Metro mayors used Mipim to preach a brownfield first message, by Richard Garlick

While national politicians and London mayor Sadiq Khan were absent from this month's Mipim property conference, several English metro mayors took the opportunity to promote their city regions.

In one session in the UK government pavilion, the metro mayors for the LIverpool city-region, Greater Manchester, the West of England and the West Midlands spoke on a single panel.

As part of their pitches to potential investors and developers, they spoke about planning. It was striking to hear four powerful city leaders set out their planning priorities, explaining what they believe to be politically desirable and achievable.

One clear message to emerge was an overwhelming focus on brownfield development. Both Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham and the West Midlands’ Andy Street said that development-ready brownfield sites were critical to winning public support for the scale of building required to address housing and commercial need in big city-regions. "None of us will be able to carry the public if we are taking prime green sites away next to derelict industrial land," said Burnham. Redevelopment of previously used land "has to be the priority", said Street.

To achieve the scale of building required mostly on previously used land willrequire more financial backing from government, the mayors say. "Truly having a brownfield first policy [would] mean us getting more money for decontamination of former industrial land and more money for transport infrastructure to support development in those places," said Burnham. "The property industry should support us in asking government to put more money into land remediation in the Midlands, North West and West Country, because then you will get an approach to planning that the public will be more able to support". West of England mayor Tim Bowles said that government seemed to understand the importance of new infrastructure for unlocking brownfield sites. But he said that ministers "had got to devolve that money to us in the regions" to make it happen.

Hand-in-hand with the focus on brownfield development, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are both planning to use residential-led redevelopment to revive their town centres. The West Midlands prospectus includes town centre redevelopment programmes for Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Solihull. Street said he wanted to explore how to "re-imagine" those towns, "particularly with housing and entrepreneurial start-up space as part of the new formula for our towns". Burnham said: "The new way forward is building in town centres, linked to public transport, higher density development and more affordable development."

It’s also clear that the mayors want to be seen as champions of good design. "We want investors to stop building boxes, and start helping us to build place," said the Liverpool city-region’s Steve Rotheram. Street said that the West Midlands intended to create a voluntary "design charter" that would be standard across the city region.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // richard.garlick@haymarket.com


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