A Politics First Approach to Planning

09 Jan 19 | Zak Deakin

To what extent has Andy Burnham delivered on his promise and won the battle to protect the Green Belt? And what are the political implications?

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Two years on from Mayor Andy Burnham’s promise to deliver a ‘radical’ re-write of the document, the revised Draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework has been released ahead of an eight-week consultation.

To what extent has Andy Burnham delivered on his promise and won the battle to protect the Green Belt? And what are the political implications?

The key headline is that there has been a reduction in the new homes target from 227,000 to 201,000, which will be considered a win by local residents. With delivery of these new homes expected by a brownfield first approach and the regeneration of town centres.

Yet opponents are already pointing to there only being a 40% reduction in the Green Belt allocation; thereby not achieving the no net loss of Green Belt promise of the Mayor. Conveniently Mr Burnham lays the blame for being hamstrung squarely at the door of central government for their insistence on using ‘outdated’ ONS population data.

The timing of the draft GMSF publication will be difficult to swallow for many Councillors who face re-election in May. Just a matter of weeks after the consultation has closed. These election results will be the acid test for whether there are sufficient concessions on Green Belt release to satisfy local voters in each local authority area. The challenge for Council leaders, especially where the majority is smaller, is whether they can corral their party colleagues. Will we see individual candidates openly oppose the GMSF proposals in their area?

An interesting inclusion in the report is a reference to the key differences between a Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) and a Development Plan Document (DPD). The GMSF was intended to be the first SDS outside of London but will in fact work like a DPD. The political challenge being a DPD needs approval of the 10 full Councils of Greater Manchester, whereas an SPD only needs the unanimous consent of the combined authority.

This is significant and accounts for the politics that is evidently at play within the revised document, with the majority of changes to the Green Belt allocation occurring in authorities where political control hangs in the balance: namely Trafford, Stockport and Bolton. In safer boroughs, such as Bury and Oldham, the revisions are much less dramatic.

I suspect there will be great frustration in the planning and development profession that planning policy and the deliverability of sites is being subverted by political considerations once again.

Zak Deakin Junior Consultant,Engagement
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