Greater Manchester Spatial Framework: When is a target not a target?

The Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP has set a few hares running when he suggested that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority had greater discretion about the level of housing proposed in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) than many had assumed.

The revised GMSF proposes 201,000 extra homes over the coming years, with Mayor Andy Burnham blaming ‘government targets’ as the reason for not being able to honour his own election pledge of no net-loss to the conurbation’s Green Belt.

The minister’s comments led to pressure from the Mayor’s office, local MPs and campaign groups for further clarity as they appeared to suggest that a lower housing target could be acceptable which could lead to further delays in housing supply.

At the BECG Roundtable, we were able to ask the Minister to clarify his comments. He was clear that his comments were both accurate and reflected policy. In his words “a target is a target” and therefore should not be viewed as a minimum mandated number that has to be hit. In this interpretation, the household projections are a starting point for determining a locally appropriate housing need, which could undershoot projections.

The minister was keen to stress the government’s ambition to hit its 300,000 a year house building target, which in his words would require around 1 million homes under construction and 4-5 million in the planning system at any one time.

Indeed, his watch-word throughout the meeting was ambition. There is an expectation from MHCLG that local authorities will be ambitious in their aspirations for economic and therefore housing growth. Government is incentivising city regions to be ambitious by agreeing Housing Deals to help unlock housing delivery. Therefore, Greater Manchester is expected to look beyond providing the bare minimum of its housing needs but ultimately it is a decision for local leaders and a planning inspector.

So, what does this all mean?

In short little has changed. With local elections not far away and large-scale demonstrations expected to take place against the draft GMSF allocations; the comments from the minister and the reaction of the Mayor and local MPs should be seen for what they are: an attempt to allocate blame and responsibility for the region’s housing crisis and the arguments around Green Belt release.

But beyond this it does demonstrate the continued disconnect between national ambitions and local realities that neither the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), housing delivery tests, duty to cooperate or city regional devolution have been able to solve. With the Green Belt debate often driven by emotion over facts by those interested in the conserving the status-quo; there is no electoral rationale for a minister, mayor, MP or council leader to be as ambitious as the Government’s rhetoric suggests.

The GMSF was supposed to take the heat out of local Green Belt release. As things stand that looks to be a forlorn hope.

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