Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The GMSF. Spatial planning in a non-spatial planning age.

How does one go about spatial planning at the city-region or sub-regional level in an era when there is no legislative and policy basis to do so? The answer, based upon the nascent Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) that is being prepared by AGMA / GMCA, is perhaps unsurprisingly 'with great difficulty'.

Progress with local plans speaks to the difficulty of even this enterprise. Evidence needs to be prepared, neighbouring authorities need to be engaged, the public needs to be consulted, the political party in control (if there is one - pity the Head of Policy in authorities with no overall control) needs to be supportive, and then finally, at the business end of the process, an inspector needs to hear more supportive voices around the examination table than there are dissenting ones.

The GMSF needs to harvest evidence from and on behalf of ten LPAs; it's neighbouring authorities account for a good proportion of the entire North West region; it's local population is over 2.7 million; and it's ten council leaders, each with very different political priorities, also each have the power of veto over it. This must be ten times harder than preparing a local plan, not ten times easier.

Oh, and whilst the GMSF is a joint local plan at the minute it is to become a Mayoral plan next year and the current favourite, Andy Burnham, has already expressed some doubt about the process undertaken to date. Oh yes, and the legislation required for a mayoral plan for Greater Manchester is not yet in place. 

What chance of more supportive voices being heard around the examination table than dissenting ones. The development community has already expressed concern about a perceived gap between the rhetoric around growth aspirations and Greater Manchester's role in Northern Powerhouse and the reality of the growth ambitions and what some consider to be suppressed housing and economic analysis. AGMA / GMCA would no doubt refute any suggestion that a politically palatable housing requirement was identified at the outset, but the publication in August of a paper on the preferred growth option, ahead of a Greater Manchester-wide SHMA, does little to dampen that suspicion.

On the other side of the coin, any GMSF housing requirement that results in an revision to Greater Manchester's thirty year old Green Belt boundaries will be unacceptable to some. Given that Green Belt release is inevitable it is also perhaps inevitable that the mayor of Salford, the MP for Bolton West, the MP for Denton and Reddish, the MP for Bury North and the MP for Hazel Grove..


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...will be requesting a seat around the examination table.

The draft GMSF is now expected to emerge ahead of an AGMA / GMCA Executive Board meeting at the end of October and it is noticeable that ahead of that some 'pitch rolling' appears to be going on. Compare and contrast these two pieces from Platform, a new magazine-style website that has been launched to 'share knowledge and opinions on sustainability across Greater Manchester'.

In the first, dated 14 September 2016, Councillor Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Council and new GMCA lead on housing and planning, states that:

Altogether we’re going to need up to 230,000 new homes by 2035, approximately 70% of this supply is on brownfield sites within the existing urban area. We’re going to work hard to make sure these are developed and you could call our approach ‘urban first’, but as we still have a shortfall we will also need to identify some limited areas of green belt to release for development.

In the second, dated 26 September 2016, Steve Conner of Creative Concern states that:

To help deliver on this aspiration, in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework we’ve deliberately chosen to release fewer, but larger, sites that have the scale needed to create entirely new neighbourhoods that are of a high quality in their own right but that also bring some great benefits to neighbouring communities, too.

That is quite a leap to make in twelve days. From 'limited areas of Green Belt' to new 'Garden City Suburbs'. Either a bullet has been bitten in between and agreement has been reached to take a generational, transformational 'confident bite' out of the Green Belt, or, different messages are being given at the same time to those both supportive and against Green Belt development. Both scenarios illustrate the challenges that lie ahead for the GMSF.

Just getting to the examination table will be a major achievement for those involved.