Call-in powers sought for new mayor

Greater Manchester could push for its new city-region mayor to have call-in powers on major schemes, according to a council chief.

Salford: combined authority urging call-in powers on major planning applications
Salford: combined authority urging call-in powers on major planning applications

This week, chancellor George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would get its own metropolitan mayor with strategic planning power.

The Treasury said it had reached an agreement with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, made up of ten constituent councils, for a suite of devolved powers for the city region, including responsibilities for housing, transport and policing.

The mayor would also be able to create a statutory spatial framework for Greater Manchester, but would require a unanimous vote by the mayoral cabinet, the Treasury said. Other strategies would need just two-thirds approval by the cabinet, to comprise the ten council leaders.

The Treasury said the government hopes that Manchester will be "the first of many big cities to take advantage of greater devolution".

Last month, the combined authority announced it had started work on what would be England's first statutory development plan for a city-region.

Eamonn Boylan, Greater Manchester's lead chief executive on planning and housing and chief executive of Stockport Council, said the combined authority was going to discuss the nature of the mayor's planning powers with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

He said Greater Manchester is considering pushing for the mayor to have call-in powers over major planning applications, similar to the London mayor.

Boylan said: "We would rather have a call-in at the Greater Manchester than UK level. But that's subject to further discussions with the DCLG."

The proposed cabinet composition contrasts with the Greater London mayoral model, said Boylan, in which the mayor appoints members.

"It's a way of protecting the integrity of the collaborative and bottom-up approach we have taken so far," Boylan added.

Samuel Stafford, Manchester-based strategic land director at housebuilder Barratt Developments, queried the plan for unanimous cabinet approval of the spatial framework. He said it meant that each Greater Manchester council leader "effectively has a veto over the preparation of the plan".

"I wonder whether that is a check and balance to what some might consider a democratic deficit in planning terms," he said. "But the danger would be that it may not help the progress of the spatial strategy."

But Boylan said the combined authority had a tradition of reaching unanimous agreement between the council leaders in the joint planning work it had done so far.

"We want to maintain the approach," he said. "What we don't want is a plan that's imposed on the borough councils, but one that is based on a consensus on how we want to develop as a city-region. So the unanimous approach is a challenge, but it is one that we believe we can manage."

Catriona Riddell, the Planning Officers Society's strategic planning convenor, said she does not think that this approach would hinder Greater Manchester given its track record for co-operation across the ten authorities.

She said: "All the working on the joint development plan sets a good basis for coming to a consensus on how to establish growth. I can't see it becoming a major stumbling block."

Riddell added that it would be right for any call-in power on city-regional applications to lie with the mayor not the secretary of state.

She said: "If you have responsibility for providing a strategic plan, there needs to be some sort of role in which you can actually call in major applications to make sure they're in line with that plan. Otherwise, you get a disconnect between what's happening on the ground and the ambition of the plan."

Dan Mitchell, a partner in consultancy Barton Willmore's Manchester office, said: "A directly elected mayor is to be welcomed as they will provide the central political support that is needed to get major projects off the ground, especially in cross-boundary locations."

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