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Here Comes Trouble: Greater Manchester Spatial Framework Published

Saddleworth, one of the areas where anxieties about loss of green belt could be significant.

Greater Manchester’s 10 local council leaders have reached a compromise over the long-delayed document that will set the property, regeneration and economic development agenda for the next decade and a half.

The spatial framework, in preparation since 2014, will begin a final round of public consultation over Christmas, if the Greater Manchester Combined Authority votes in favour on Friday this week.

The plan, which was held up several times over the volume of housebuilding and protection of green belt land, was subject to final delays as local councils disagreed on developments along their borders.

The plan proposes at least 26M SF of new office floorspace and at least 44M SF of industrial and warehousing floorspace across Greater Manchester over the plan period to 2037.

It includes a new green belt boundary for Greater Manchester, cutting the green belt by 4,600 acres — a sharp reduction from that proposed in earlier versions of the plan. Overall it means the conurbation's green belt shrinks by 3.25% to help accommodate 180,000 new homes (of which 50,000 will be affordable).

The plan focuses growth in jobs and housing in the city centre, the east around Manchester City FC’s Etihad stadium, in Salford Quays, Trafford Park and Port Salford. “The majority of commercial employment growth is proposed in this area and almost 40% of overall housing supply is found here and in the wards immediately surrounding it,” a report to council leaders said.

Property professionals have welcomed the document’s much-postponed appearance, but hint that the big fights are still to come. Some like Strategic Land Group director Paul Smith said it is already out of date.

"Fifty-eight percent of the new homes planned to be delivered through the GMSF are apartments — yet there is now copious evidence that what people really want are more traditional houses with gardens in the suburbs," he said. "The question needs to be asked as to whether the GMSF is even still relevant. In my view, it’s already out of date and painfully clear that it's targeting the direct opposite of what we actually need."

A kinder take comes from planning consultancy Barton Wilmore. “There are clearly some changes and green belt boundary reviews, but perhaps now more than ever the document will be scrutinised against its ability to deliver the homes, jobs and infrastructure that Greater Manchester needs," Barton Wilmore Planning Director Greg Dickson said

"Hopefully next year brings the start of the post-COVID recovery and we need a flexible strategy that delivers a range of land and infrastructure opportunities, in addition to the major strategic sites that will require new infrastructure and investment to support delivery."

The extent of the problems the plan will face are hard to underestimate. The housing and development plan is unpopular on both the left and the right in Greater Manchester. The dispute will reach its head as Metro Mayor Andy Burnham seeks re-election in May next year.

A taste of the fight to come is provided by Salford, where local campaigners argue the neighbourhood’s open spaces will be “stripped for housing". They calculate that of 1,600 new houses due in the area, only 131 will be affordable, rented properties of the kind the area needs.

The plan can be read in full here. Consultation runs from 1 December 2020 to 26 January 2021.