Manchester councils join forces for England's first city-region plan

Authorities in Greater Manchester have started preparing what would be England's first statutory development plan for a city-region, with proposals to almost treble its current rate of housebuilding.

Manchester: combined authority to pioneer strategic planning across city-region
Manchester: combined authority to pioneer strategic planning across city-region

The ten-council Greater Manchester Combined Authority has begun consulting on a joint development plan to shape its employment land, housing and infrastructure to 2033.

While the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has begun work on a city-region spatial plan, it aims to be an informal document without statutory weight.

Greater Manchester’s consultation includes a new objectively assessed housing need figure for the city-region, stating that 11,056 homes are needed a year from 2012 to 2033.

This would represent a 15 per cent rise in targets for the ten constituent councils’ draft and adopted local plans and a near trebling of the 3,700 homes built in 2012–13.

The document states that the combined authority expects to submit a finalised document for examination in 2017 and adopt it in 2018.

Eamonn Boylan, Greater Manchester’s lead chief executive on planning and housing and chief executive of Stockport Council, said: "We regard Greater Manchester as a city-region and, in the absence of a regional spatial strategy, we’ve long felt that we need a planning framework that enables us to plan key growth requirements collectively."

The councils are "clearly mindful" of the Localism Act’s duty to cooperate, Boylan said, which obliges them to engage with neighbours on strategic cross-border issues such as housing.

He said the plan would be prepared jointly but adopted individually by councils. "We are not trying to create a new tier of strategic planning authority," Boylan said. "Councils will retain rights as planning authorities."

He said councils’ emerging local plans would progress on schedule, but draft plans would "be informed by the interim conclusions" from the city-regional work.

Boylan said of the housing figure: "We can get there but it will be a considerable challenge." He added that he is confident that Greater Manchester can meet its required growth within the city-region but said a green belt review is likely to be considered at a future date.

Gary Halman, managing partner at Manchester-based consultancy How Planning, said: "In city-regions such as Greater Manchester, it’s probably necessary to have some joined-up planning that looks at the sub-region on a much broader basis, rather than leaving districts to their own devices."

This could overcome the problem of councils’ local plans facing difficulties at examination when assessing their own housing need or meeting the duty to cooperate, Halman said.

While he is "excited" by the prospect of Greater Manchester drawing up England’s first city-region spatial plan, Halman said: "The difficulty is ensuring that individual councils can deliver the land in their local plans to meet the rate of growth."

Planning Officers Society strategic planning convener Catriona Riddell said: "I think that this is very ambitious but is just what is needed to help the city grow sustainably. This is a great example of the potential power of a combined authority."

She said a statutory document "will give [Greater Manchester] a lot more leverage in terms of securing investment opportunities and making sure that authorities deliver their contribution through local plans".

Philip Barnes, group land and planning director at housebuilder Barratt Developments, also welcomed the move and said he hopes that other conurbations such as Leeds, Bristol and Newcastle will follow suit.

Barnes said it is important for Greater Manchester to examine its competitor global cities and draw up a plan that targets economic growth.

What is the greater Manchester spatial Plan likely to Propose?

The consultation document states that 224,823 new homes are required in the period 2012–33, equating to an average of 10,706 homes per year.

But the ten district councils said just 3,700 new homes were finished in 2012–13. This would make the average annual need in the period 2013–33 even higher at 11,056 homes a year.

The housing targets in the ten councils’ draft and adopted local plans, based on the old North West of England Regional Spatial Strategy, amounted to an average of 9,623 homes a year from 2003 to 2021.

The document indicates that the need for new industrial and warehousing floorspace in the period 2012–33 would be 3.9 million square metres, or 187,399 square metres per year – a 12 per cent increase on previous development rates.

It proposes a target of 2,771,098 square metres of new office floorspace between 2012 and 2033. This would equate to 131,957 square metres per year, an increase of 15 per cent compared to previous years.

The housing and employment space needs of individual councils will form part of future work on the framework, the document states.

The framework should outline "strategic locations/opportunities for development" and "key infrastructure proposals". But it could also "cover issues such as type and affordability of housing, retail hierarchy, and strategic green infrastructure".

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