Greater Manchester development plan proves a political hot potato

The inaugural Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is a hot topic of conversation in the local market and beyond - and it shows no sign of cooling down.

The framework - a key component of the Greater Manchester Devolution Agreement - recommends that 227,200 new homes be built in the next 20 years, along with employment space and new infrastructure, to propel the region’s growth. It hasn’t been without controversy.

While 70% of the land earmarked within the framework is urban, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority argues that there is not enough of it to match the area’s needs and it has therefore identified 4,887 ha of green-belt land to release for development. Unsurprisingly, the first draft of the GMSF, published in October 2016, fired up both environmental campaigners and the mayoral candidates who, some claim, used the GMSF for political wrangling.

Since taking office as Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham has vowed to stick to his campaign pledge of a “radical” rewrite of the framework. Earlier this month, he said the current draft would have “delivered decaying town centres surrounded by urban sprawl”, although he also stressed: “We can’t close the door on development… It’s not possible to protect every bit of green belt.”

The second draft of the GMSF had been expected to be published in September, with adoption scheduled for 2018, but a comprehensive rewrite could delay it further.

Andrew Teage, a Manchester-based partner in Cushman & Wakefield’s development and planning team, believes that Burnham is committed to a “clear, convincing and coherent plan for growth”, but that the new mayor has concerns about whether its current format and content will deliver that objective.

“The property industry waits for decisions on critical issues,” says Teage, “specifically the green belt, the imbalance between employment and housing land allocations and how the framework will integrate with key infrastructure strategies such as Transport for Greater Manchester’s Transport Strategy 2040.”

Any delay to the GMSF could also have knock-on consequences: many of the Greater Manchester authorities’ local plans are on hold pending city region development targets and the allocation of land.

“It is feared that any significant delay on the resolution of the key issues will breed uncertainty over investment and development decisions,” says Teage.

Vocal opposition

In order for the framework to be adopted, all 10 Greater Manchester councils have to agree to it. But there have been a number of protests against the plan in recent weeks - 1,500 campaigners gathered in Manchester’s Albert Square last month and other smaller rallies have taken place in Stockport, Wigan and Bury. Petitions in other areas have also called on councils to reject the plan.

Their pleas may fall on deaf ears, however. “I think the councils see this as too important to back down,” says Rob Haslam, a director in Savills’ planning team. “Some councils have their concerns but I believe they’ll stay at the table.

“The 10 leaders of Greater Manchester have a history of collaboration, and from what I know of Andy Burnham he is pro-development, pro-growth and pragmatic. I believe he’ll bring this forward for the right reasons.”

There will be tough decisions to make, but if Haslam is right, Greater Manchester will soon have its first metropolitan plan to support the city region’s growth.

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