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The issues the Stockport Local Plan needs to address

The key reason cited for Stockport leaving the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, now Places for Everyone, was a desire to see less Green Belt land released to meet housing requirements in favour of a greater reliance on previously developed land. Work on the local plan is well underway, but how will it address the numerous challenges it faces? Matt Dawber of Barton Willmore, now Stantec, investigates.

An insurmountable task?

The housing requirement is central to the shape of the local plan. In an interview with Place North West, Stockport Council’s leader, Cllr Mark Hunter, stated that housing targets currently set out by government are not “hard and fast”. The controversy surrounding housing targets appears key in delaying the release of the Stockport Local Plan, despite the council announcing a week earlier that a draft would be realised for consultation at the end of September.

Indeed, former levelling up secretary Michael Gove has stated that the government was toying with the idea of giving councils more wiggle room in terms of setting housing requirements with a revised National Planning Policy Framework. New Prime Minister Liz Truss has also alluded to this through her comments on doing away with “Stalinist housing targets”. However, the standard method remains the basis for local plan housing requirements until something concrete is published.

At the time Stockport withdrew from GMSF, the requirement for the borough set in that document was 793 homes per year. Based on the government’s current standard method the figure is 1,186 per annum, or 17,790 homes over a 15-year plan period.

This is a sizeable target for the local plan to meet and our assessment is that the council is at least 6,000 homes short of meeting the 17,000-home target. To meet an 8,000-home shortfall, we estimate that around 260 hectares of additional land will be required (based on 30 dwellings per hectare). This would equate to approximately 4% of the 5,860 hectares of green belt in Stockport.

Balancing the right jobs with the right housing

The council’s desire is to focus new housing on previously developed sites. This is admirable, but not without potential problems.

Based on the information available in the council’s most recent Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, it is likely that 51.79 hectares of land currently in employment use will be lost to accommodate new homes over the plan period (up to 2037), along with lost local open space equivalent to 21 football pitches. This does not include the loss of existing town centre employment space and so the actual figures are likely to be higher, exacerbated by the recent refusal and dismissal of a planning appeal for a 1m sq ft extension to Bredbury Industrial Estate.

Where will these employment sites and jobs be moved to if they are to be replaced and not lost? Uncertainty over supply also results from reliance on the town centre to provide over 3,000 homes between now and 2037, when only 864 new homes have been delivered there since 2010. Regeneration of the town centre is key but as pointed out by Laura Mackay, director and head of development consultancy at agency Roger Hannah in conversation with Barton Willmore, now Stantec, there needs to be a balanced approach to deliver vibrant town centres with real economic and social benefits.

Realistic and deliverable town centre plans must be supported by both housing and employment, as well as additional land for housing in the aspirational locations people want to live outside the town centre to encourage natural moving.

Development must also balance housing type. Considering that at least 70% of new build supply needs to be three- to five-bed houses, new homes can’t just be one- or two-bed flats. High density apartment schemes won’t solve all the problems, as shown by high demand for out-of-town schemes like Woodford Garden Village. Additionally, a focus on higher rise apartments, with their viability constraints, can hinder the delivery of ever-essential affordable housing.

So, land for at least an additional 6,000 homes needs to be identified within the local plan – including in the town centre – as well as land to replace the loss of employment land and local open space.

Realistically, if Stockport’s housing, employment, and infrastructure needs are to be met, the existing settlement boundaries will need to be reconsidered, including the potential for Green Belt release. This brings us back to the objections to the GMSF.

Securing sustainable development

Making use of previously developed land and bringing additional residential development into Stockport town centre and other brownfield sites is an appealing concept, but it is not a silver bullet. Such an approach could result in additional problems including the loss of, active employment sites, open space in urban areas, delivery of three-, four- and five-bedroom housing, and affordable housing.

Sometimes sustainable development can appear counterintuitive. But this is what the Stockport Local Plan must grapple with. It must strike a balance between unlocking the potential of the town centre and other brownfield sites, and a realistic approach that provides family housing and ensures that viable employment sites are available to accommodate future economic investment. It must also ensure that appropriate local open space is available for both existing and future residents.

The delivery gap is an opportunity for both the public and private sectors. We must all work together to identify the necessary sites and solutions, while looking holistically at the needs of the area and the homes and jobs that are required for it to flourish.

  • Matt Dawber is associate director at Barton Willmore, now Stantec

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Your Comments

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I bet Cllr Hunter and the rest of the Lib Dems are loving their choice of playing politics with the GMSF, especially now that they have to find space for an additional 5,000+ homes, which they didn’t have to under it.

By Anonymous

The sustainable delivery of housing – and any other use, for that matter – is dependent upon enabling active travel by prioritising walking and cycling. Pavement parking, traffic light timings, neighbourhood rat running, vehicle speeding, and junction priority must all be addressed to enhance the pedestrian experience. Currently, SMBC is not prioritising protected cycling infrastructure along its major, direct routes, and this needs to change in order to realise the latent demand as shown through Propensity to Cycle Tools.

By Active Travel Trev

Councillor Hunter should come clean with the people of Stockport and admit pulling out of the GMSF was a huge mistake. The Greenbelt around the Borough is now at more risk because of this ridiculous decision.

By Monty

By law, ‘Brown Field’ sites have to be used first. Suggest ùsing aerial maps of The Borough to find ‘Them’ before digging up a ‘Park’.

By Yvette

People don’t want to live on town brownfield sites release some greenfield sites in decent areas and forget the nimbys

By J stuart

The employment point is significant in that it tends to be small start up units accommodated by SMEs that get redeveloped and any compensatory new space tends to be big box. Businesses are simply unviable if they cannot find small, local and affordable units. Furthermore there is no industry ‘voice’ for these SMEs in relation to the plan making process.

The planning system is awash with consultation stages and engagement but it always seem to fail in reaching out to all sections of the community to understand their land and property needs. Instead we get Local Plan making in a ‘paint by numbers fashion’ with predictable results and shortcomings.

By Nick Thompson

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