an Outer or an Upper?
You might be surprised that it’s got nothing to do with Brexit. This is the debate around the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, though it also applies to many other Local Plans.
The question is how we grow our city region. Do we focus on building out: more homes, industrial units and offices on greenfield sites, stretching our borders? Or do we grow upwards – increase density in the existing population centres, packing more people into today’s urban environment?
The original GMSF, and the view still supported by most Greater Manchester council leaders, is more in the Outer camp. A large proportion of the 200,000 new homes Greater Manchester needs over the next twenty years is planned for Green Belt land.
There are clear benefits to the Outer approach. It’s relatively easy and cheap. The greenfield sites provide good profit margins for developers, making them eminently deliverable. And once those sites have taken their share of new homes, the remaining housing need can be met by the easier-to-deliver brownfield sites, especially those around the desirable city centre.
It can be argued that relatively little of the UK is built on – less than 2.5% – so perhaps we shouldn’t be too precious about building on a little more. Some might also point out that people seem to rather like living in suburbia with a nice house and a nice garden on a nice quiet road.
At the recent Place North West Northern Transport Summit, James Rayner from Broadway Malyan set out an alternative. You can see his slide presentation here.
Rayner’s case is that the urban sprawl that characterised city growth in the 20th century has to be replaced with mixed-use higher density developments. He argues for development around transport hubs – Greater Manchester’s 94 rail stations. New communities with new hearts in a growing-but-compact city.
That should be music to the ears of Andy Burnham. The Greater Manchester Mayor has ordered a “radical rewrite” of the GMSF and wants to see less development on the greenbelt.
And, of course, many will retort with “if only it was that easy.”
The cost of urban regeneration on the sort of scale needed to build at least 10,500 new homes a year across Greater Manchester is likely to be high. There’s demolition and decontamination costs. Additional infrastructure will be needed. We can talk about sexy tram lines and refurbished stations, but someone had better be looking at our ageing sewerage systems and electricity networks too.
So the challenge for Uppers like Andy Burnham is to come up with a funding mechanism for the sort of large scale urban renewal that would be required. Not just a flagship project here or a small-scale trial there but consistent projects delivering high quality outcomes right across Greater Manchester, year-in, year-out.
Outer or Upper – which are you?
After a hectic two weeks in-and-around the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences here are my top five take-aways for the built environment.
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