Housing – devolution: positive progression should be joined at the hip
The Housing and Planning Bill is likely to affect us all in one way or another – its announcement on the 12th October brings to the fore a number of significant issues that have long needed to be addressed to accelerate the delivery of much needed housing in Greater Manchester.
I welcome the Bill – it is the opportunity to drive important development, inject life into the housing market, and remove previously obstructive barriers to housebuilding and direct strategic development where it is needed most. The Bill has promise, but to capitalise on this opportunity we need to consider some conflicts within the Government’s wider legislative agenda and examine issues that have been missed.
For me the most notable example of this clash is with the City and Regions Devolution Bill. The Housing and Planning Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to intervene and speed up the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans. Whilst I agree this inclusion is clearly important and worthwhile, it is somewhat nullified by the Devolution Bill’s purpose – to create combined authorities with the powers to guide, deliver and accelerate development
This complication needs to be ironed out, as, if both Bills continue on their current course, they could become the barriers they were intended to remove – hindering development and slowing delivery.
If the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill gains Royal Assent, it will be the most important change to the way our cities and regions are governed in decades. Devolution will give more power to our region, it will give us more control over the delivery of services, infrastructure and housing, responding to our demography, economy, political make-up, making our region and in turn country more prosperous or so goes the theory.
Greater Manchester is seen as the pioneer of new governance arrangements, I of course welcome the £300 million Housing Investment Fund, but I must flag that at present there is little correlation between housing and jobs in the bid. To deliver economic growth it is crucial that we balance residential and employment development across the region.
With an elected Mayor, we are in a far stronger position than many of the other bids; however I do remain cautious over the speed or ability to obtain unanimous approval on the Statutory Spatial Framework from the elected Mayor’s Cabinet.
To harness the local knowledge but also drive aspiration for the country, the Government must define a set of objectives, perhaps similar to the tailored strategic approaches to planning and housing delivery in Local Plans. It should set out in clear terms what funding and power it expects the region to receive. An approach with these principles would inject consistency and coordination that has so far been lacking, but is essential to a fair and effective process.
Devolution is an exciting concept and a golden opportunity for Manchester and the country. It is our chance to break down the political and economic barriers that have previously stood in the way of effective strategic development and give ambitious but previously under-resourced regions the chance to flourish.
Planning by its nature is a complicated process. The shift in thinking on these issues is welcome and long overdue and should be the catalyst to kick-off a wider debate on how we house the country and use our spaces most effectively.
The foundations have been laid for important change and amendments can be made and new ideas introduced. But to convert this positivity into physical bricks and mortar we need cohesion between Bills, public engagement with the issue and a clearly defined overall strategy from the Government.
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