Report urges further planning powers for metro mayors

Combined authority spatial plans will fail to meet housing need unless national planning policies are loosened so metro mayors can back green belt development, a think-tank has claimed.

Sheffield: devolution deal includes spatial plan
Sheffield: devolution deal includes spatial plan

In a report published today, the IPPR North questioned whether the mayor of Greater Manchester, faced with a shortfall of land for 64,000 homes according to the combined authority’s spatial plan, will be able to make "challenging decisions" around locations for new development.

Its review of devolved planning powers concluded that combined authorities' decision-making will be constrained by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF, the report said, "is powerful in limiting greenfield and green belt use from an environmental standpoint, but unhelpful if spatial plans are to genuinely meet housing need".

The think-tank said that flexibility over NPPF restrictions could be granted to combined authorities where complete brownfield registers "have identified insufficient brownfield land to fulfil the housing needs of spatial plans".

It pointed to a study by consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners that suggested a lack of brownfield land in every metro mayor region – threatening a 200,000 shortfall in the West Midlands.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: "The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine will be driven by mayors, and it’s vital they have the powers to build enough homes – a London affordable housing crisis up here would be a disaster.

"With brownfield land in limited supply, it should be decided locally how to meet housing needs including difficult decisions about the green belt."

The IPPR North's report also said that combined authorities' spatial plans would be stymied by a shortage of planning staff.

Its report, Closer to Home, called for mayors to be empowered to "refinance" planning departments by gaining powers to vary planning fees. It said that pan-combined authority plans were in theory a significant opportunity "to fill the planning void left by the loss of regional spatial strategies".

But it stated: "The elephant in the room is that making strategic plans is labour-intensive and comes at a significant cost. This is at a time when planning departments have faced budget reductions of some 46 per cent."

Last week, Greater Manchester leaders approved a draft statutory spatial framework for the city-region, including plans to remove 4,900 hectares of land from the conurbation's green belt. A consultation on the document starts today and closes on 23 December.

Closer to home: Next steps in planning and devolution is available here.


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