GMSF: pragmatic or radical?
In rewriting the GMSF, Mayor Andy Burnham had to produce a document that all 10 councils in Greater Manchester were able to support. The draft is therefore written to please everybody, but runs the risk of not delivering on its required objectives.
The consultation on the revised draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework commenced this week until 18 March following its ratification by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The GMSF will provide a joint statutory development plan document for Greater Manchester that seeks to provide the land and policy direction for jobs and new housing in the City Region over the period up to 2037. The intention is to consult on a further draft of the GMSF in summer 2019, with the final version being submitted for examination in early 2020 and adopted late 2020 / early 2021.
Aims and objectives of the GMSF
As the industry expected, the revised GMSF contains an enhanced focus on urban regeneration and in particular the delivery of development within Greater Manchester’s city and town centres.
The move is a direct echo of the central Government policy set out in the National Planning Policy Framework published in July 2018, to maximise development on previously developed land and deliver a significant uplift in residential density in city and town centre locations that are well served by public transport.
It is clear to see that the GMSF wants to continue to build on the success of Manchester city centre by delivering nearly a quarter of the total target of new homes in Greater Manchester (50,000 of the 201,000 forecast new homes) and almost 1,500,000 sq m of new office floorspace within the city centre. It is important to note that the forecast number of new homes is a reduction from 227,000 in the earlier draft of the GMSF.
At the same time, the GMSF wants to ensure that the success of the City Region is dispersed through the wider Greater Manchester area through the delivery of development that regenerates and enhances the main town centre locations in Greater Manchester’s boroughs. The town centre regeneration objective is a particular focus for the GMSF’s policy that seeks to boost the competitiveness of the northern areas of Greater Manchester including in Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside, Wigan and west Salford. Aligned to that strategy, the GMCA has also confirmed a consultation on the establishment of a Mayoral Development Corporation to unlock development sites and accelerate the speed of transformation within Stockport’s town centre. There is also a commitment within the GMSF that securing funding to support remediation of previously developed sites will be a priority.
At the heart of the GMSF is a strategy to ensure that Manchester city centre remains the most significant economic location in the country outside of London and an acute strategy to ensure that those benefits are dispersed around the 10 boroughs that make up the Greater Manchester area. We are already seeing the benefits of a concerted strategy by the Mayor, Andy Burnham, and the 10 councils to revitalise Greater Manchester’s town centres, including through the Town Centre Challenge. There are currently significant developments proposed or underway in Stockport, Bolton and Rochdale’s town centres.
The benefits of delivering high density urban regeneration ensures that the potential for underutilised sites within town centres can be maximised and Greater Manchester’s town centres can be revitalised and future-proofed, to be vital and viable locations with increased residential and employment populations. Increasing populations within town centres is of significant benefit to the activity generated within them and the retail, leisure, commercial services that they contain.
Importantly, the regeneration of Greater Manchester’s town centres also means that their users are well placed to benefit from the significant investment that has both already been delivered in public transport infrastructure and is intended to be delivered under the Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040 that seeks to further deliver enhanced public transport connectivity in the City Region. Increasing public transport connectivity is at the heart of securing sustainable patterns of development, which is a key policy objective to delivering a carbon neutral Greater Manchester no later than 2038.
Savills welcomes the draft GMSF, as it is an important step in ensuring that the whole of the City Region has a strategic plan that paves a way forward for its continued development. However, we consider that it would have been beneficial for the GMSF to have been in place before the next Mayoral elections in May 2020 for the next term of office or administration to focus on its delivery. In that sense, it is critical that there are no further rewrites or delays to the submission of the GMSF for examination.
We appreciate the challenge that the Mayor faces as a new political entity in attempting to produce a document that all 10 councils that make up the Greater Manchester area are able to support. The draft is therefore written as a document that intends to please everybody, but runs the risk of not delivering on its required objectives.
Matthew Sobic, Savills planning director, says: “The GMSF should deliver a vision for economic growth, regeneration of the region’s towns, transport solutions to enable ease of travel for all, and housing ideas to meet the housing requirements in a speedily and affordable manner. We consider that the draft achieves those aims, and to that extent is a successful rewrite of its immediate predecessor. However, it fails only in that it lacks vision in how Manchester might lead the way in being a green, sustainable and prosperous city, embracing the technological opportunities that can help meet the needs of the next 15-20 years. How might we see our towns house more people in mixed-use buildings, combining say, hotels, apartment, shops, offices, schools and hospitals? How might transport hubs be utilised to provide a focus for social and commercial activities? How can we improve some of the under-invested residential areas and make them locations for new and exciting development that could transform the perception of the places that they are today, and create aspirations for the people who live there that Manchester is an exciting place in which to live and work?”
“Whilst the objective to deliver development in accessible town centres and at a high density is a positive approach, the GMSF does not set out how the required housing mix will be delivered in those centres,” says Rob Haslam, Savills planning director. “Will the delivery of high density development in all town centre locations meet the requirements of the markets that they are intended to serve? We consider that further intervention will be required from the public sector to aid the delivery of schemes on brownfield sites in town centre locations to deliver development in town centre areas that the GMSF requires, in particular in areas that the market is not currently active in. The GMSF should also provide clarity on the areas and allocations within town centres that will deliver the significant levels of development activity that it aims to create.”
Jeremy Hinds, Savills planning director, concludes: “The aim of the plan must be to allow people to realise their ambitions, and so foster an environment in which those aspirations can be achieved. Manchester has a long way to go yet to fulfil its promise that it will be a net contributor to the Treasury. We consider that in scaling back its previous aspirations for growth, the GMSF inadvertently scales back its economic growth ambitions and that the higher housing target delivery should have been used to benchmark the City Region’s aims for long-term growth and vitality. This would have been consistent with Central Government’s recommendation that higher housing delivery targets should continue to be utilised to support economic growth aspirations.
“Overall, whilst we consider that the draft GMSF is a positive step forward, we consider that the increased challenge of delivering significant growth within the existing urban fabric will require a new set of tools and funding to ensure that Greater Manchester meets its growth targets. Delivering transformational growth will be a once in a generation opportunity, and getting the right plan in place will be the key component if Greater Manchester is to deliver on its economic and housing growth ambitions.”
On 1 October 2018 The Town and Country Planning (Pre-commencement Conditions) Regulations 2018 come into force in England.
With 227,000 new homes required in Greater Manchester by 2035, can revitalising existing shopping centres play a strong role in meeting the GMSF’s housing targets?