In making any plan an LPA has two different numbers. The first is the OAN, the target. This with the revised NPPF as of last week can only be deviated from in exceptional circumstances. However this does not necessarily mean loss of Green Belt. Guidance always allowed this to be considered a ‘constraint’ however this then creates an unmet need elsewhere. This dated from an amendment to guidance issued 4th October 2014 headlined ‘Councils must protect our precious green belt land’ This inserted a new ‘section 5’ to the guidance stating that ‘constraints’ such as Green Belt didnt mean you had to meet needs in full’.
The Framework is clear that local planning authorities should, through their Local Plans, meet objectively assessed needs unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole, or specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Such policies include those relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives, and/or designated as sites of special scientific interest; land designated as green belt, local green space, an area of outstanding natural beauty, heritage coast or within a national park or the Broads; designated heritage assets; and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.
However this section of the new guidance issued last week no longer exists, it exists in the diagram but no longer in the text. The original statement is highligted as ‘coalition’ policy’ and so to be checked against current government policy.
Clearly Malthouse misled the house quoting old withdrawn guidance.
Even if it was withdrawn by mistake and was an editing error the strengthened ‘prepared positively’ tests meant that agreement would be needed through joint strategic policies to take any overspill need. In either even the accusation of dishonesty is accurate.
Andy Burnham has hit out at the government amid a fresh row over the region’s green belt – accusing ‘dishonest’ ministers of having ‘misled’ people over housing policy.
Housing minister Kit Malthouse had sparked fury in the mayor’s office last week by suggesting Mr Burnham is not being forced by Whitehall to earmark green belt for new housing, as he had previously claimed.
Mr Malthouse said the government housing targets blamed by the mayor were not in fact ‘mandatory’ or rigid, telling MPs that concerns over green belt loss may give local leaders some wriggle-room.
His comments could have significant implications for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, the latest draft of which still earmarks green belt for housing, despite a public backlash in many parts of the conurbation.
In January Mr Burnham admitted he would miss his manifesto goal of ‘no net green belt loss’ in the rewritten document, but blamed that on ministers, who he said had made the task ‘impossible’ by forcing him to use outdated population forecasts.
The minister contradicted that on Thursday, however, telling a specially-convened debate in Westminster that ‘any’ planning inspector would accept a ‘properly evidenced and assessed variation from that target’.
“If, for example, you have constraints like areas of outstanding natural beauty or green belt, or whatever it might be, and you can justify a lower number, then an inspector should accept that,” he said.
Mr Malthouse added: “I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the notion that this is somehow a mandatory number that local authorities have to hit.
“We recognise that within the UK, there’s lots of variables to be taken into account.”
Those comments sparked anger from Mr Burnham’s office, which swiftly issued a strongly-worded response.
“The minister’s comments in the parliamentary debate on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework came as a surprise as they do not reflect current government policy,” said the mayor.
“They give a very different impression to the one offered in private by civil servants.
“Under pressure from Conservative backbenchers, it would appear that the government is trying to soften its line on housing numbers and greenbelt and deflect blame towards councils.
“We see this same tactic with council tax rises. It is unfair and dishonest.”
Mr Burnham said Greater Manchester ‘does not believe it has the discretion over housing numbers which was suggested by the minister’.
The government’s own planning guidance says local authorities are ‘expected’ to uses centrally-set methodology to work out many houses they will need in the coming years, he said – and only allows them to deviate from that ‘in exceptional circumstances’.
As a result, he said, Greater Manchester had come up with a housing number ‘close’ to the government’s own local target.
“When local authorities have sought guidance on this from civil servants, they have confirmed this as the right approach rather than the more flexible interpretation which appeared to be offered by the minister in the House,” he added.
At the same time, he said, government had told Greater Manchester to set even higher housing targets if it wants to access national funding to clean up former industrial land for development.
“So, for these reasons, Greater Manchester does not believe it has been offered the flexibility over housing numbers as claimed by the minister,” he said.
“His comments were at best partial and at worst misleading.
“Given that we are in the middle of a consultation, and endeavouring to give the public the most honest, up-to-date information we can, I will be asking the minister for an urgent meeting, together with the City Mayor of Salford, to clear these matters up.”
The spatial framework – which plans out Greater Manchester’s development over the next two decades – has already been rewritten once in the wake of Mr Burnham’s election, in which he promised to scrap the original contentious version.