Manchester authorities announce fresh delay to spatial framework over standard method 'uncertainty'

Work on a revised draft of Greater Manchester's spatial plan 'can't proceed' until the government publishes details on how it proposes to adjust its new standard method for calculating housing need, mayor Andy Burnham has announced.

New spatial plan delay: Greater Manchester (pic: Mike Serigrapher via Flickr)
New spatial plan delay: Greater Manchester (pic: Mike Serigrapher via Flickr)

Last month, the government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the 2016-based household projections, which showed a 24 per cent drop in the scale of anticipated growth compared to the previous 2014-based projections.

The household projection data is a key input into the new standard method of assessing housing need, and the new figures have prompted dramatic drops in many councils’ housing need figures when factored into the standard method.

The government pre-empted the effect of the new projections in July, saying it would consider "adjusting" the method once the projections were published to meet its 300,000 homes-a-year target.

A joint statement issued this week by the mayor of Greater Manchester and the local authorities that make up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) said the new ONS figures "have created new assumptions for housing growth but the government’s decision to apply a new formula to them means the spatial framework can’t proceed until it is published".

The statement said: "Right now the government is moving the goalposts and making this process more difficult.

"We have made real progress towards agreeing a rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), but this uncertainty around the housing figures is delaying our final decisions and compromising our ability to get on with strategic planning in Greater Manchester.

"The government methodology that could give us the clarity we need is due to be published after the Conservative Party Conference – but even then, the revised methodology will only be a consultation rather than the finalised formula for assessing local housing need". 

The statement said that the authorities were "clear that the government must not fiddle the methodology to inflate the housing numbers just to meet its own artificial target". 

"Greater Manchester needs to know that the spatial framework is a plan fit for the future and this can only be the case if we get the clarity we need before the plan is finalised.

"That is why we have all agreed that we will wait, yet again, for the government methodology, then move quickly to revise and agree our plan, before taking it out to public consultation", the statement said. 

The delay is the latest in a series of setbacks to work on the spatial framework. A draft version of the revised GMSF, earmarking sites for 225,000 new homes and including plans to remove 4,900 hectares of green belt land for housing, had been published for consultation in autumn 2016.

At the time, the GMCA said its intention was to consult on a "publication plan" in summer 2017, with submission to the secretary of state at the end of 2017 and adoption in 2018.

But in August 2017, the GMCA said that a second draft of the plan would be developed in the new year, "with a view to publish it in June 2018".

In July this year, the GMCA said that the publication and consultation on the GMSF would be delayed until October 2018, following the publication of new official population projections.

The joint statement said that it has been agreed that the draft GMSF "must be approved by each and every" Greater Manchester local council next summer, before the third round of formal consultation.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirmed last week that the government still intended to revise the standard method, though he declined to say when the consultation would happen. 

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