Manchester Councils in Green Belt Climb Down

Manchester Evening News

Greater Manchester’s controversial green belt plans could be substantially scaled back in the face of furious opposition, the M.E.N. has learned, in signs of growing concerns within the region’s ‘super-council’.

Consultation on the 20-year masterplan – officially called the spatial framework and drawn up by then region’s ten council leaders- closes on Monday. There’s been fierce criticism of the plan from campaigners, MPs and mayoral candidates.

It proposes building on a string of protected green sites, arguing that without doing so, the region will not be able to meet its housing and employment targets.

The plan has sparked uproar and Labour mayoral candidate Andy Burnham – whose backing would be needed should he win in May – joined a string of other MPs in vocally criticising it, arguing the scale of green belt development proposed was ‘unfair and disproportionate’. He called for it to be ‘radically’ rewritten.

 Multiple senior sources have told the M.E.N. that may well happen.

One said in order to get the plan approved by Stockport council, where councillors of all parties are furious, it will need to be substantially revised. They said that had now been accepted at a senior level.

The framework currently allocates thousands of homes to green belt sites in Heald Green and High Lane. Next week, the town hall’s Liberal Democrats will attempt for the second time to pass a motion blocking the plans – and insiders believe there is a strong chance they could succeed.

A second source said they believed council bosses elsewhere may also ‘backtrack’, highlighting Oldham as a particular problem.

One MP said there was recognition within the local Labour party – dating back some time – that the plans had been a ‘cock-up’, adding that council bosses would now start ‘rowing back very quickly’. Some council leaders had not handled controversial proposals on their patches very well, they added.

Any large-scale changes, however, could then make it difficult for the region to hit its housing target.

Town hall bosses have based their target of 227,000 new homes on population and economic growth forecasts – but are in a tricky position, with campaigners saying their figure is too high and developers saying the opposite.

A second MP said they believed that number was too high and ‘couldn’t be backed up’.

But that could give council leaders a get-out clause, they said, adding: “The leaders supported green-belt development because they were told they had little choice. If the forecasts aren’t accurate, that gives them the route to backtrack.”

Nevertheless, one combined authority insider said they would be furious if that turned out to be the case.

“I think it would be gross incompetence if we now turn round and say ‘we got it wrong, it’s now 140,000 homes, not 227,000’,” they said.

“We’ve been told these are independently-assessed figures using demographic statistics, so it would be a scandal – because it would mean we’d have gone out and taken a hit on something we didn’t need to do.”

A government white paper expected next week may make arguments over growth forecasts irrelevant, however.

Ministers have been considering whether to bring in specific housing targets for every area instead of town halls having to predict how many homes they will need in the future.