Councillor Blundell on why a defeat of the GMSF will come to haunt those who opposed it

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is set to become one of the most expensive planning documents to never be enacted. The plan is supposed to deal with Greater Manchester’s stupendous growth in a planned and structured way. The problem is that it has become synonymous with the adjustment of the greenbelt and those who oppose the changes don’t realise the consequences of the plan never being realised.

It is therefore ridiculous to develop a plan that wasn’t developed without our neighbours

What is comical about the opposition groups’ stance is the ignorance regarding why we need a plan such as the GMSF in the first place. In Rochdale, where I am the cabinet member for planning, we have an up to date so-called ‘Local Plan’ and we are one of few GM boroughs to have one.

Andy Burnham Gmsf Launch
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham relaunched the spacial framework in January 2019.

It is the council’s tool for restricting development in areas we want to preserve, but its main purpose is to direct development and to force local areas to decide where developers are allowed to build to avoid NIMBYism, but in a controlled manner. Without a Local Plan in place those seeking to build on green spaces (often in profitable areas) potentially have an easier ride as there is no plan set out for the council to challenge their application with.

180318 Green Park
Local councils will be in a better position to protect their green belt areas

The GMSF isn’t a Local Plan as such but has all the hallmarks of one. Each borough will still need its own plans but the GMSF seeks to iron out the peculiarities of the geography of our city region. Other than London, we are the only metropolitan country named after the centre point, owing to the relationship the conurbation has with Manchester (and Salford). Our culture, economic geography and social identity are all more entwined than anywhere but the capital. It is therefore ridiculous to develop a plan that wasn’t developed without our neighbours.

When it was agreed we would plan at a city region level, each borough was given a veto to ensure the majority didn’t force an undue amount of development on a borough against its wishes. To get the grand plan across the line, all ten authorities would have to vote yes to the plan, and if even one voted no it would go in the bin. 

The main benefit to those in greener areas is that the ‘housing need’ set by the government would be accounted for at a GM level. In other words, areas like Stockport could designate less land for building on because they could push some of their housing requirement on to the city centre. The city wins and so do the NIMBYs. 

2019 09 03 Stockport Pyramid
A row between Tameside and Stockport councils has caused setbacks to GMSF

This is why it is so ironic that the document has been badged as an anti-green belt plan. More ironic still is that in early December Stockport Council will vote on the plan and the opposition parties – the council is hung – are likely to vote the plan down. 

If the opposition then take power they will then have to develop their own Local Plan, which is almost certainly going to require more greenbelt than is in the current GMSF. If they don’t, in the absence of an adopted Local Plan with sufficient viable land supply, developers will simply try to develop these sites anyway and the council will have little to say when it has no plan to rebut the developers’ proposals. Rejecting the GMSF now leaves Stockport, in particular, wide open and when they come to the realisation that they will need a plan, the opportunity to push their surplus on to their neighbours will have bolted.

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Rochdale also has a number of anti-GMSF groups

In Rochdale there are a number of anti-GMSF groups that have become party politicised (never a good idea with planning). In my opinion, the main opponents started life trying to stop the site at the back of their home going into the GMSF. They stand every year for council seats so that they can the vote against the spatial framework. To add to the immense amount of irony generated by this whole saga, if these particular opponents were to ever get on the council I believe they would have to declare a personal interest in the report and they wouldn’t be allowed to vote on it.

This is possibly the most niche article I have ever written for Manchester Confidential, but what I have described throughout will affect everybody’s lives for several decades. The last one of these plans was adopted in 1984 and was called the Greater Manchester Green Belt Local Plan. This means a comprehensive GM plan hasn’t been developed for almost 40 years. If we don’t pull our finger out now Greater Manchester will not only be worse off for it, but a great deal of our green space will eventually be lost forever. 

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About the author

Occasional contributor John Blundell is a Labour councillor for Smallbridge and Firgrove, and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Business, Skills & Employment on Rochdale Council. He is also a non-executive director of Manchester Airport Group (MAG).

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