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Order Order! What A House Of Commons Row Means For Manchester's Spatial Plan

Houses of Parliament in London

Another day, another drama for the fragile and newly published draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

After five delays and several rewrites, the plan is now open for public consultation. But a debate in the House of Commons seems to throw some of its basic assumptions into doubt.

The dispute revolves around Office for National Statistics housing projections. The 2014 projection suggested the UK needed more housing than the new 2016 projection, which was 25% lower. However, government guidance said it expected local plans to follow the higher 2014 numbers. Now the Housing Minister has indicated that they might consider the 2016 household projections after all.

Conservative MPs criticised the government for failing to use the most up-to-date figures.

“If the Ministry selectively considers evidence that justifies its housing need figures, that suggests that the direction of travel is only one way. It seems a departure, I contend, from evidence-based policy making. It is a case of cherry-picking facts to ensure that the means justify the ends,” Hazel Grove MP William Wragg told the Commons.

The 2014 versus 2016 projections have already caused a length delay in the publication of a revised Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

Responding to the debate, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse suggested Greater Manchester may not need to stick to the 2014 projections. He has now prompted an angry response from Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

“The Minister’s comments in the Parliamentary debate on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework came as a surprise as they do not reflect current Government policy. They give a very different impression to the one offered in private by civil servants,” Burnham said.

“Under pressure from Conservative backbenchers, it would appear that the Government is trying to soften its line on housing numbers and greenbelt and deflect blame towards councils. We see this same tactic with council tax rises. It is unfair and dishonest.”

Burnham has now asked for an urgent meeting with the minister to clarify which household projection numbers they may use.